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History has made something of a comeback since Francis Fukuyama provocatively announced its untimely death at the closing of the Cold War. Since 2016, the biggest and most decisive geopolitical questions have emerged from hibernation and reasserted themselves with conspicuous force and urgency. What are the new geopolitical fault-lines and what will the new order look like? How does the United States navigate emerging threats and challenges so as to most favorably position itself in the 21st Century global order? During the 2020 election season, how do we evaluate the merits and demerits of approaches put forward by candidates?

RealClearPublicAffairs has assembled some of the finest foreign policy minds to address these and other pressing foreign policy concerns in this Grand Strategy Symposium.


Toward Sustainable Self-Sufficiency by Andrew Bacevich

From the article:

According to traditional notions of U.S. national security, items deemed essential ought to be made here at home.  The Pentagon doesn’t outsource tanks, fighter planes, and submarines to foreign manufacturers – and with good reason.  In the event of an emergency, we don’t want to trust this nation’s fate to others.

Rather than spending untold sums on tanks, fighter planes, and submarines to deal with prospective threats “out there,” it’s time to spend whatever it takes to keep Americans safe where they live...Read more.


Trump Can Either Leave the Middle East or Have War With Iran by Trita Parsi

From the article:

On Iran, however, Trump has not only failed to end confrontational policies - he has actively pursued a path that has put the U.S. on the verge of a new war in the Middle East. The policy of maximum pressure has inflicted massive pain on the Iranian economy - its GDP had contracted more than 15% even before the COVID pandemic. Yet, three years after reimposing sanctions, Trump has not only failed to achieve a single one of his objectives, in most cases, Tehran has intensified the very policies Washington has sought to change...Read more.


Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a Vital Ally? by Gil Barndollar

From the article:

But the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an American partner, and client state for the better part of a century, is being intensely criticized for escalating an oil price war with Russia in the midst of a pandemic. American shale producers and their workers were the collateral damage. U.S. lawmakers are furious, and President Trump is mulling a ban on Saudi oil imports. Reuters reported last week that Trump even threatened the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Kingdom. But the recent oil fight is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. – Saudi relationship, long the linchpin of American strategy in the Middle East, is in sore need of reappraisal...Read more.


Those Who ‘Have Borne the Battle’ Want a More Restrained Foreign Policy by Nate Anderson & Dan Caldwell

From the article:

Our poll surveyed a sample of roughly 1,500 veterans and military families across the country in early April, on issues pertaining to foreign policy, veteran benefits and health care, and federal spending. The respondents were screened to ensure they reflected a proper representation of the veterans and military family population. Like our 2019 survey, we used the same polling methodology and many of the same questions.

On questions related to foreign policy, there were high levels of support for less military intervention abroad. Fifty-seven percent of veterans believe the United States should be less militarily engaged around the world — a nine percentage point increase from 2019...Read more.


To Counter China, the U.S. Needs a More Disciplined Grand Strategy by Luke Nicastro

From the article:

As we navigate the most eventful and chaotic year in recent history, Washington would do well to recover this strategic clarity. Of course, things have changed since Kennan’s day: eighty-two years on, China now constitutes the single greatest international challenge facing the United States, threatening our economic prosperity, geopolitical influence, and, ultimately, the viability of our political model. Given the stakes and intensity of this contest—not to mention the domestic resource constraints—America cannot afford extraneous commitments. Therefore, a successful grand strategy must distinguish between core and peripheral interests, prioritizing the former and limiting investments in the latter.

If taken seriously, this would represent a significant departure from the last thirty years of U.S. statecraft...Read more.


There Is No Thucydides Trap Between the U.S. and China by Richard Hanania

From the article:

China is indeed rising, and by some measures, is now the largest economy in the world. It appears to many to have become more assertive in various theaters from India to Hong Kong and the South China Sea. Does that mean that confrontation between the U.S. and China is inevitable, or even likely?

Not necessarily. To see why it is worth investigating the concept of the Thucydides Trap more closely. Begin with the first part of the definition. How exactly do we define great power? In international relations, it generally means a state that has enough military strength to spread its influence on a global scale....Read more.


The U.S. Should Adopt Reasonable Policies to Calm Relations With Beijing by Richard Hanania

From the article:

The U.S. has adopted a policy of confronting China on practically all fronts, seeing anything that Beijing wants as potentially threatening to the United States. It also rejects anything resembling reciprocity, setting standards that it refuses to live up to.

In order to gauge the reasonableness of American positions, the easiest way to begin is to consider how American behavior looks to the rest of the world. Given that the U.S. has no special insight into Beijing or its intentions, if America is an outlier in the degree to which it sees China as a threat, it is likely due to domestic political reasons....Read more.


COVID-19 and the Costs of Military Primacy by Stephen Wertheim

From the article:

Before the pandemic, more and more Americans concluded that their country’s foreign policy was failing them. In return for lavishing taxpayer dollars on the world’s largest national security apparatus, the United States was growing ever more threatened and ever less safe — even according to the policymaking class responsible for the result.

The crux of the problem is that class’s fixation on military primacy. By seeking dominance across the globe rather than defense of the United States, U.S. policy has generated a downward spiral. American actions — security commitments that divide the world into friends and enemies, permanent deployments around the globe, continual war-making — produce antagonists. Such antagonists, in turn, make dominance costlier and more dangerous to pursue....Read more.


‘Generation Z’ and Foreign Policy: Building a Common Vision of Restraint in a Divided Era by Jake Mercier

From the article:

Older people (especially policymakers) of the Boomer generation still largely occupy a Cold War mindset, hindering any reasonable rapprochement with Russia to counter a real threat out of Beijing, as Nixon did with China in the seventies. The Zoomer generation, ready to begin joining the American workforce and voting population en masse, does not remember a time of long-lasting national solidarity that defined the Reagan Era. We do not remember the Twin Towers falling, or the short-lived period that saw a united country after the attack.

However, what 'Gen Z' does know is a country that has been at war since before many of us were born. They remember the Wall Street crash and rising suicides and deindustrialization and cultural malaise. As the United States faces new international challenges, most notably the rise of China and the decline of American hegemony, a stratified and divided American culture is the biggest obstacle to a national mobilization to counterbalance any foreign threat....Read more.


The Real Threat to U.S. Elections Doesn’t Come from Beijing or Moscow by Richard Hanania

From the article:

Given the American propensity for regime change overseas, it makes sense that other nations would seek, in turn, to interfere in American politics—for reasons of self-defense, if nothing else. What’s less understandable is the moral indignation that American leaders express about what are relatively minor incursions, compared with U.S. violations of some of the most fundamental rules of international law. Nearly two decades ago, Vladimir Putin and the Chinese Communists warned the United States against invading Iraq. Those who opposed the war at home were criticized as unpatriotic and apologists for Saddam Hussein. Therefore, was the Iraq War a good idea because Saddam, the Chinese, and the Russians were all against it?

As the Iraq War should remind us, the world is usually not zero-sum....Read more.


To Fix U.S. Foreign Policy, Look to the Balance of Power by Luke Nicastro

From the article:

Of course, whoever occupies the White House come January won’t have the luxury of creating his own reality. Either Donald Trump or Joe Biden will lead a country with less ability to influence international events than at any point since the end of the Cold War. This is partly the consequence of specific policy decisions—two decades of strategic adventurism has exacted a significant financial, military, and diplomatic toll—but it is also the outcome of larger material processes. From 2000 to 2019, the relative size of America’s GDP shrunk from 30.5% of the world total to 24%; over the same period, China’s share has risen from 3.6% to 16.4% (and if the figures are adjusted for purchasing power parity, the Chinese economy is already the world’s largest). As the historian Paul Kennedy demonstrated in his magisterial Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, geopolitical power is ultimately a function of economic strength, and “so far as the international system is concerned, both wealth and power are always relative”...Read more.


Learning From Trump in the Middle East by Annelle Sheline

From the article:

If Joe Biden becomes the next U.S. president, many anticipate that his administration will offer a “return to normalcy,” for better or for worse. Despite the ways in which the Trump administration’s foreign policy has overpromised and underdelivered, there are certain aspects where Biden’s foreign policy team could learn from Trump’s approach, especially in the Middle East. Trump prides himself on breaking the rules. Although he tends to do so for the pursuit of personal benefit, Trump’s willingness to challenge conventional assumptions about foreign policy, especially by reaching out to adversaries and questioning arrangements that no longer serve American interests, hold some lessons for Biden....Read more.


The Politics of Restraint by Dan Caldwell

From the article:

Since the 2016 election, the American public’s desire for more foreign policy restraint has grown, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Polling conducted in July by YouGov and commissioned by the Charles Koch Institute showed that 76 percent of Americans want to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, and 74 percent want to bring our troops home from Iraq — an increase of 7 percent and 6 percent respectively in the same poll from January 2020. The same poll also found that 75 percent of Americans believe we should prioritize domestic issues over foreign policy issues.

A polling project conducted by the Eurasia Group Foundation in August also found that Americans are increasingly rejecting military intervention abroad.  This poll found a majority of self-identified Trump and Biden voters (along with voters who support neither candidate) support negotiating directly with foreign adversaries to avoid military conflict. Consistent with this finding, the poll found that Trump and Biden voters alike support the U.S.-Taliban agreement mandating a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Additionally, the poll showed that a majority of Americans oppose a new conflict with Iran....Read more.


U.S. Foreign Policy: Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing by Gil Barndollar

From the article:

Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins in November, the next president will confront both a divided America and a world in its usual disarray. Among the many foreign policy challenges facing the new administration, three are critical: China, Russia, and America’s own broken diplomatic instrument....Read more.


Biden Would Probably Continue Course Toward Conflict With China by Rachel Esplin Odell

From the article:

After initially accusing President Trump of being insufficiently tough on China for its handling of the pandemic, the Biden-Harris campaign recently changed tack, signaling it would pursue more constructive relations with China in the spheres of public health and trade relations. The party platform adopted at the Democratic National Convention also explicitly disavowed a “new Cold War” with China. 

These developments, positive as they are, mask an unfortunate underlying reality: In the critical realm of military competition with China, a Biden administration would likely sustain the basic trajectory of current U.S. strategy in the region. At a time of mounting tension over Taiwan and the South China Sea, such a prospect bodes ill for peace and stability in Asia....Read more.

challenges facing the new administration, three are critical: China, Russia, and America’s own broken diplomatic instrument....Read more.


The United States Must Abandon the Failed “AfPak” Approach to South Asia by Adam Weinstein

From the article:

For two decades, the United States has applied a failed “AfPak” strategy to South Asia which prioritizes the conflict in Afghanistan at the expense of all other U.S. interests in the region. U.S.-Pakistan relations offer the clearest example of the shortcomings of the “AfPak” strategy and an opportunity to adopt a diplomacy-centred approach that better prioritizes U.S. interests. This approach will require Washington to simultaneously part with its short-sighted obsession with terrorism in Afghanistan, refocus attention on U.S. relations with Pakistan as independent from Afghanistan, while avoiding the pitfalls of zero-sum competition with China for influence in the region. Even a shift in the way the US refers to the region could help reframe our thinking along more productive lines....Read more.