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Research Questions

  1. How should the United States manage its relationships with partners and adversaries in a world of shrinking defense budgets and reduced political will for international engagement?

This report is the third in RAND's ongoing Strategic Rethink series, in which RAND experts explore the elements of a national strategy for the conduct of U.S. foreign and security policy in this administration and the next. The report evaluates three broad strategies for dealing with U.S. partners and adversaries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East in a time of diminishing defense budgets and an American public preference for a domestic focus. The three strategies are to be more assertive, to be more collaborative, or to retrench from international commitments. All three of these alternative approaches are constrained and a balance will need to be struck among them — that balance may differ from region to region. In general, however, the United States may need to follow a more collaborative approach in which it seeks greater collaboration and burden sharing from strong partners who have until now not been pulling their weight. To further reduce risk, the United States should seek to prevent deeper security ties from developing between China and Russia. It should work closely with its most vulnerable partners not only to reassure them, but to coordinate crisis management with them to limit the risk of unwanted escalation of incidents. And it should sponsor new trilateral efforts to draw together partners in both Europe and Asia that face similar security, political, economic, societal, and environmental problems. Only by working together across regions can many of these challenges be effectively managed. Trilateralism might serve as a useful follow-on strategy to the pivot to Asia.

Key Findings

None of the three alternative approaches — assertiveness, collaboration, or retrenchment — is ideal

  • All three approaches are constrained by various circumstances, so a hybrid approach will be needed, but with an emphasis on greater collaboration.

Europe, Asia, and the Middle East present widely different challenges, so specific strategies will be needed for each

  • Russian aggression, an increasingly powerful and assertive China, and widespread instability in the Middle East cannot all be countered with the same tools and methods.

Recommendations

  • Collaborative engagement is the most attractive and potentially viable strategy for the United States to pursue in today's turbulent world. The purpose of such a strategy should be to harmonize U.S. goals and national security resources by placing a greater burden on partners and allies who have until now not been pulling their full weight. To further reduce risk, the United States should seek to prevent deeper security ties from developing between China and Russia.
  • The United States should work closely with its most vulnerable partners not only to reassure them, but to coordinate crisis management with them to limit the risk of unwanted escalation of incidents. The right balance must be struck between reassuring U.S. partners and encouraging them to share more of the defense burden.
  • The United States should sponsor new trilateral efforts to draw together partners in both Europe and Asia that face similar security, political, economic, societal, and environmental problems. By working together across regions, the United States can enhance its ability to manage these growing challenges. Such trilateralism might serve as a useful follow-on strategy to the pivot to Asia.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The Partnership Setting

  • Chapter Three

    Anatomy of the Potential Adversaries

  • Chapter Four

    U.S. Constraints Limit Assertiveness

  • Chapter Five

    European Partners and the "Free Rider" Problem

  • Chapter Six

    Asian Partners and Inadequate Security Structures

  • Chapter Seven

    In Search of a Middle East Partnership Strategy

  • Chapter Eight

    Conclusion: Choosing an Approach

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