United States Needs a Collaborative Approach to Manage Its Adversaries and Strengthen Partnerships Abroad

For Release

January 5, 2016

As national security challenges mount, the United States may need to follow a more-collaborative approach to foreign affairs, engaging and sharing burdens with partners who until now have not pulled their weight, a new RAND report finds.

Three U.S. strategic postures — assertiveness, retrenchment and greater collaboration with partners — must be calibrated and applied region-by-region, the report recommends.

At a time when the American relationships with Russia and China have grown tenser, and as ISIS exploits the conflict in Syria, the RAND report analyzes how the United States can manage its evolving network of global alliances.

To limit the risk of unwanted escalation of incidents, the United States should work more closely with its most-vulnerable partners and coordinate crisis management, according to the report, which identifies China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and ISIS as potential foes primed to test U.S. partnerships.

“The United States now faces at least five potential adversaries at a time when defense budgets are declining,” said Hans Binnendijk, the report's author and an adjunct political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “To meet these challenges, the United States will need to defeat ISIS, deter North Korea, dissuade Russia, constrain Iran and engage China. The question now is how to do all this in the context of the United States' changing global partnerships. A new strategic approach is needed.”

To further reduce risk, the United States should seek to prevent deeper security ties from developing between Russia and China. However, the Middle East presents a much more complicated partnership problem than does Europe or Asia.

“As the United States prepares to deal with adversaries and to help defend partners, it is at risk of becoming overextended. The nation's national security resources are shrinking as its challenges are expanding,” Binnendijk said. “U.S. engagement with friends and foes alike must reconcile this potential mismatch between resources and requirements, and between means and ends.”

The report recommends that the United States should sponsor new trilateral efforts to draw together partners in 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,” Binnendijk said. Such a collaborative approach could also reinforce transatlantic ties and provide greater partner support to manage instability in the Middle East.

This report is the third in a series of volumes in which RAND researchers explore the elements of a national strategy for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in a fast-changing world.

The report, “Friends, Foes, and Future Directions: U.S. Partnerships in a Turbulent World,” is available at www.rand.org.

This project results from the RAND Corporation's Investment in People and Ideas program. Support for this program is provided, in part, by philanthropic contributions from donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

Special appreciation goes to the Hauser Foundation for its generous gift in support of the project, and to Rita Hauser for encouraging RAND to undertake it.

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