First Principles First: International Relations Theory and the Debate Over U.S. Grand Strategy
46 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2017
Date Written: May 1, 2017
More than a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the debate continues on the appropriate American grand strategy to succeed containment. Despite widespread consensus on American core interests, there is little progress on what specific policy objectives and tools will maximize those interests. We argue that the lack of progress to date stems from a more basic disagreement about how the world works. Specifically, different groups within the debate rely on differing international relations theories: liberalism and realism. Those theories inform beliefs regarding how far away the United States is from an “optimal strategy,” or, alternatively, how best to reach the Pareto frontier, given American interests. We demonstrate that this framework can best identify competing schools of grand strategy, where and why they disagree, and the degree to which those disagreements can be resolved through empirical tests. In this way, our paper both maps and presents ways to advance the current debate regarding U.S. grand strategy.
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