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.
Over the last several years, great-power competition has become a major topic of discussion, prompting policymakers, scholars, and pundits alike to look to the past for lessons to explain the emerging contest between the United States and China. Considering how a variety of historical powers have faced rising challengers can aid our understanding of the challenges ahead.
The Pentagon has asked Congress to end the requirement that it make public an unclassified version of the Future Years Defense Program—the department's budget plans for at least the next five years. Although some information needs to be classified, the value of transparency for public debate and oversight in a democracy outweighs the marginal intelligence gains to U.S. adversaries.
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 Center (ISDP). Christine Wormuth directs ISDP, which 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, directed by Jack Riley.