What might lead to escalation of the war in Ukraine? And how can U.S. and allied policymakers both prepare for—and prevent—such a scenario from occurring?
Evaluating Competing Claims in the Debate about U.S. Grand Strategy
Despite the devastating losses following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, both sides have refrained from pursuing several escalatory options to date. This report evaluates the potential for further escalation in the conflict in Ukraine, including the prospects for escalation to Russian nuclear use.
Decisions about alliances and forward military presence should be based on a range
of factors beyond potential economic benefits. But there is evidence that military engagement has historically helped the U.S. economy by promoting international commerce.
Some analysts argue that security relationships cause the United States to adopt its partners' interests, incentivize allies and partners to engage in reckless behavior, and risk getting dragged into conflicts. Others contend that the United States avoids entanglement by keeping its own interests in mind.
Prioritizing defense spending over infrastructure investment might undermine economic growth. Given that the size and health of the U.S. economy are ultimately the basis for the nation's military power, policymakers should consider that the economic effects of defense spending have consequences for long-term security.
Examining Alternative Approaches to U.S. Grand Strategy
Debates about options for future U.S. policy toward Taiwan tend to focus on how each would affect China's calculus on invading the island, but another important consideration is how U.S. allies in the region would respond. The authors of this report examine how Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the Philippines would react to the United States signaling either an increase or a decrease in its support of Taiwan.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made a constructive U.S.-Russia relationship implausible for the foreseeable future. But once the fighting stops, the United States will continue to face long-term incentives to improve the stability and predictability of its relations with Moscow.
After the Ukraine war ends, U.S.-Russian relations will remain hostile. But future U.S. policymakers will also need to balance competing demands and might therefore consider a peacetime limited less-hardline approach toward Russia. Using four historical case studies, the authors found that such approaches can lead to durable but narrow gains without emboldening the rival. But such policies may not prevent later deterioration of the relationship.
The United States has a strong interest in avoiding a long war in Ukraine. Although Washington cannot alone determine the war's duration, it can take steps to make an eventual negotiated peace more likely.
If the United States adopted a grand strategy of restraint in the Asia-Pacific, how would its posture in the region change and how would it determine when to use force? What warfighting scenarios involving the defense of Japan could guide defense planning?
Questions about U.S. grand strategy and its associated costs have taken on new urgency because of the economic effects of the pandemic. If the United States adopted a realist grand strategy of restraint, it would cooperate more with other powers, reduce its forward military presence, and end some security commitments.
While the Western response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine was clear from the start, the objective has been nebulous. After over a year of fighting, the likely direction of this war is coming into focus.
Miranda Priebe, director of the Center for Analysis of U.S. Grand Strategy, joins other global security experts in responding to a Foreign Affairs poll asking whether Ukraine will wind up making territorial concessions to Russia.
Miranda Priebe, Director of the Center for Analysis of U.S. Grand Strategy writes in Foreign Affairs with researcher Samuel Charap that by laying the groundwork for negotiations now, the United States, together with its Ukrainian partners and its allies, could minimize the risk of these dangerous outcomes and help chart a path toward ending the war.
With U.S. domestic challenges ranging from the ongoing pandemic to long-delayed infrastructure investments, now is a good time to consider spending that provides both domestic and national security benefits. Infrastructure spending offers one such example.
In the run-up to a summit between the United States and Russia, is there an opportunity to revisit core assumptions, and expand the scope for statecraft in U.S. Russia policy?
What Is Grand Strategy?
A grand strategy describes a nation's most important and enduring interests and its theory for how it will defend or advance them, given domestic and international constraints.
We debate grand strategy when we ask big-picture questions:
- Which countries are America's allies and adversaries?
- How should Washington manage its relationships with these countries?
- In what situations should the United States use force?
- Which regions should Washington prioritize?
- What should the U.S. forward presence look like?
U.S. grand strategy is not necessarily captured in a single document, but the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy documents are good starting points for understanding this concept.
What Does This Center Do?
There is active debate about the future of U.S. grand strategy in the academic community. In basic terms, the question is whether the United States should continue to "lean forward" or chart a new course by "pulling back."
Both the academic literature and the policy community have raised important issues about each approach. But there are significant analytical gaps that prevent people from fully understanding which path the United States should choose.
The center's aim is to focus on specific analytical gaps and advance the discussion by
- adjudicating competing claims about grand strategy by assessing the evidence
- exploring new approaches to grand strategy—and developing the policy implications that flow from them.
By pursuing these goals, the center will help policymakers and the public better understand the choices facing the United States on the global stage.
Miranda Priebe is the director of the Center for Analysis of U.S. Grand Strategy.
The center is an initiative of the International Security and Defense Policy Program (ISDP). ISDP conducts in-depth research to help U.S. and allied leaders make tough decisions about national and international security. ISDP is part of the RAND National Security Research Division.