What is the objective of a “grand strategy”? It is worth noting at the beginning of this essay that any “grand strategy” has as its main objective the achievement of what Paul Kennedy cites and what Sir Basel Liddell Hart stated as a “better peace.” Any method or strategy that can achieve a “better peace” as its main objective is ultimately a “grand strategy” employed by individuals or nations.
U.S. “grand strategy” has been in a state of evolution ever since the conception of the early republic. The main architects of the first ever “grand strategy” for the United States were none other than George Washington and his aide de camp Alexander Hamilton. While Hamilton urged Washington to acquiesce to the status quo of international affairs and thus co-exist with Great Britain and ultimately abandon what was then the revolutionary stance espoused by Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s economic policy and strategy for the United States was one based on the “infant industry argument.” This argument states that nascent economies cannot achieve the large economies of scale of their competitors unless protectionist policies are instituted for a certain amount of time. Once a nation achieves an economy of scale after a period of undisturbed protectionism, only then can a nation gradually reverse protectionist policies and engage in the international system from a solid position.
This period of political isolationism and economic protectionism for the United States that began with Hamilton in the late 1700’s came to an end with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900’s. Roosevelt sensed that the United States was beginning to achieve peer power status with other European nations, and as a result Roosevelt’s “grand strategy” for the United States was one of naval internationalism inspired by Roosevelt’s intellectual guru named Alfred Thayer Mahan. The United States under Theodore Roosevelt would translate its economic prowess built under the century-long policies of Hamilton into naval power that would help facilitate the acquisition of territory and natural resources from abroad. The change in U.S. “grand strategy” that took place from the period of the early republic to Roosevelt’s presidency in the early 1900’s affirms the Harvard professor Joseph Nye’s point about how strategy changes with context.
The transition from Roosevelt’s achievement of U.S. global power projection through the creation of a modern and powerful navy to the creation of international governing institutions and organizations under U.S. auspices came under Woodrow Wilson in the early 20th century. Wilson would take Roosevelt’s internationalist outlook to another level. Whereas Roosevelt considered the military and economic aspect of U.S. power projection, Wilson considered the social and political aspect of U.S. power projection and as a result Wilson undertook one of the first initiatives toward the development of what is known as “soft power” as a means of projecting U.S. power and influence abroad. Wilson believed that the main source of U.S. power was the wide array of American values such as liberty and democracy, and if other nations were to adopt these values through the U.S.-led creation of international governing organizations such as “The League of Nations”, the United States would achieve for itself the complement of Roosevelt’s “better peace” mechanism, or “grand strategy.”
Unfortunately for Wilson and his intellectual posterity, the international community governed by a common set of values that the Wilsonian wing of U.S. foreign policy envisioned would spiral into two deadly world wars in the early half of the 20th century. Conflict and social strife over territory, colonies, and nationalism were affirmations for the opposing isolationist and mostly Republican wing of U.S. foreign policy that the United States was better off fending for itself through militaristic means and the employment of “hard power” and that Wilsonian social constructs like the “The League of Nations” and the “United Nations” were simply futile and thus incapable of achieving the main objective of a “better peace” between the world’s various nations.
Further affirmation for the isolationist and militaristic wing of U.S. foreign policy came as a result of the historic and infamous rivalry and international competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After World War II, the entire world economy and international system was left in tatters. What were left after World War II were essentially two prevailing ideologies and visions for the world, one of which was espoused by the United States and the other espoused by the Soviet Union. Ideology and vision also happen to be two major elements of a “grand strategy” aimed at a “better peace”, but the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union had two competing ideologies, visions, and thus “grand strategies” for world peace became the fundamental difference between war and peace.
The difference between the system based on capitalism and democracy espoused by the United States and the form of international socialism promoted by the Soviet Union had been identified by Mao in his Little Red Book as the final struggle in the way of either war or peace. World powers, as a legacy of the infamous “Cold War” of the 20th century, are still coping with the question of whether capitalism or socialism can be employed as “grand strategies” in the way of a “better peace.” However, one can argue that due to the relative successes of the United States in forging a vibrant international system after World War II through capitalist policies in addition to the successes of Russia in resurrecting itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the successes of China in its employment of what Chinese Premier Xi Jinping calls “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the downfall of major powers does not hinge on the choice between the capitalist or socialist model. A purely Socialist or Marxist system, while good in theory, cannot be applied in real life because central planning does not allocate resources as efficient as the free market.
But as China has shown, economic growth can be achieved through a mixed economic system. Every country, due to their unique characteristics and cultures, will employ a unique path to development. The downfall of major powers depends on their involvement in wars and the perpetuation of what is known as “zero-sum thinking.” When it comes to “zero-sum thinking”, one man’s gain is another man’s loss, and this perpetuates wars and thus the downfall of small and major powers alike. How and when this particular form of thinking will change into “positive-sum thinking” where all people can mutually benefit from one another is still in question. One way of transition to positive-sum thinking is by identifying the threats that are directed towards all peoples and nations, such as international terrorism that is masterminded and orchestrated by state sponsors of terrorism like Pakistan, drug and human trafficking, water scarcity, climate change, poverty, food security, and many other issues that are trans-national in nature.
In the 21st century, given both the successes of capitalism and socialism (not “nationalist socialism”, which is an autarkic notion of how a nation should posture itself), the question of what constitutes U.S. “grand strategy” is now a matter of debate. Joseph Nye, a professor of politics at Harvard University, argues in a book titled The Future of Power that U.S. “grand strategy” is ultimately survival and providing public goods for the international system such as a military-security framework like NATO for the perpetuation of life in general. But there are other theorists who might not espouse such a simplistic view of what constitutes a viable “grand strategy.”
Ultimately, the responsibility of the United States as the world’s foremost power goes beyond the mere formation of a selfish “grand strategy.” In fact, the United States assumed the responsibility of establishing what is known as “world order” soon after World War II. Theorists like Henry Kissinger and the late Kenneth Waltz, however, argued that there is no such thing as “world order”, despite the fact that the United States has established military bases all around the world in an effort to establish “world order” for others and also what is known as “security in-depth” for itself. But given the wars and the massive debt that the United States amassed for itself in the 21st century, the ability of the United States to sustain a military-based “world order” and “security in-depth” through militaristic means is now in question.
“Security in-depth” is the most expensive item for the U.S. government, and the ability to maintain “security in-depth” solely through militaristic means is in question, let alone “world order” for others. And because there is no “world order” despite the immense military measures of the United States, it follows that there is no real “grand strategy” on the part of the United States because the efficacy of a “grand strategy” depends on the ability of the United States to order the international system in a way that will enable the success of an American “grand strategy.” After all, “strategy” is political, not military-based, according to the strategist Lawrence Freedman. And given that strategy is ultimately political rather than military-based, the basic paradigm of international relations that is based on military policies will have to shift to one that is based on diplomacy and the resolution of the world’s problems through social means.
Values shape interests, and interests shape policy. If the policy is based on one that promotes the establishment of a “better peace”, it then follows that the international community with the inclusion of the United States will have to dedicate resources to the promotion of equity and fairness in material terms for the objective of avoiding war. Almost all wars and revolutions have taken place due to economic inequality, which is why Mao identified the issue of capitalism versus socialism as the core difference between the achievement of either war or peace. Ideology is also a factor that is influential in the choice between war and peace, and the ideology that is now poised as the biggest threat to Western civilization is that of “Political Islam” orchestrated and propagated by a network that has its base inside of Pakistan.
Aside from the corruption that took root in the political establishments of a number of major powers over many decades, social and economic inequality — in addition to ideology — is the main cause for the turmoil within various nations. Edward Luce, a British journalist for the Financial Times, cited a statistic which demonstrates that the 400 or so richest counties in the United States went in favor of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, whereas the almost two and a half thousand poorest counties in the United States voted for the populist agenda and personality of Donald Trump.
And regardless of whether a capitalist or socialist model is employed by a nation, the fact of the matter is that wealth cannot be created. Rather, wealth is merely shared and distributed, according to an Oxford professor named Danny Dorling. Once economic inequality is resolved by distributing and sharing wealth either through true laissez-faire and free trade policies or the mixed and socialist policies that many European countries have successfully employed up until this point, social policies that provide an outlet for natural impulses will have to develop so that a number of vices that have up until this point been condemned by long-standing and futile Puritan thinking are legalized. International terrorism would be knocked off its stool if the legalization and effective regulation of drugs were to be instituted.
The Taliban, for example, make over 60 percent of their profits from the drug trade that occurs in black markets. There are also some statistics that show societies who choose to criminalize prostitution instead of regulating and legalizing prostitution have higher rates of crime than societies like Holland, which ultimately took an alternative route and chose to legalize and regulate a vice like prostitution that can never be stopped by prohibition. Prostitution, after all, is the world’s oldest profession dating back to the origins of man, and if prohibited, it will manifest in many other ways.
Furthermore, no social and economic progress can take place in developed and developing nations alike as long as sex is seen as a taboo rather than a normal and natural impulse. Sexuality, if criminalized and made to be a taboo subject, will have detrimental effects throughout society. Even Iran, despite its theocratic regime, generally turns a blind eye to prostitution according to the findings of Dr. Kristin Soraya Batmanghledji, a sex and gender studies expert from Columbia University. In sum, there is much that needs to be done socially and politically in the way of a “better peace”, let alone the pursuit of a monumental task like the establishment of “world order.”