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America's Future Grand Strategy IT h e Soviet Union's collapse transformed the international system dramatically, but there has been no corresponding change in U.S. grand strategy. In terms of ambitions, interests, and alliances, the United States is following the same grand strategy it pursued from 1945until 1991:that of preponderance.' Whether this strategy will serve U.S. interests in the early twenty-first century is problematic.Hence, in this article my purpose is to stimulate a more searching debate about future U.S. grand strategic options.2 To accomplish this, I compare the strategy of preponderance to a proposed alternative grand strategy: offshore balancing. Christopher Layne is Visiting Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. The views expressed in this article are his own. I wish to thank Robert J. Art, Sean Lynn-Jones,and Bradley A. Thayer for going above and beyond the call of friendship and collegiality and reviewing successive iterations of this article and providing insightful comments and advice. Ted Galen Carpenter and John Mearsheimer commented on the final draft. The following commented helpfully on an earlier draft, which I presented at a February 1996 seminar at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: Rachel Bronson, Owen Cote, Jr., Michael C. Desch, Colin Elman, Miriam Fendius Elman, Shai Feldman, Dan Lindley, Thomas Mahnken, John Matthews, and Steven E. Miller. Finally,the Earhart Foundation's generous research support-and the encouragement of the foundation's secretary and director of program, Tony Sullivan-is gratefully acknowledged. 1. I have borrowed Melvyn P. Leffler's description of post-World War I1 grand strategy as a strategy of preponderance to reflect what I demonstrate is the underlying continuity between America's postwar and post-Cold War strategies. See Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992). 2. The post-1989 literature on US. grand strategy includes Robert J. Art, "A Defensible Defense: America's Grand Strategy After the Cold War," Znternational Security, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Spring 1991), pp. 5-53; Samuel P. Huntington, "America's Changing Strategic Interests," Survival, Vol. 33, No. 4 (January/February 1991), pp. 3-17; Joseph Joffe, "'Bismarck' or 'Britain'? Toward an American Grand Strategy after Bipolarity," Znternational Security, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Spring 1995), pp. 94-117; Zalmay Khalilzad, "US.Grand Strategies:Implications for the World, " in Zalmay Khalilzad, ed., Strategic Appraisal 1996 (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1996), pp. 11-38; and Stephen Van Evera, "Why Europe Matters and the Third World Doesn't: American Grand Strategy After the Cold War, Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (June 1990),pp. 1-51. Also see John J. Kohut 111, Steven J. Lambakis, Keith B. Payne, Robert S. Rudney, Willis A. Stanley, Bernard C. Victory, and Linda H. Vlahos, "Alternative Grand Strategy Options for the United States," Comparative Strategy, Vol. 14, No. 4 (October-December 1995),pp. 361-420,which usefully describes what the authors see as the current U.S. grand strategy and three alternative grand strategies, but does not examine the theoretical premises underlying these four grand strategies. Also, the relative advantages and disadvantages of the four grand strategies are not compared. International Security, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Summer 1997),pp. 8&124 0 1997by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 86 From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing I 87 My argument for adopting an alternative grand strategy is prospective: although sustainable for perhaps another decade, the strategy of preponderance cannot be maintained much beyond that period. The changing distribution of power in the international system-specifically, the relative decline of US. power and the corresponding rise of new great powers-will render the strategy untenable. The strategy also is being undermined because the robustness of America’s extended deterrence strategy is eroding rapidly. Over time, the costs and risks of the strategy of preponderance will rise to unacceptably high levels.The time to think about alternative grand strategiesis now-before the United States is overtaken by events. An offshorebalancing strategy would have two crucial objectives:minimizing the risk of U.S. involvement in a future great...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 86-124
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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