Since 1945, American foreign policy has been captured by liberal hegemony — a doctrine of deep engagement with the rest of the world that sees multilateral regimes, democratic institutions, economic interdependence, and the export of American values and norms as the most effective and appropriate means to advance U.S. interests and to get others to do and want what Americans want.
In contrast, much of the American body politic has, for decades now, embraced a more Realist understanding of world politics, especially regarding the use of force and foreign economic policies. They want a grand strategy of global restraint, retrenchment, and a return to realist principles rooted in narrow self-interest, not one that embraces democracy promotion, humanitarian intervention, R2P, and nation building.
President Trump’s victory may signal a long overdue sea change in American foreign policy and national security priorities. Now more than ever we need a Program for the Study of Realist Foreign Policy to explore three dimensions of the politics, policy making, and statecraft of U.S. national security issues:
Goals: What are the goals of various competing grand strategies? How does each propose to advance: (i) the security and physical survival of the state; (ii) the sovereign independence of the state (including the freedom of its inhabitants to choose their own way of life and type of government); and (iii) the economic security of the state and the prosperity of its populace?
Assessment: How do we score competing foreign policies and, more broadly, grand strategies? Realism itself offers three competing grand strategies: off-shore balancing, selective engagement, and primacy. How do they differ? How can we best assess their costs and benefits?
Implementation: Good policies are important, but they are not sufficient. They must be put into practice. Yet, even the best policies can encounter implementation challenges. Consider, for instance, the grand strategy of “Off-shore Balancing.” Can the United States retreat from deep engagement without triggering intense regional security dilemmas and arms races in East Asia? In other words, can Washington avoid a hard landing as it weans the world off American military power? Moreover, once U.S. military forces go “over the horizon,” how difficult — if possible at all — would it be to bring them back on-shore should a threatening situation arise that cannot be handled solely by America’s regional allies?