American Grand Strategy and the Liberal Order

Continuity, Change, and Options for the Future

by Hal Brands


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Since the end of World War II, the United States has pursued its global interests through a policy of consistent but evolving support for a liberal international order. In recent years, however, international challenges — such as the rise of new powers, climate change, and failed states — have led to an intensified debate about the future of the U.S. relationship with that order. To inform this debate, this Perspective identifies areas of continuity and change in the historical U.S. approach to international order. It then outlines four alternative strategies that the United States might pursue vis-à-vis the liberal order in the future and proposes criteria for choosing among these options.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    The Liberal Order and Postwar American Grand Strategy

  • Chapter Two

    Examining Individual Administrations

  • Chapter Three

    American Strategy and the Future of the Liberal Order

  • Chapter Four

    Grand Strategy and the Liberal Order in the Years Ahead

  • Chapter Five


This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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