The American Interest

Grand Strategy Revisited

In an election campaign dominated by domestic issues, foreign themes have appeared as isolated snippets.  Questions regarding what to do about Syria or Iran, or how to manage relations with China and Russia, produce stock responses unrelated to the broad picture.  These are among the most important questions facing political decisionmakers, foreign-policy practitioners, and their advisors, yet America’s grand strategy is never mentioned.

Grand strategy is an overall blueprint for action that matches a state’s resources to its vital interests.  A sound grand strategy enables a state to deploy its political, military, economic, and moral resources in a balanced and proportionate manner, in order to protect and enhance its security and promote its well-being.  It is the brains behind diplomacy and military power: No actual or potential hot spot is considered in isolation from others and apart from the broad picture.

Great Britain successfully pursued a grand strategy during the two centuries that separate the War of the Spanish Succession from Versailles.  That strategy had two pillars: the maintenance of a Continental balance of power and the development of a maritime trading empire, with unhindered access to vital resources and markets secured by a mighty navy.  Britain’s crisis-response strategies—in the wars against Napoleon, in the...

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