Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy

Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy

Nuclear weapons have long played a central but often unappreciated role in American grand strategy. In spite of the unimaginable consequences of their use in war, we know far less about how the bomb shapes U.S. national security and world politics than we…

Disentangling Grand Strategy: International Relations Theory and U.S. Grand Strategy

Disentangling Grand Strategy: International Relations Theory and U.S. Grand Strategy

This article assesses the underlying sources of disagreement among competing scholarly treatments of U.S. grand strategy. It argues that much of the debate centers on differing conceptions of the roles of power and domestic and international institutions in…

The Purposes of Arms Control

The Purposes of Arms Control

In this paper, I review three major purposes for arms control negotiations — disarmament, stability, and advantage. In the first part of the paper, I compare the three purposes against the causes of war literature to show that each provides a defensible…

What Is Grand Strategy? Sweeping a Conceptual Minefield

What Is Grand Strategy? Sweeping a Conceptual Minefield

Amidst acute geopolitical flux, the study of grand strategy is necessary for scholars and strategists alike. As a framework for scholarship, it trains attention on the highest-order questions of international relations: why, how, and for what purposes states…

Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012

Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012

In asymmetric alliances, a superior state provides security to a weaker ally, who in exchange surrenders its autonomy to its stronger protector. But what happens when the weaker state’s vital interests clash with its stronger ally’s preferences? In 2011…

Japan’s Security Policy in the “Abe Era”: Radical Transformation or Evolutionary Shift?

Japan’s Security Policy in the “Abe Era”: Radical Transformation or Evolutionary Shift?

Widely considered Japan’s most powerful prime minister in decades, Shinzo Abe has responded to a changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific — including an increasingly powerful and assertive China and growing North Korean nuclear threat — by…

Artificial Intelligence, International Competition, and the Balance of Power

Artificial Intelligence, International Competition, and the Balance of Power

World leaders, CEOs, and academics have suggested that a revolution in artificial intelligence is upon us. Are they right, and what will advances in artificial intelligence mean for international competition and the balance of power? This article evaluates how…

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan.…

Ronald Reagan and the Cold War: What Mattered Most

Ronald Reagan and the Cold War: What Mattered Most

Scholars, like contemporary observers, continue to argue heatedly over the quality of President Ronald Reagan’s strategy, diplomacy, and leadership. This paper focuses on a fascinating paradox of his presidency: By seeking to talk to Soviet leaders and end…

Assessing Soviet Economic Performance During the Cold War: A Failure of Intelligence?

Assessing Soviet Economic Performance During the Cold War: A Failure of Intelligence?

For years, scholars have argued that economists and the CIA failed to see that the Soviet Union's economy was headed toward collapse. But are they right?

Choosing Primacy: U.S. Strategy and Global Order at the Dawn of the Post-Cold War Era

Choosing Primacy: U.S. Strategy and Global Order at the Dawn of the Post-Cold War Era

Newly declassified U.S. government records shed some light onto U.S. strategic thinking about the post-Cold War era and the infamous Defense Planning Guidance.

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                    [post_content] => Nuclear weapons, and the role they play in American grand strategy, are an issue of fundamental importance.[1] Any use of these fearsome tools of destruction, whether intentionally or by mistake, would be catastrophic. Nuclear weapons also buttress much of American grand strategy — explicitly and more often implicitly — to a far greater extent than is acknowledged. The mere existence of these weapons shapes strategy, statecraft, and the international system in profound, powerful, and often puzzling ways.

Despite the obvious importance of the bomb, its role is largely taken for granted by the American public, even among foreign policy experts. The purpose of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy draws little focused attention, much less probing questions. There are discussions about aspects of U.S. nuclear policy: debates over whether the U.S. nuclear deterrent should be modernized, what the consequences would be if a particular arms-control agreement is signed or abandoned, or worries about the possible nuclearization of a “rogue” state. These discussions, however, are episodic. They tend to fade quickly from headlines and only rarely do they bring to the surface underlying assumptions about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy.

Academic discussion of the bomb has its own challenges. Within the most influential school of thought in security studies, nuclear weapons’ effect on foreign policy and international relations is largely understood as a settled question. This is not to suggest that there is consensus among academics: More so than many fields of inquiry, nuclear studies is plagued by intellectual stove-piping, methodological disputes, and disciplinary divides. Within these academic worlds, moreover, much of the debate over nuclear issues focuses on peripheral questions and is often divorced from the realities of policymaking. Most tellingly, discussions of nuclear weapons are rarely connected to larger questions surrounding American politics, policy, and purpose in the world. Most of these disputes center on competing versions of the past. And the academic discipline of history — the field that could arbitrate these disagreements — marginalizes the study of nuclear weapons and rarely contributes to these debates.

This article seeks to disturb this complacency about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy to explore important questions: What is the rationale for these weapons, and how do they advance America’s interests in the world?

Unfortunately, much of the conventional wisdom surrounding these issues is incomplete, unfalsifiable, and, at times, simply wrong. This is not the result of a lack of effort or intellect in the academy. To be clear, the body of scholarly work on nuclear weapons is enormous and impressive. Rather, the nature of nuclear weapons and the unusual and unexpected role of the bomb in American grand strategy have often been perplexing, hard to measure and assess, and even contradictory. This has led to confusion and unproductive — sometimes sharp — disagreements among scholars of nuclear weapons and international relations. Decision-makers often share this confusion.

To better understand the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy, this essay interrogates many widely held assumptions and beliefs, with a goal of updating the intellectual architecture undergirding analysis of the role of the bomb. In the process, this article makes five arguments.

Argument One: The leading and theoretical approach to nuclear politics — known as the nuclear-revolution school — has failed to predict and explain critical aspects of U.S. nuclear policies, including nuclear strategy and nonproliferation. The most important insight from this approach is correct: that few if any political objectives were worth the extraordinary costs of a thermonuclear war. The theory, however, does not offer much insight into almost eight decades of U.S. “exceptional” behavior with the bomb — or policies at odds with the predictions of the nuclear -revolution framework.

Argument Two: Our understanding of the history of U.S. nuclear weapons policies, and the bomb’s role in American grand strategy, is often incomplete, misleading, and even wrong. Much of this stems from a shameful lack of attention to the subject by academic historians, leaving largely unchallenged a decades-old, stylized narrative crafted by participants and scholars of security and strategic studies who lack access to key archival sources. America’s nuclear past is more complex than the conventional wisdom allows. There are at least four complementary and competing strands of U.S. nuclear history — intellectual, rhetorical, operational, and presidential — that should be recognized and reconciled. Furthermore, U.S. nuclear history should be understood as distinct from, if inextricably interwoven with, other powerful streams of world history since 1945, including the Cold War, decolonization, and globalization.

Argument Three: The inadequacies of theory and history in explaining the policies of the United States are not surprising, since the nature of nuclear statecraft presents severe methodological and rhetorical challenges to getting the “right” answer. Furthermore, nuclear weapons raise profound moral considerations, making it difficult to distinguish between scholarly arguments and advocacy. These challenges demand intellectual humility and are ignored at great peril.

Argument Four: Emerging challenges — technological, geopolitical, and normative — will make questions of nuclear weapons and American grand strategy both more difficult and more consequential in the years and decades to come. Some of these forces make the use of nuclear weapons increasingly unthinkable, while others appear to make the bomb’s use more likely, both with consequences for American grand strategy. The tensions and contradictions in U.S. policy — between nuclear activism and nuclear abstinence — will make an already difficult situation increasingly unsustainable in the future.

Argument Five: America’s often puzzling nuclear policies are best understood through a grand-strategic lens. What does such a framework reveal about the United States?

While American nuclear policies have often appeared uncertain, ambiguous, and inconsistent, when assessed over time it is clear that the United States has persistently used nuclear weapons to achieve one overriding grand-strategic goal: to “resist” the elements of the “nuclear revolution” that limit America’s freedom of action in the world and expose it to vulnerability. This was true during the Cold War and after the Cold War ended, and it remains true to this day. Washington has sought to eliminate its vulnerability and promote freedom of action through policies and behaviors that often appear to be in tension or even contradictory. Academics have often missed this important point, which is often intuitively understood by American policymakers.

How did the United States pursue this grand-strategic goal? At times, the U.S. government pursues nuclear activism by treating nuclear weapons as the most important element of its grand strategy. It did this, for example, by prizing nuclear superiority and by adopting strategies to use these weapons early and first in a crisis. At other times, Washington has pursued policies of nuclear abstinence, highlighting how unusable and even repugnant nuclear weapons are and encouraging other states to eschew their benefits. Many times, American grand strategy has been to pursue both, seemingly incompatible, positions. This split was driven less by strategic ambiguity than real uncertainty about the best path forward and a desire to fully cover its bet. When it comes to activism or abstinence, the United States, like a switch-hitter in baseball choosing between batting left or right, chooses the option with the greatest odds of achieving its grand-strategic goals.

I. The Wrong Revolution?

How should nuclear weapons affect U.S. strategy and statecraft? What does the leading theory — the nuclear-revolution school — say about how American grand strategy should be influenced by the bomb? Under the nuclear-revolution framework, assessing the purpose and consequences of the bomb through a grand-strategic lens can make for an awkward fit. After all, grand strategy is about making choices: what means and instruments, including war, states and their leaders select to achieve desired ends in geopolitical competition in international relations. It reflects “a purposeful and coherent set of ideas about what a nation seeks to accomplish in the world, and how it should go about doing so.”[2] Grand strategies vary enormously over time, location, individuals, and regimes. The United States has pursued a variety of grand strategies since its founding, and debate is fierce over what grand strategy it should pursue today and what means it should employ. The nuclear-revolution school argues that the bomb severely constrains and limits — and at times eliminates — the grand-strategic choices that were available to states and statesmen in the past. Robert Jervis, the leading thinker in the nuclear-revolution school, has argued that “[f]orce and the threat of it cannot support foreign policy in the same way that it did in the past.”[3] Historian Lawrence Freedman agrees, suggesting that the notion of a nuclear strategy “is a contradiction in terms.”[4] What is the “nuclear revolution” framework, and what predictions and explanations does it offer? While scholars differ on some aspects,[5] Stephen Walt has nicely defined its broad outlines:
As refined by scholars like [Bernard] Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Glenn Snyder, Robert Jervis, Kenneth Waltz, and Stephen Van Evera, nuclear weapons are said to provide states with the ability to protect their sovereignty and independence not via direct defense but rather through deterrence.
According to the “logic of the ‘nuclear revolution,’ therefore, states with second-strike capabilities were secure against attack and didn’t need to worry very much about their sovereignty or independence.” The nuclear revolution “means that ‘nuclear superiority’ was a meaningless concept. … A handful of survivable weapons makes it very unlikely that another state will attack you directly or try to invade and take over your country.”[6] According to Jervis, the leading scholar in this tradition, nuclear weapons “can kill but not influence.”[7] Nuclear weapons even “eliminate the security dilemma,” the phenomena that many scholars believe drove international conflict for centuries, making cooperation among states more likely.[8] Nor can they be used for much else besides deterrence. As Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann argue in a recent study, “For all the money spent on atomic bombs, they have bought precious little coercive leverage for states.”[9] [quote id="1"] The nuclear revolution should have had important consequences for proliferation dynamics, nonproliferation policies, and alliances. Joshua Rovner explains that according to the nuclear-revolution view, “if nuclear weapons were great for deterrence but lousy for battle, then Washington should have been sanguine as new countries went nuclear. It might even have been optimistic, since proliferation would, under this theory, lead countries to become cautious.”[10] Even if the United States wanted to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, however, the effort would be futile. According to Kenneth Waltz, “[I]f countries feel insecure and believe that nuclear weapons would make them more secure, America’s policy of opposing the spread of nuclear weapons will not prevail.”[11] Waltz, the most influential international relations theorist of modern times and one of the more extreme advocates of the nuclear-revolution framework, went further still, arguing that nuclear weapons “make alliances obsolete.”[12] The mere presence of the bomb would override the grand-strategic choices made by a particular state or leader. “Nuclear weapons can carry out their deterrent task no matter what other countries do.”[13] The key insight of this framework is that the bomb is a defensive weapon of such powerful force that it transforms strategy and statecraft, constraining the grand-strategic options available to states and leaders before the nuclear age, regardless of a state’s history, geography, culture, or regime type. According to Waltz, “American estimates of what is required for deterrence were absurdly high.” In other words, “not much is required to deter.”[14] Summing up the conventional wisdom among scholars in this tradition, Charles Glaser and Chaim Kauffman argue that the nuclear revolution reveals that “this technology so heavily favors defense that when all the major powers have nuclear weapons variation in other factors becomes relatively unimportant.”[15] According to Stephen Van Evera, “the nuclear revolution gave defenders a large military advantage,” so large that conquest “became virtually impossible.”[16] John Mearsheimer similarly concludes that “there is no question ... the presence of nuclear weapons makes states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other.”[17] How well did the theory of the nuclear revolution do in predicting American nuclear weapons policy and explaining the role of the bomb in U.S. grand strategy? The framework’s key point — that nuclear weapons made total, thermonuclear war a horrifying absurdity to be avoided at all costs — is of course a profound insight. As the historian John Lewis Gaddis argued during the Cold War, “It seems inescapable that what has really made a difference in inducing this unaccustomed caution has been the workings of the nuclear deterrent.”[18] Yet, the implications of this incontrovertible truth for American grand strategy are both contested and uncertain. Did the United States accept mutual vulnerability with nuclear-armed adversaries, as the theory would have predicted? Was the bomb understood only as a defensive weapon to defend American sovereignty and territorial integrity? Were American leaders nonplussed as other states expressed interest in the bomb, and, even if concerned, did they recognize and accept that there was little they could do to stop proliferation? Did alliances become less important, and was the United States less likely to use force of any kind? Perhaps most critical, did the United States behave like any other state in the system, bowing before the constraints the nuclear revolution imposed on its strategy and statecraft? Taken to its logical end, this school of thought suggests that many states should seek nuclear weapons and that the United States should or could do little to stop other states from pursuing and attaining their own bomb. When building arsenals, the ease of securing a second-strike capability meant that seeking quantitative or qualitative advantages beyond a certain point would be a foolish goal for a state: At best it would be wastefully expensive; at worst, destabilizing and dangerous. According to the theory, strategic stability, both in dyadic competitions and on a broader, horizontal scale, should emerge naturally from the nuclear revolution.[19] Nor should the particular circumstance, history, leadership or regime type, or interests of the nuclearizing state affect the powerful, system-wide effects of these weapons. Or so went the story largely crafted by American academics specializing in security and strategic studies.[20] As Rovner has noted,
If the nuclear revolution affected grand strategy, the United States should have settled for a small arsenal for the sole purpose of deterrence. It would never have sought to integrate nuclear and conventional forces, because nuclear weapons were fundamentally different in that they could never be used. U.S. leaders should have recognized that defenses against nuclear attack were futile, and avoided pouring time and money into such efforts. And they should have managed the process of proliferation so that states, great and regional powers alike, enjoyed the security benefit of a reliable second-strike capability. None of these things happened.[21]
Why not? Exceptional, but Not for the Reasons Many Think The nuclear-revolution framework provides a powerful lens to understand two of the most important aspects of world politics since 1945: the disappearance of great-power war and the non-use of nuclear weapons against adversaries after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945. It is less helpful in explaining other aspects of U.S. grand strategy in the nuclear age. U.S. behavior and policies diverged from expectations of the nuclear-revolution school in at least three ways. The first involves American leaders’ interest in making nuclear weapons such a core element in U.S. grand strategy. According to the nuclear-revolution school, the most powerful role of nuclear weapons is as “invasion insurance,” or to prevent the conquest of sovereign territory. Whatever the fears raised by the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, the United States has faced almost no threat of conquest since the Civil War ended in 1865. A United States without nuclear weapons — in 2019 or in 1955 or 1975 or any other year — faced almost zero threat of conquest. Rarely has a state had less need for the bomb to guarantee its immediate territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security.[22] Yet, no state has invested greater resources in developing and deploying nuclear weapons, nor has any other state relied more heavily on nuclear weapons to implement its grand strategy. The United States has spent astronomical sums on nuclear weapons since 1940, dwarfing the expenditures of other rivals.[23] It plans to spend an additional $1.3 trillion over the next few decades.[24] This is not to suggest that it is surprising the United States pursued and developed the bomb, or even that it pursued a survivable nuclear capability. What is surprising, however, is the central and expensive role that nuclear weapons have played in American grand strategy. Advocates of strategic stability and the nuclear-revolution framework, to say nothing of the historians of American grand strategy before 1950, would likely struggle to explain the United States’ experiments with “nuclear sharing” with its allies, its willingness to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, and pre-delegating authority to launch the bomb to military commanders in the field.[25] Second, extraordinary new scholarship is making it increasingly clear that the United States never permanently abandoned its efforts to achieve nuclear superiority.[26] For a decade and a half after the United States lost its nuclear monopoly, it strove diligently to build far more deliverable nuclear weapons than any other country.[27] It is true that the United States began to accept quantitative equality with its primary adversary, the Soviet Union, by the late 1960s and 1970s. Two points are in order. First, the United States accepted parity only reluctantly. As James Cameron astutely observed, “Nixon hated MAD, believed its logic was defeatist and naïve, yet he signed agreements that enshrined it at the heart of the United States’ relations with the Soviet Union.”[28] Mired in a disastrous war in Southeast Asia and facing both economic and domestic political constraints on military spending, the United States pulled in its horns. Second, while American policymakers accepted quantitative parity, they still sought qualitative primacy over U.S. adversaries. How did the United States seek this superiority? Concurrent to American policymakers negotiating and accepting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and SALT II) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaties, the U.S. government undertook a massive, extraordinary effort to develop and deploy more sophisticated nuclear weapons and systems to support them. This allowed the United States to exploit its natural advantages over the Soviet Union. As John Mauer has argued,
American leaders raced the Soviets in military technologies where the United States was perceived to enjoy significant advantages, while simultaneously entangling the Soviet Union in an arms control regime that would limit areas of Soviet strength. By combining arms racing and arms control, the United States pursued a holistic offset strategy.[29]
As historians Niccolo Petrelli and Giordana Pulcini reveal, between 1969 and 1976 the Nixon and Ford administrations “actively sought to transcend nuclear parity.”[30] In the years after quantitative parity was accepted, the United States developed and deployed a number of technologically sophisticated and expensive capabilities, including the Pershing II, MX, Trident D-5, as well as cruise missiles. It also invested enormous resources into missile defense; anti-submarine warfare (i.e., targeting and eluding Soviet nuclear submarines); and command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities.[31] As Austin Long and Brendan Green demonstrate in their path-breaking work, the United States “invested massive resources into intelligence capabilities for a first strike, including successful innovation in tracking submarines and mobile missiles.”[32] These expenditures were oriented toward systems whose characteristics and capabilities, such as speed, stealth, intelligence, and accuracy, were best suited to a nuclear posture that focused on counterforce, damage limitation, and even preemptive uses. In other words, the nuclear forces built in the decades after the SALT and ABM treaties made little sense if the United States had fully embraced the consequences of mutual vulnerability spelled out by the nuclear-revolution school. This is certainly how the Soviet Union perceived these efforts. Because of the “development of American counterforce capabilities,” Soviet leaders “were uncertain they could indefinitely maintain a secure second strike in spite of their strenuous efforts.”[33] [quote id="2"] This interest in maintaining superior nuclear capabilities continued after the Cold War ended.[34] As a 2003 RAND report observed,
The force is larger than it needs to be if deterrence by threat of nuclear retaliation is the sole objective of U.S. nuclear strategy. Even a mildly expanded target base that included selected targets in emerging nuclear powers as well as chemical and biological weapons facilities in a larger set of countries would not necessarily require the sort of force that the United States plans to maintain. What the planned force appears best suited to provide beyond the needs of traditional deterrence is a preemptive counterforce capability against Russia and China. Otherwise, the numbers and the operating procedures simply do not add up.[35]
It has been argued that bureaucratic and organizational politics were the primary drivers of these expensive, risky, and politically polarizing nuclear postures.[36] Organizational and bureaucratic factors no doubt played some role, but the fact that the search for qualitative superiority has spanned decades, encompassing multiple administrations and great shifts in global politics, undermines such interpretations. As Green and Long argue, “In sum, it was international politics, not domestic politics, which killed hopes for nuclear stability.”[37] Why did the United States seek nuclear primacy? This relates to the third point: The United States asked more of its nuclear weapons in its grand strategy than any other nuclear state.[38] Most states seek nuclear weapons to protect themselves from invasion and conquest. This is a scenario the United States has not had to worry about, and even if it did, such protection would not require the massive, sophisticated nuclear forces and related systems the U.S. government built. Instead, the United States employed its nuclear forces to achieve far more ambitious, historically unprecedented goals. From the early 1950s onward, the United States pursued an audacious strategy of relying on its massive nuclear capabilities to both protect far-flung allies from nuclear attack or conventional invasion while also inhibiting the nuclear desires of those same allies. As Green and Long demonstrate, “Successive administrations discovered that the threat of retaliation and the existential risk of nuclear escalation posed by stability doctrines were not a sufficient military solution for their perceived geopolitical challenges.”[39] There has long been a tension between the goal of strategic stability and extending deterrence to America’s allies. As analysts from RAND pointed out in 1989, there was a clash between the “objectives of enhancing first[-]strike stability, on the one hand, and extending deterrence and limiting damage, on the other,” such that the more robust the Soviets believed stability was “the less they might hesitate to precipitate a deep crisis by engaging in serious aggression.”[40] As Earl Ravenal explained in 1982, extending deterrence demanded expensive and potentially destabilizing counterforce capabilities, employed in first-strike strategies. “Such a damage[-]limiting attack, to have its intended effect, must be preemptive.”[41] Permanently extending deterrence while inhibiting proliferation have been cornerstones of American grand strategy for so long it is easy to forget how historically unusual, difficult, and demanding this ambition is. There was, of course, great tension between the goal of a preemptive strategy and strategic stability. Counterforce strategies were not about mutual vulnerability, Ravenal makes clear:
[C]ounterforce and first nuclear strike are mutually dependent. A first strike implies counterforce targeting, since the only initial attack that makes sense is a damage-limiting strike, the destruction of as much of the enemy’s nuclear force as possible. And counterforce targeting, in return, implies a first strike, a preemptive attack, because a second strike against the enemy’s missiles is useless to the extent that one’s missiles would hit empty holes.
As an assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told a reporter in the mid-1960s, “There could be no such thing as primary retaliation against military targets after an enemy attack. If you’re going to shoot at missiles, you’re talking about first strike.”[42] To be clear, this is not to argue that American leaders seriously contemplated a first strike or even made full-out efforts to acquire meaningful first-strike forces.[43] While American presidents refused to accept qualitative parity with the Soviet Union and pursued expensive and arguably dangerous counterforce options, they also shied away from seeking a full-scale, first-strike capability. One of the great unanswered questions of the nuclear age involves what U.S. leaders thought they were getting with this qualified superiority.[44] Strategies of inhibition required strategic forces that went far beyond mutual vulnerability, but such postures might dangerously undermine strategic stability.[45] One promising explanation is Glenn Kent and David Thaler’s idea of “optimum instability” — developing enough counterforce to make the other side think you might go first in a crisis but without making your adversary think you are eager to do so. “Indeed, one might argue that an optimal amount of first-strike instability is possible: that is, enough to deter the Soviets from generating a major crisis (say, by invading Western Europe), but not enough to allow a major crisis to spiral out of control.”[46] This aggressive posture was pursued, in large measure, to inhibit the development of independent nuclear weapons programs among ostensible allies. The United States went to great lengths to prevent what otherwise might have been a natural development in world politics: the emergence of independent, capable states acquiring their own nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons would, after all, effectively guarantee their possessors against invasion and conquest for the first time — ever. Rare was the state in history that turned away from an effective military technology or turned over its security to another state. Washington, however, aggressively pursued a wide range of policies to achieve inhibition, including threats of force or abandonment, forward deployed forces, enacting sanctions, selling arms, and encouraging treaties and norms.[47] To achieve its goals of inhibition, the United States often cooperated with its most bitter ideological and geopolitical adversary, the Soviet Union, at the expense of U.S. partners and allies.[48] It is easy to lose sight of how strange, even radical, these grand-strategic choices were when they were developed in the 1950s and the extent to which they remain so today. There is little in the nuclear-revolution theory that can explain the cost, number, and technological sophistication of America’s nuclear weapons systems, nor the aggressive postures in which they were employed. Imagine explaining in the early 20th century that the United States was going to risk a global war that would kill tens of millions of people to defend a conventionally indefensible portion of a city — West Berlin — 100 miles within enemy territory that had no geostrategic value whatsoever. Imagine that everyone would think this was normal (and call it “extended deterrence”). Imagine the weapons and military strategy necessary to convince an adversary that was far closer, that had superior conventional arms, and that, arguably, had more at stake that this was a credible commitment. Try to imagine a parallel in world history for this situation before 1950. Then think about how the strategists who constructed these theories did so based largely on their view of how this story unfolded between 1958 and 1963. The United States, which had little need for nuclear weapons to prevent an invasion or nuclear attack upon its homeland, built, at great expense, the largest and most sophisticated nuclear forces in the world and placed them within forward-leading and often preemptive strategies, backed by military technologies that potentially undermined strategic stability. American leaders worked feverishly, often with adversaries, to prevent the rise of independent nuclear-weapons states — ally, enemy, or neutral — and this remains a cornerstone of U.S. grand strategy. These strategies were exceptional. In one sense, however, nuclear weapons did revolutionize American grand strategy. Before 1949, the United States had no permanent peacetime alliances. America demobilized during peacetime, and it typically pursued slow strategies of attrition when conflict did arise. Congress was widely perceived as the more powerful foreign policy actor during peacetime, while military leaders were afforded little leeway. All of that changed dramatically after the early 1950s, across administrations and shifts in the structure of the international system.[49] Since then, the United States has developed strategies, on semi-permanent alert status, that escalate quickly — even preemptively — with nuclear weapons, and it has concentrated enormous power to initiate war into the hands of the American presidency, all on behalf of defending a sprawling set of countries around the world. Simply put: There was a (thermo-) nuclear revolution that shaped American grand strategy — but it was a much different revolution than the conventional wisdom puts forward.

II. Missing Histories

What is the history of U.S. nuclear weapons and their role in American grand strategy?  Careful assessment of what is known — and whether these accounts accurately capture the past — is critical. Most theories and policy analysis are based on assumptions and beliefs about what happened in the past. Unfortunately, less is known about U.S. nuclear history and its role in American grand strategy than is presumed, and what many people do know is often overly simplistic, misleading, or otherwise problematic. Why is this the case? The major works that cover the history of U.S. nuclear weapons policy were, for the most part, written some time ago — before many primary documents were released. These works were often penned not by historians but by policy participants, scholars of strategic and security studies, or analysts outside of the academy. Many of these works are excellent first cuts at history.[50] Most, however, are older, do not engage recent archival finds, and often accept the logic of the nuclear-revolution school to explain U.S. policy. [quote id="3"] What of the discipline of academic history? To be sure, impressive international research has been conducted into various elements of global nuclear history, especially the issues surrounding various state decisions about whether to build a bomb.[51] There are also excellent monographs exploring particular aspects of U.S. nuclear history.[52] Writ large, however, treatment of American nuclear weapons history has been episodic rather than systematic. This is part of a larger, and unfortunate, decades-old trend within history departments. As Hal Brands has argued, “The historical profession in the United States has simply deprioritized the study of statecraft and international relations, at least as those subjects were conventionally understood.”[53] This is especially true in nuclear history, where there is almost no participation by scholarly historians on these contested issues. The academic discipline of history
has largely abandoned studying important issues such as international security and nuclear weapons and is in the midst of a four-decade, slow[-]motion act of collective suicide. There simply is not, nor will there be anytime soon, a critical mass of diplomatic and military historians available to research these important questions or make use of these amazing materials.[54]
Even when scholarly historians do focus on issues of foreign policy or international relations, nuclear questions often get short shrift. Large, synthetic accounts of the Cold War either accept the nuclear-revolution framework or do not break new ground on nuclear issues.[55] Arguably far more is known about the development of U.S. human rights policies, for example, or the role of race and gender in American foreign policy, than about how U.S. decision-makers have discussed and debated the purpose and consequences of the bomb in its relations with the world. Given the extraordinary importance and potential consequences of American nuclear weapons policies, and the massive increases in primary documents available to researchers, the failure of the American historical profession to support and undertake this work is shameful. The Challenge of Nuclear History What would a comprehensive history of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and its role in grand strategy look like? To be fair, undertaking historical work on nuclear issues is particularly difficult. There are the methodological challenges that will be laid out in the next section: assessing historical evidence and making causal claims is difficult when the issues at stake — deterrence, assurance, credibility, and resolve — are unobservable. Speeches and written evidence are often hard to interpret. Top-secret deliberations often reveal American presidents taking contradictory approaches or blowing off steam. U.S. officials’ public pronouncements are frequently intended to convey signals to various audiences and may not represent operational policy. Furthermore, the decisions behind nuclear policies and strategies are some of the government’s most carefully guarded activities, and access to top-secret documents is heavily restricted. While the situation has improved considerably in recent years, archival materials on nuclear policy are notoriously difficult to declassify, and even when they are released, they are often heavily redacted. With important pieces of evidence unavailable, constructing an all-inclusive, seamless narrative remains enormously challenging. A larger question looms: What does it mean to talk about nuclear history? The history of nuclear weapons was once told as the history of the Cold War, and vice-versa. It is now understood that they were not the same. Sometimes nuclear history and Cold War history overlapped, while at other times they moved on independent paths, so much so that it is often hard to determine whether nuclear weapons prevented the bipolar competition from breaking out into war or dangerously exacerbated underlying tensions. A history that conflates Cold War and nuclear dynamics could not, for example, fully explain why the United States cooperated with the Soviet Union to deny their respective allies nuclear weapons.[56] Alliances once ascribed solely to Cold War dynamics, in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, have not only persisted since that struggle ended but have broadened and deepened in ways that show that nuclear considerations (among other non-Cold War factors) were always at their root. It is essential to disentangle the interconnected but distinct histories of the nuclear age and the geopolitical and ideological rivalry between the superpowers.[57] The Cold War was not, however, the only powerful historical force interacting with, shaping, and being shaped by nuclear history. Decolonization, whose deep roots in imperialism and resistance date back centuries, had an enormous influence — in many cases, more than the Cold War — shaping nuclear decision-making in Great Britain, France, Israel, South Africa, India, and Pakistan, as well as others that decided not to acquire the bomb. Other factors, such as regional dynamics and the effects of globalization, influenced American grand strategy and approach to nuclear weapons. Disentangling competing global histories since the end of World War II is a difficult but necessary task when trying to understand how nuclear weapons influence international relations. There is also the question of periodization and chronology. Is the nuclear age one continuous stream, beginning in August 1945 — if not earlier — and continuing to the present? Or are there sharp breaks dictated by key technological advances such as the development of thermonuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles? Important political events had profound consequences for nuclear history: the emergence of Soviet nuclear parity and the negotiation of major arms-control treaties, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Is there such a thing as a second nuclear age, and, if so, how is it different from the first? Defining nuclear history and its scope is difficult; calculating how American grand strategy incorporates and reacts to these shifts even more so. Competing Histories The most important historical challenge is reconciling contending and often contradictory narratives that chronicle the past. This is especially true when trying to understand the American experience with the bomb. There are at least four competing histories of how nuclear weapons influenced U.S. grand strategy and vice-versa: intellectual, rhetorical, operational, and presidential. Assessing which of these strands is most important, and how they interact with each other, is challenging. The first strand is the intellectual history of the United States. For many within the security studies community, the most familiar strand is what might be called the “Wizards of Armageddon” story. In this tale, smart strategists, typically civilians from universities and think tanks like the RAND Corp., wrestled with and explained to the wider world the new realities created by nuclear weapons. In the process, great thinkers such as Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Albert Wohlstetter, and others made sense of “the unthinkable,” created modern deterrence theory, transformed U.S. policy and grand strategy, and probably prevented World War III. This history is both familiar and comforting — to the extent that nuclear history can be comforting — because it explains the rise of the field of security studies and provides the intellectual architecture for the ideas behind nuclear peace. Because a key part of the stylized telling is how the wizards transformed American policy (and saved the world!), it also suggests that scholarly ideas matter to policymakers. As Marc Trachtenberg points out, however, analysis of the civilian nuclear strategists often suffered from being both “apolitical in substance” and “ahistorical in method.”[58] Bruce Kuklick is even more harsh: The strategists “professed deep understanding” but actually “groped in the dark” and their ideas “had little causal impact.”[59] The problem is that as history, the story of the “Wizards of Armageddon” is, at best, overstated and misleading; at worst, it bears little relation to what actually happened.[60] The second history is rhetorical. Through speeches and published documents, the United States government has used public declarations to indicate its views on nuclear weapons. Prominent examples include Eisenhower administration Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s “massive retaliation” speech given at the Council on Foreign Relations in 1954, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s University of Michigan commencement address in 1962 laying out the flexible-response doctrine and his 1967 doctrine on missile defense, Nixon administration Defense Secretary James Schlesinger’s announcement of a new doctrine in January 1974, or the discussion surrounding President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Directive 59.[61] Understandably, these public declarations are analyzed to better understand the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Interpreting policy rhetoric is always challenging, however, especially when nuclear strategy is involved. These speeches and documents were often vehicles to send signals to a variety of audiences — domestic, allied, and adversarial — that involved assurance, reassurance, inhibition, and deterrence missions.[62] Cameron notes that American policymakers frequently played a “double game,” struggling to “balance the demands of presenting a front of strategic coherence” when, behind the scenes, things were far more complicated and uncertain.[63] Many public missions and messages of nuclear strategy were at cross purposes. For example, “the rhetoric of flexible response … was convenient to top U.S. policymakers for reasons that had little to do with enhancing deterrence or winning a nuclear war.”[64] And, as will be discussed further, nuclear rhetoric is often imprecise, unrealistic, and easily drained of meaning. [quote id="4"] The third strand is the operational history of the United States and nuclear weapons. The United States devoted enormous resources to develop certain kinds of nuclear weapons systems, deployed in surprising ways and places, as part of often-extraordinary strategies. It is critical to understand what weapons were developed and why, where and how they were deployed and targeted, and in what strategies. This history is closely guarded, but these operational decisions appear to have been driven by a complex brew of technological factors, alliance relations, and geopolitical competition, as well as bureaucratic and organization interests and domestic political considerations. The intellectual history, as told by the “Wizards of Armageddon,” and the rhetorical history laid out by political leaders often bears little resemblance to the acquisition, deployment, and use plans developed as core parts of U.S. grand strategy. As the historian David Alan Rosenberg argues, “nuclear strategy does not, in reality, consist of concepts or even policy statements. It consists of concrete decisions regarding war plans, budgets, forces, and deployments.”[65] The fourth strand of history is both the most important and the most obscure: presidential history. The structure, laws, and customs of war-making in the United States combined with the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons provides the president extraordinary power and singular responsibilities over nuclear weapons.[66] What a president thought about nuclear weapons — whether and under what circumstances he might threaten or even use nuclear weapons — is of fundamental importance. How can scholars get at these beliefs and how they informed decisions?[67] How did such beliefs change over time — both across and within administrations? How did thinking about nuclear use — or avoiding nuclear use — shape particular decisions about larger issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy? Even when the question of using nuclear weapons was not explicit, it no doubt cast a shadow over multiple policies. Understanding and reconstructing this past is extraordinarily difficult.[68] What is one to make, for example, of Nixon’s loose rhetoric about nuclear use in private, when his actions and policies often revealed quite careful and responsible considerations? Or Dean Acheson’s advice to President John F. Kennedy that he never reveal whether or not he would use nuclear weapons? As former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Rosenberg,
nuclear strategy…is determined by the President’s views and intentions, not by policy or planning documents, or even force structures. The President alone determines how nuclear war will be fought, by virtue of his position in a highly centralized command and control structure.[69]
Reconstructing America’s nuclear past and explaining how it both shaped and was shaped by U.S. grand strategy is a daunting task. It demands integrating all four strands of this history, while deconflicting contradictory elements and assessing what forces and factors are most important. It also requires figuring out how nuclear history interacts with, and is distinct from, other powerful historical forces as varied as regional rivalries, decolonization, and the Cold War. This task is made all the more difficult by the challenges laid out in the next section: Ultimately, the past scholars and analysts are exploring is a history that never happened and thus cannot be observed, analyzed, or measured — the history of thermonuclear war.

III. A Loss for Words?

It should not be surprising that neither international relations theory nor history has satisfactorily explained the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Two reasons for this are baked into the nature of the nuclear enterprise. First, nuclear weapons present profound and often unsettling moral challenges that can make discussing their role in grand strategy difficult and divisive. It can also cause scholarship to bleed into advocacy. Second, there are profound methodological challenges in trying to understand the role of nuclear weapons. When scholars analyze the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy, we are most interested in phenomena that have not occurred, such as thermonuclear war, and policy outcomes that are difficult to observe and measure — such as deterrence, assurance, and resolve — or even to prove operative. These challenges pull in different directions. Analysts understandably hold strong views about nuclear weapons, which drives them to speak with authority and passion about the role and purpose of the bomb in American grand strategy. Yet, many of these deep-seated beliefs are difficult, even impossible, to prove with history or with theory. A debate that should be marked by humility and respect is often polarizing and unproductive. Talking About the Unthinkable The moral problem surrounding nuclear weapons is basic and unsettling. How should one speak about and analyze something that is unthinkable: detonating nuclear weapons against another nation? Use of these weapons would be catastrophic. It would reflect a historic failure of policy and, in many cases, would amount to mass murder. Yet, the threat to use these weapons in a variety of scenarios — including many that do not involve an attack upon the United States or an adversary’s use of nuclear weapons — has been the backbone of American grand strategy for decades. The language used to discuss these dilemmas rarely captures the magnitude of nuclear decision-making, and both academic and policy discourse often drift into a world of insider jargon and toothless acronyms that mask the extraordinary potential consequences of this debate. More than 30 years ago, Carol Cohn highlighted “the elaborate use of abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enabled the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words.”[70] As Michael Quinlan wisely recommended, “thinking about nuclear weapons must be constantly on the alert — the more so in the absence of historical experience to anchor and calibrate discussion — to probe behind words and customary expressions so as to recall the underlying realities.”[71] The colorless language used to describe elements of this strategy and the underlying threat of nuclear confrontation that undergirds it — deterrence, credibility, signaling, escalation — is often eerily disconnected from the realities behind the words. Nina Tannenwald observed a “disconnect between how ordinary people” thought about nuclear weapons and how academic deterrence theory discussed these issues. “These game theoretic analyses, I found, had little to say about issues of revulsion and morality.”[72] Reid Pauly has termed this “rhetorical evaporation” — whereby the words policymakers and scholars use to describe U.S. nuclear policies are drained of meaning.[73] This rhetorical evaporation goes to the heart of a grand-strategic problem the United States has faced since the start of the thermonuclear age: The most important goal of American nuclear weapons policy is to guarantee that they are never used. This policy tautology was bound, over time, to undermine the threat needed to project deterrence and arguably has driven the United States to greater and more strenuous actions to demonstrate the credibility of an action no one really believes it would take. The lack of clarity about language and meaning surrounding the purposes of nuclear weapons has consequences for policy. An October 2016 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies connected poor morale and dysfunction among American officials responsible for nuclear weapons to the difficulties of clearly communicating what role the bomb served in American grand strategy. Looking over years of nuclear policies, the report pointed out that “a coherent narrative about the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons has not been sufficiently stated and promulgated” to those in the military responsible for nuclear weapons. The report criticized how U.S. nuclear weapons policy “is described in highly sophisticated strategic logic that is not very accessible to the general public or the junior nuclear personnel.” It is filled with “concepts and jargon that are not routinely defined and explained” and focuses on “what nuclear weapons will not do,” supplemented by “descriptions of decline, reduction, and diminishment.”[74] The inability to connect these fearsome weapons to explicit U. S. interests in a convincing manner arguably plays into a culture burdened by accidents and scandal.[75] The lack of clear language to describe a willingness to do the unthinkable, in order to avoid the unthinkable, is only one challenge. It would be impossible to wrestle with these issues without engaging deep moral considerations, a stance which presents difficulties for a purely “social scientific” approach. The lines between analysis and advocacy are often easily — if understandably — blurred.  Robert Jervis, the father of the nuclear-revolution framework, admirably has acknowledged that mutual second-strike capabilities may not “have been as secure as I and most others believed” in the 1980s. In May 2018, he explained:
Although I stand behind the arguments I made in The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, and believe that they represent a significant scholarly contribution, they were also interventions in a fierce political debate. … I was trying to persuade as well as analyze.[76]
This moral and rhetorical challenge is especially pointed for the United States. One can imagine, for example, a state using nuclear weapons as a last resort to repel a more powerful enemy that seeks to conquer its territory. The United States, however, fields nuclear weapons to achieve a variety of goals that fall well below the level of existential, including extending deterrence over allies while inhibiting their nuclear ambitions and seeking coercive advantages during crises with adversaries. These goals require more nuclear weapons in far more aggressive strategies than simply deterring invasion or nuclear attack upon the American homeland. Relying on such profoundly powerful instruments to achieve less-than-existential goals inevitably generates credibility issues. How believable are American nuclear policies? The United States has worked hard to ameliorate these credibility concerns over the years using a variety of tactics, including diplomacy and consultation with allies, nuclear sharing, developing and deploying counterforce delivery capabilities, and a willingness to use nuclear weapons first, in addition to foreign policy and military commitments that would, in a non-nuclear world, be puzzling at best.[77] Given nuclear weapons’ fundamental role in American grand strategy, will these words, commitments, weapons, and strategies remain convincing and credible in years to come? Within decades after the close of World War II — a horrendously violent war of savage conquest and genocide — analysts began to doubt that the United States would use nuclear weapons against a bitter ideological and geopolitical rival committed to its downfall. In today’s far different world, marked by relative peace, stability, and the apparent disappearance of war between the great powers, does anyone — ally or foe — know the circumstances that would prompt the United States to use nuclear weapons? Does Russia or China believe that the United States would use nuclear weapons in response to an attack on Estonia or Taiwan, for example? How and in what ways will that matter for the future of American grand strategy? Measuring the Unobservable, Observing the Immeasurable The second, and bigger, challenge to understanding nuclear weapons and U.S. grand strategy is the methodological conundrum. The most important question surrounding nuclear weapons involves a non-event: understanding why there has never been a thermonuclear war and what lessons can be derived from this non-event to keep this streak going, preferably forever. As John Lewis Gaddis pointed out while the Cold War was still ongoing, “Anyone attempting to understand why there has been no third world war confronts a problem not unlike that of Sherlock Holmes and the dog that did not bark in the night: how does one account for something that did not happen?”[78] What factors start or prevent thermonuclear war are arguable since one has never taken place. Nuclear deterrence and assurance, in all their forms, are ultimately connected to estimates about the causes and likelihood of thermonuclear war that are difficult, if not impossible, to calculate. Social science relies on observations and measurements to identify patterns and causal paths in order to generate theories that drive predictions and inform policies. History requires accumulating, sorting, and making sense of evidence about things that happen in the world. How do you generate reliable theories, histories, and policy recommendations about phenomena for which there are few or no observations or measurements? Analysts have used a variety of plausible proxies, such as how nuclear weapons affect state behavior, both in normal circumstances and crises, but the insights of such approaches have limits. It is hard enough for scholars to find consensus on things that actually happened, such as the origins of World War I.[79] Developing a consensus about a non-event one cannot observe, measure, or assess is obviously harder. [quote id="5"] This challenge plagues any assessment of U.S. nuclear postures and their role in grand strategy. Desired outcomes such as deterrence, extended deterrence, assurance, re-assurance, and credibility are elusive and can be proven only ex post, if at all. As Quinlan notes, “We have no further empirical data about how events may run if nuclear weapons are used, or if nuclear powers come seriously to blows with one another without such use.”[80] Even if deterrence and credibility could, somehow, be observed and measured, they are characteristics and phenomena driven by intangible qualities such as fear, uncertainty, and resolve. These psychological factors depend far more on context and circumstance than the material factors that make up much of international politics. Furthermore, these are human characteristics and it is unclear how to aggregate such feelings from the level of individuals to the policies and behaviors of institutions and states. These challenges affect understanding of other important nuclear behavior, such as why states that our theories would have expected to develop nuclear weapons — a wide-ranging group that might have included Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia — never developed the bomb. Decisions against doing things — not to detonate a nuclear device during a war, not to acquire nuclear weapons — are difficult to fully assess.[81] Even though many of these phenomena are elusive, analysts intuit that nuclear weapons cast a powerful shadow over foreign policy and grand strategy. Nuclear weapons obviously matter enormously, even if precisely how cannot always be proven. Consider the heated controversy over whether and how nuclear superiority — if it could be properly measured — is important to outcomes in the world. Perhaps the best that can be done is to acknowledge, as Philip Zelikow writes, that “U.S. nuclear superiority mattered. And, at some level, it also didn’t. At times both of these propositions were, at one and the same time, true.”[82] These challenges — linguistic, moral, and methodological — should not prevent the development of rigorous theories and histories of nuclear weapons and American grand strategy. If anything, they invite working harder to surface underlying assumptions and rigorous examination of both the deductive and inductive foundations of these arguments. What is most important here is to better recognize the challenges and barriers to certainty and proceed with humility in the face of daunting questions that have profound policy consequences. As Quinlan notes, the “limitation in our knowledge ought to instill in all who make predictive statements about these issues a degree of humility not always evident.”[83] American grand strategy with nuclear weapons is based on a variety of deeply held assumptions that have rarely been tested and are difficult to prove.

IV. Worse Before It Gets Better

The incomplete understanding of nuclear history and dynamics has consequences for present and future American grand strategy. If these theories and histories are problematic or questionable, it may affect how to evaluate nuclear policies and grand strategies that are chosen in the future. Even if little changed in the contemporary nuclear landscape, it is critical to have a far better, more comprehensive understanding of the past. The circumstances and environment in which nuclear decisions are made will change enormously in the years to come. Four trends stand to be especially consequential. The Return of Geopolitics The first trend is geopolitical. World politics is changing in at least three ways that might influence how nuclear weapons and U.S. grand strategy interact. First, the structure of world politics has shifted from bipolarity during the Cold War to unipolarity in the years since the demise of the Soviet Union to the possible emergence of multi-polarity or even, as Richard Haass has dubbed it, non-polarity. Contemporary analysts and decision-makers have no experience with nuclear dynamics in such a transformed international system. Will states increase their desire for and efforts to acquire the bomb? Would states be more willing to threaten and even use nuclear weapons in a post-bipolar and post-unipolar world? This relates to the second change: the increased geopolitical assertiveness of America’s primary nuclear-armed competitors, China and Russia.[84] Both countries are modernizing their nuclear forces (albeit at different paces and in different ways), and both have made efforts to reexamine their nuclear doctrines. There are dangerous scenarios — such as a crisis over Taiwan, a clash over disputed territories in the South China Sea, or an attack on a NATO member in the Baltics — in which nuclear weapons might plausibly be engaged, either on purpose or inadvertently. Third, U.S. allies and adversaries, as well as neutral countries, will continue to make their own choices about nuclear capabilities based in part on their beliefs about the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. This can take many forms. Changes in the international environment or American grand strategy, perceptions of declining U.S. credibility or power, intensifying regional rivalries, or technological developments might contribute to shifts in the global nuclear landscape. The use of nuclear weapons by regional adversaries — India and Pakistan, for example — might entangle the United States and its nuclear forces in unforeseen and unwelcome ways. Smaller, arguably less responsible countries such as North Korea or Iran could expand their nuclear programs. Geopolitical shifts are taking place today under a U.S. administration whose policies on nuclear weapons and grand strategies can most generously be described as erratic; meanwhile, America’s role in the world, regardless of who is in the White House, is uncertain. Brave New World The second trend affecting nuclear weapons and American grand strategy is technological. As Keir Lieber and Daryl Press argue in their path-breaking research, “Changes in technology … are eroding the foundations of nuclear deterrence.”[85] Three forces in particular are expected to have important consequences for nuclear weapons’ role in American grand strategy: first, changes in nuclear technology and the systems that support nuclear weapons; second, emerging technologies such as cyber and artificial intelligence; and third, the blurring of the once-stark line between nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities. Changes in nuclear technology have had and will continue to have profound consequences for American grand strategy. The nuclear-revolution school often portrays the bomb in a binary fashion: as a technology that, once achieved, needs little change or improvement. In this thinking, what matters is whether or not one possesses a bomb, not what kind one has, where it is held, or how it is delivered or supported. Analysts often forget, however, three crucial characteristics about nuclear weapons. One, as Michael Horowitz has written, “nuclear weapons and missiles are relatively old technologies,” within the reach of many if not most modern states.[86] Next, nuclear weapons are not a static technology but one that has changed and will continue to shift over time. Finally, nuclear bombs are only one aspect of the technology that affects American grand strategy. Enormous changes to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; command, control, and communications; and the capabilities to deliver nuclear bombs have had and will continue to have profound consequences for nuclear strategy and statecraft. As Lieber and Press point out, synergistic revolutions in computing power and remote sensing make nuclear forces “far more vulnerable than before.”[87] These changes will intensify in the decades to come. The United States has committed to spending more than $1 trillion on modernizing its capabilities — a remarkable commitment in a time of competing demands. Much of this modernization, moreover, focuses on advancing characteristics — accuracy, speed, stealth, and miniaturization — that could make nuclear weapons appear more usable in a crisis. This massive, multi-decade investment began during the previous U.S. administration, despite being seemingly at odds with President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”[88] [quote id="6"] In addition, technologies are emerging that may influence and potentially shape the future nuclear environment. Cyber, artificial intelligence, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, hypersonic and directed energy, nanotechnology, and as-yet-undeveloped technologies will have unknown effects. A recent RAND study, for example, warned that “artificial intelligence (AI) might portend new capabilities that could spur arms races or increase the likelihood of states escalating to nuclear use — either intentionally or accidentally — during a crisis.”[89] Cyber presents similar challenges. As a recent Chatham House report explained,
During peacetime, offensive cyber activities would create a dilemma for a state as it may not know whether its systems have been the subject of a cyberattack. This unknown could have implications for military decision-making, particularly for decisions affecting nuclear weapons deterrence policies. At times of heightened tension, cyberattacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use.[90]
These capabilities would have direct bearing on the role and use of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Meanwhile, the United States has already developed impressive non-nuclear and non-kinetic weapons capable of carrying out missions that were once the sole provenance of the bomb, including holding an adversary’s nuclear capabilities at risk. This shift has the potential to blur the line between conventional and nuclear war. As Rovner points out, there is an increasing worry that “inadvertent escalation may occur when conventional attacks put the adversary’ s nuclear force at risk.”[91] Caitlin Talmadge argues that American military action could easily be misunderstood by China as a direct threat to its retaliatory capabilities, and so “Chinese nuclear escalation in the event of a conventional war with the United States is a significant risk.”[92] New technologies, combined with how the United States has prosecuted its recent wars, may leave a nuclear adversary uncertain as to whether its nuclear forces are being targeted for elimination, possibly inciting “use it or lose it” pressures. Michael Kofman controversially suggests that, “The Pentagon remains wholly committed to the fantasy of having conventional wars with nuclear states, where they will let us win, accepting defeat without a nuclear exchange.”[93] How should one think about conventional capabilities — or non-kinetic tools — that potentially blunt or eliminate a country’s ability to use its nuclear weapons? How to define and respond to a cyberattack that undermines a country’s secure deterrent yet did not kill or injure a single person? Much existing analysis of the role of nuclear weapons assumes a stark divide between nuclear and non-nuclear conflict, a distinction that may become dangerously cloudy over time. According to Andrew Krepinevich, “The firebreak between conventional and nuclear war is slowly disappearing.”[94] As a recent study explained,
The future of nuclear deterrence is complicated further by the proliferation of conventional military technologies that may undermine traditional modes of escalation management, and as a consequence, nuclear stability. Much attention has already been given to the possible effects of several such technologies, to include stealthy unattended ground sensors, uninhabited aerial vehicles, micro-satellites, and ballistic missile defenses. Comparatively little attention, however, has been given to the possible implications of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence for nuclear stability.[95]
As James Acton perceptively notes, the “emerging interactions between nuclear and nonnuclear weapons … may prove to be a defining risk of the current nuclear age.”[96] Un-usability and Its Consequences The third trend is global public opinion. While the major nuclear powers are modernizing their forces, much of the rest of the world has been clamoring for a reduction — indeed elimination — of nuclear weapons. As Nina Tannenwald explained in her magisterial study, The Nuclear Taboo, outside of the nuclear powers, “nuclear deterrence has not been viewed as a legitimate practice for most of the other states of the world.”[97] This is not new. Since the start of the nuclear age, many non-state actors and governments have lobbied fiercely for nuclear reductions and disarmament. Nearly three decades after the Cold War ended, however, much of the non-nuclear world questions why more progress has not been made toward ridding the world of the bomb. As Heather Williams and Patricia Lewis make clear, “civil society groups and the majority of states have not yet given up on nuclear disarmament.”[98] Pope Francis has declared that “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.”[99] In 2017, the U.N. General Assembly passed a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This emerged in large part from the popular global campaign to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Conversations about nuclear weapons take a much different form in Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, or Vienna than they do in Washington, D.C. It is hard to assess how and to what extent emerging global norms will shape U.S. policies in the years to come. Tannenwald has identified the power of the nuclear taboo on state behavior, and John Mueller has highlighted the rise of powerful norms on issues such as slavery and dueling that could eventually affect not simply nuclear use but also nuclear possession. Norms and public opinion may not be determinative, but they also cannot be ignored. Tannenwald’s work suggests that even in states with nuclear weapons “national leaders do take the notion of world opinion seriously.”[100] There may come a time when the majority of the world sees merely possessing nuclear weapons, let alone using them, as wrongheaded and immoral. This relates to a fourth trend: the consequences for American grand strategy of the decreasing credibility of threats of nuclear use that undergird nuclear deterrence. Short of a “bolt from the blue” nuclear attack by an adversary — and possibly even then — how does one evaluate and assess the credibility of U.S. threats to use nuclear weapons? The probability of an invasion of the United States has not increased. The credibility issues surrounding U.S. nuclear guarantees to allies — a deep challenge even during the Cold War — may increase over time. Tannenwald captures this dynamic well:
Even though US leaders came to believe that nuclear weapons should not really be used, they were not willing to give up nuclear deterrence. But they were caught in the paradox recognized early on by nuclear strategists: making deterrence credible (especially in the face of the threat of mutual assured destruction) required convincing the adversary that the United States would actually use such weapons. As such threats became less credible over time for both deterrence and normative reasons, more numerous and more elaborate strategies were sought in an effort to bolster credibility.[101]
There is conflicting evidence about Americans’ willingness to support the use of nuclear weapons. A report chaired by the former commander of America’s strategic nuclear forces posited that “There is no conceivable situation in the contemporary world” where it would be in either Russia’s or the United States’ “national security interest to initiate a nuclear attack against the other side.”[102] Important studies suggest that Americans would support nuclear use under certain circumstances,[103] while other evidence suggests that in simulated crises it has always been difficult to get approval to use nuclear weapons.[104] If elite wargames designed and played by Thomas Schelling, Henry Kissinger, and others in the 1960s found it extremely difficult to get players to initiate a nuclear war, even when the games were rigged to make nuclear use easier, how likely are scholars today to get anyone to think about using nuclear weapons? That nuclear use is becoming increasingly unthinkable is obviously a good thing. If the bomb is unusable, however, an American grand strategy that relies heavily upon nuclear weapons to achieve many of its key missions may be increasingly untenable. Collectively, these trends should make understanding the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy even more difficult in the years to come — and more critical.

V. Resisting the Revolution, or Revolution à la carte

Why is a grand-strategic lens the best way to understand nuclear weapons and their consequences, especially in the case of the United States? And how best to understand the role and purpose of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy? There are two criticisms of using a grand-strategic approach to America’s nuclear weapons policies. First, some are skeptical of the concept of grand strategy, arguing that it falsely conveys a picture of policy coherence.[105] This lack of coherence marks U.S. policy in particular.[106] Second, as discussed above, many believe the transformative power of nuclear weapons reduces and even eliminates the choices that leaders and states can make. The power of nuclear deterrence and the reality of mutual vulnerability remove many of the grand-strategic options and maneuvers available to states in nuclear competition, tying the hands of leaders. While there is some merit to these critiques, they are not ultimately convincing. Although it is unable to overcome all of the methodological, linguistic, and normative challenges surrounding nuclear behavior, grand strategy does recognize an obvious, but often overlooked, point: that nuclear weapons are, first and foremost, tools for states to accomplish their goals in the world. These goals, and the capabilities to achieve them, vary significantly across time, countries, leaders, and circumstance. A grand-strategic frame best captures such variance, as well as the radical uncertainty, risk profiles, trade-offs, moral challenges, and unintended consequences that policymakers face when deciding about an unknowable future.[107] Grand strategy recognizes the “crucible of uncertainty and risk” where decisions are made.[108] [quote id="7"] What insights might a grand-strategic lens provide about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policies? Considered broadly, the most important observation is that the United States never fully accepted the consequences of the nuclear revolution. In fact, the United States has, from the start of the nuclear age, worked eagerly to resist and overcome many of the revolutionary consequences of the bomb. It has done so with one overriding goal: to escape vulnerability — to the extent possible — and to obtain and maintain the greatest freedom of action it could to pursue its grand-strategic interests in the world.[109] This should not surprise anyone. Since 1945, the United States has been the leading power in the international system, at times possessing conventional military, economic, and cultural-ideological capabilities far in excess of any other state. Creating strategic stability, maintaining the international status quo, and avoiding war were not the only goals of American grand strategy since 1945, nor were they always the most important objectives. Many times, the United States wanted to avoid being deterred and constrained by the bomb.[110] Nuclear deterrence, remember, looks one way to a status quo, medium-size state that lacks global ambitions and whose primary concern is to avoid being invaded, conquered, or intimidated. It looks different to the most powerful state in the system, one facing no risk of invasion or conquest and whose conventional military and economic strength, absent nuclear deterrence, would allow it great freedom of action (and far less vulnerability) in the world. It is natural that the United States would seek to resist deterrence and get around the constrictions the bomb effectively places on its freedom of action. It was not always obvious, however, how this extremely ambitious goal could be achieved. American policymakers faced fateful choices, and few actions were pre-ordained. In the years after World War II, for example, American leaders could have invested their enormous political capital in pursuing nuclear disarmament or international control of the bomb.[111] At the other extreme, the United States might have launched preventive attacks against the Soviet Union and its nascent nuclear capabilities, while threatening to do the same to any other country that attempted to develop nuclear weapons.[112] Both options were at least discussed and ultimately dismissed. In later years, American leaders could have developed policies that relied less on extended nuclear deterrence by building up conventional forces that matched those of the Soviet Union in Central Europe. Or U.S. policymakers might have encouraged Western European and Asian allies to acquire and develop their own nuclear capabilities, which would have guaranteed their security without an expensive American military commitment that exposed the United States to attack. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States could have abandoned arms-control efforts and engaged in a quantitative arms race with the Soviet Union; or American presidents might have avoided massive investments in qualitative improvements in nuclear capabilities and simply embraced parity and mutual vulnerability. These were plausible options available to U.S. presidents for how nuclear weapons would be incorporated into grand strategy. How were these choices made, and how should the alternatives be evaluated? This question should be the focus of renewed research by historians and international relations scholars attempting to understand and evaluate America’s choices with the bomb. While one purpose of America’s grand strategy is to overcome the constraints of nuclear deterrence, this goal was pursued in ways that often appear to be in tension, even contradiction, with each other. At times, U.S. leaders pursued what might be labeled “nuclear activism” — the idea that nuclear weapons are crucial instruments of statecraft and that advantages in capabilities versus adversaries were both achievable and would translate into important policy outcomes in the world. This can be seen in America’s persistent and expensive efforts over the past eight decades to develop and deploy sophisticated nuclear systems in forward-leaning strategies on behalf of expansive grand missions like extended deterrence. It can also be seen in the extraordinary U.S. efforts to prevent other states from acquiring nuclear weapons. At other times, the U.S. government advocated forms of “nuclear abstinence.” Strategic stability, mutual vulnerability, and both vertical and horizontal arms control were actively encouraged. The United States went further at points, denigrating the political utility of nuclear weapons and suggesting that the burdens, costs, and dangers of the bomb were not worth it and that the world might be better off free of all nuclear weapons. For much of its nuclear history, however, the United States has put forward both nuclear activism and abstinence, as it does when it seeks strategic nuclear advantages in order to limit the spread of nuclear weapons to its friends and allies. What explains this apparent contradiction? Perhaps the best way to understand these tensions and contradictions — seeking both nuclear primacy and non-proliferation, embracing the first use of nuclear weapons while advocating a world free of them — is to imagine American policymaking as akin to the choice of a switch-hitter in baseball, deciding whether to bat right-handed or left-handed. In the end, it simply chooses the side that offers the best chance for success, defined as reducing U.S. vulnerability and increasing its freedom of action in the world. Sometimes, the choice of whether to bat left or right is obvious, whereas, at other times it has not always been clear which side — nuclear activism or abstinence — would provide the best outcomes for the United States. On the one hand, nuclear weapons provided American leaders with certain advantages. The United States developed nuclear weapons first, and for most of the nuclear age it has possessed superiority, often enormous superiority, in qualitative capabilities — if not always quantity — over any of its competitors, an advantage that is likely to persist. Nuclear weapons have, arguably, allowed the United States to pursue strategies that may have otherwise been too difficult or expensive, such as the defense of Western Europe against the Soviet Union’s large and close armies after World War II. On the other hand, the risks of a nuclearized environment are terrifying. In an international system based on deterrence, the bomb could be used by others to constrain the United States and dilute the effect of other forms of American power. As Jervis pointed out, “One could argue that it is only nuclear weapons that stand between the US and world domination, at least as far as the use and threat of force are concerned.”[113] The United States, obviously, does not reject every aspect of the nuclear revolution. After almost a half-century of murderous conflict and world war during the first half of the 20th century, the stabilizing and peace-inducing qualities of nuclear deterrence were no doubt welcome, including by American leaders. Rather, American policymakers often reject and try to overcome those aspects of nuclear weapons power that they don’t like, while maintaining those that advance their interests. Through nuclear activism and abstinence and everything in between, the United States takes an à la carte view of the nuclear revolution. Did these choices make for wise grand strategy? As explained above, it is difficult to identify and assess the causal effects of nuclear weapons on important outcomes in American foreign policy and world politics. Answering these and similar questions requires engaging counterfactual reasoning while at the same time making assumptions about the purpose and effects of nuclear weapons.[114] These conjectures are almost impossible to test and verify. Perhaps great-power war would have decreased, if not disappeared, in a non-nuclear world, driven out by the increased lethality of war, demographics and interdependence, or shifting norms.[115] Maybe in a non-nuclear world, Berlin’s political status would have been easily resolved or would have been the cause of a third world war.[116] Perhaps it was the expense of the arms race that accelerated Soviet decline, or perhaps the communist state would have collapsed from its internal rot regardless of what nuclear weapons system or strategies the United States did or did not deploy. In a postwar world with a less engaged, more restrained United States, more independent nuclear-weapons states may have emerged, with uncertain consequences. [quote id="8"] The nuclear revolution — and America’s responses to it — also may have transformed other elements of U.S. grand strategy in ways that are underappreciated. The power of nuclear deterrence and the dangers of escalation in the nuclear age may have shifted by who, how, and for how long the United States prepares to fight with conventional weapons. American leaders have been obsessed with demonstrating resolve and credibility since 1945, including pursuing military action in areas of the world where it was difficult to identify vital U.S. interests. Would the United States invest blood and treasure in Southeast Asia, for example, in a world without nuclear weapons? Would it still have fought two costly wars in Iraq? Even where nuclear weapons are not explicitly engaged, they cast a long shadow over grand-strategic decisions. Even with all these caveats, and recognizing numerous self-inflicted wounds and disastrous military interventions, one can imagine grand-strategic choices surrounding nuclear weapons with far worse outcomes. After all, the United States prevailed in its Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union without a nuclear exchange or great-power war. It maintains extraordinary power and influence in a world where the streak on nuclear non-use has continued and where, despite dire predictions to the contrary, the number of nuclear-weapons states remains in the single digits. It is not hard to construct plausible alternative histories with far graver outcomes. That said, it is right to ask whether the United States’ heavy reliance on the bomb in its grand strategy has outlived its utility.


The cover of a recent Foreign Affairs asked, “Do nuclear weapons matter?” As the introduction to the issue explained, “[T]hey are purchased, deployed, and discussed on separate tracks from the rest of the foreign policy agenda, and they are largely ignored, with little apparent consequence.”[117] This essay makes clear that this lack of scrutiny courts trouble. There is much we do not know about the purpose and effects of America’s nuclear posture, and much of what we think we know deserves rigorous interrogation. Without a doubt, many other pressing and significant issues confront American policymakers, world leaders, and scholars. Nevertheless, no discussion or debate about United States grand strategy — to say nothing of the future prospects for and the shape of world order — can proceed without coming to terms with the nuclear question. As Beatrice Fihn pointed out, “if there’s nuclear war, there’s no other agenda to talk about.”[118] What is the future role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy? Significant changes in technology, geopolitics, and global public opinion present American decision-makers with crucial questions. Should the United States continue to rely so heavily on nuclear weapons to underwrite grand-strategic missions beyond defending the homeland? Will the United States be forced to overcome its “credibility gap” by continuing to massively invest in capabilities and postures, nuclear and non-nuclear, that decrease American vulnerability to nuclear attack, while increasing U.S. abilities to preempt threats? Or should the United States encourage nuclear abstinence in an effort to remove the constraining effects on its own freedom of action while inhibiting new, independent nuclear programs? Will other capabilities — conventional, space, or cyber — augment or replace the role of nuclear weapons? In all likelihood, the answer will continue to be “all of the above,” as American grand strategy retains its confusing, frustrating balance between relying heavily on nuclear deterrence while trying mightily to overcome its constraints. In shaking our complacency about American grand strategy and the bomb, we need a vigorous debate and discussion that interrogates many of our deeply held assumptions and convictions. For example, perhaps it is worth considering whether a grand strategy that seeks a world with fewer nuclear weapons, or even none at all, might advance U.S. interests the most. Can the United States find a way to retain the advantages that nuclear weapons have provided in the past, while limiting and even eliminating the challenges of a grand strategy centered upon the bomb in the future? As farfetched as that may seem, the United States has long reveled in opposing constraints imposed from the outside, while pushing its own revolutionary ideas on the world. Few could have predicted that the United States would have resisted the nuclear revolution as successfully as it has. Might a far-sighted United States grand strategy accomplish what is often seen as both impossible and irresponsible: eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in international relations, while advancing American interests in the world?   Francis J. Gavin is the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Texas National Security Review. He is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012).   Image: U.S. Department of Energy [post_title] => Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => rethinking-the-bomb-nuclear-weapons-and-american-grand-strategy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-18 02:56:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-18 07:56:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Nuclear weapons have long played a central but often unappreciated role in American grand strategy. In spite of the unimaginable consequences of their use in war, we know far less about how the bomb shapes U.S. national security and world politics than we should. Both our leading theories and histories have failed to fully explain important choices American leaders have made about the bomb over the past eight decades. This is less a failing of scholarship and more a reflection of the steep methodological, linguistic, and normative barriers to understanding nuclear strategy and statecraft. This challenge will only deepen, as new geopolitical and technological forces return the critical question of the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons to the heart of the debate about the future of America’s grand strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The nuclear-revolution school argues that the bomb severely constrains and limits — and at times eliminates — the grand-strategic choices that were available to states and statesmen in the past. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Rarely has a state had less need for the bomb to guarantee its immediate territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Unfortunately, less is known about U.S. nuclear history and its role in American grand strategy than is presumed, and what many people do know is often overly simplistic, misleading, or otherwise problematic. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The intellectual history, as told by the “Wizards of Armageddon,” and the rhetorical history laid out by political leaders often bears little resemblance to the acquisition, deployment, and use plans developed as core parts of U.S. grand strategy.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => How do you generate reliable theories, histories, and policy recommendations about phenomena for which there are few or no observations or measurements?  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The nuclear-revolution school often portrays the bomb in a binary fashion: as a technology that, once achieved, needs little change or improvement.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Considered broadly, the most important observation is that the United States never fully accepted the consequences of the nuclear revolution.  ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even where nuclear weapons are not explicitly engaged, they cast a long shadow over grand-strategic decisions. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 49 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The ideas for this paper were first discussed at the September 2017 Nuclear Studies Research Initiative workshop in Greenbriar, West Virginia. I am grateful to all the participants for their feedback and especially grateful to Janne Nolan for hosting the event. I would also like to thank Hal Brands, Natalie Britton, Ryan Evans, Austin Long, Joshua Rovner, Philip Zelikow, and four anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions. [2] Hal Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 3. [3] Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 8. [4] Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 458. [5] While there are a range of perspectives within the nuclear-revolution framework, most derive and share the assumptions of defensive realism, which may be the most predominant theoretical approach to international relations within the field of American political science. For an interesting take on efforts by different realist camps to understand the effects of nuclear weapons on world politics, see Zanvyl Krieger and Ariel Ilan Roth, “Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory,” International Studies Review 9, no. 3 (Autumn 2007): 369–84, [6] Stephen M. Walt, “Rethinking the ‘Nuclear Revolution,’” Foreign Policy, Aug. 3, 2010, [7] Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Statecraft, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press),12. [8] Charles L. Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 95. [9] Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 6. The classic work arguing that nuclear weapons are ineffective for coercion is by Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1987). [10] Joshua Rovner, “Was There a Nuclear Revolution? Strategy, Grand Strategy, and the Ultimate Weapon,” War on the Rocks, March 6, 2018, [11] Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 37. [12] Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Emerging Structure of International Politics,” International Security 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 73, [13] Kenneth N. Waltz, “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” American Political Science Review 84, no. 3 (September 1990): 732, [14] Sagan and Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 21–22. [15] Charles L. Glaser and Chaim Kauffman, “What Is the Offense-Defense Balance and Can We Measure It?” International Security 22, no. 4 (Spring 1998): 5–6, Italics added. [16] Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 178. [17] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 129. [18] John Lewis Gaddis, “The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System,” International Security 10, no. 4 (Spring 1986): 121, [19] Highlighting an irony: If the nuclear revolution was so obvious, powerful, and irresistible, why do analysts have to spend so much time telling policymakers to pursue the policy (or not fight against it) if it was the natural consequence of the revolution? [20] There were, of course, exceptions to this view. Among the original strategists, Albert Wohlstetter was often critical of the focus on mutual assured destruction, as was Herman Kahn. For an overview of the early debates, see Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983). Later critics of this view included Colin Gray and Keith Payne. See especially Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne, “Victory Is Possible,” Foreign Policy, no. 39 (Summer 1980): 14–27, [21] Rovner, “Was There a Nuclear Revolution?” [22] Protecting the territorial sovereignty of the homeland is obviously not the only U.S. national interest. The United States fought two world wars, in large part to prevent any state from consolidating Europe and using it as a base to threaten the Americas. The United States has been obsessed with expelling great-power influences from its hemisphere and guaranteeing that conflict takes place far away from its homeland. Historically, however, that is a rare luxury for a great power — even Britain and Japan, as well as the continental great powers, have had to worry far more about invasion of the homeland. And the United States developed nuclear weapons during World War II because of fears that Nazi Germany was developing the bomb. [23] Between 1940 and 1996, the United States spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons. Stephen I. Schwartz, “The Hidden Costs of Our Nuclear Arsenal: Overview of Project Findings,” Brookings Institution, June 30, 1998, [24] The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of operating and modernizing U.S. nuclear security forces at more than $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years. See: Congressional Budget Office, Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046, October 2017, [25] On nuclear sharing, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1949–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), passim. The best work on pre-delegation remains Peter Feaver, Guarding the Guardians: Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992). [26] See the path-breaking scholarship of Keir Lieber, Daryl Press, Brendan Green, Austin Long, Niccolo Petrelli, and Giordana Pulcini, among others, cited throughout this essay. Two excellent forthcoming works will also provide comprehensive insight on this history: Brendan Green, “The Meaning of the Nuclear Counterrevolution: Arms Racing and Arms Control After MAD” (book manuscript in progress); and Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present” (PhD diss., MIT, 2018). [27] David Alan Rosenberg, “The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960,” International Security 7, no. 4 (Spring 1983): 3–71, [28] James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 5. [29] John D. Maurer, “The Forgotten Side of Arms Control: Enhancing U.S. Competitive Advantage, Offsetting Enemy Strengths,” War on the Rocks, June 27, 2018, [30] Niccolo Petrelli and Giordana Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity: US Planning, Intelligence Analysis, Weapons Innovation and the Search for a Qualitative Edge, 1969–1976,” International History Review 40, no. 5 (2018), [31] For excellent details on the characteristics of these systems and their influence on the strategic balance, see especially Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike: Intelligence, Counterforce and Nuclear Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2015),; Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, “How Much is Enough? Testing Theories of Nuclear Deterrence,” unpublished manuscript, found at, cited with permission of author; and Petrelli and Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity.” The best work on U.S. efforts on antisubmarine capabilities remains Owen R. Cote Jr.’s The Third Battle: Innovation in the US Navy’s Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2003). [32] Long and Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike,” 41. [33] Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn’t There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance,” Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 608, [34] Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Spring 2017), [35] Glenn Buchan, David M. Matonick, Calvin Shipbaugh, and Richard Mesic, Future Roles of U.S. Nuclear Forces: Implications for U.S. Strategy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2003), 92, Italics in original. [36] For a thorough exploration and ultimate rejection of the argument that an overly aggressive nuclear strategy was driven by “Pentagon bureaucrats and military officers pursuing organizational or service agendas, rather than national interest” — or what he calls “‘pathological posture’ theory” — see Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present” (PhD diss., MIT, 2019). [37] Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVS,” in The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVs: From the First to the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Michael Krepon, Travis Wheeler, and Shane Mason (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2016),; and Petrelli and Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity.” [38] This is not to say there is not variation in the nuclear strategies, as Vipin Narang lays out brilliantly in his book about regional nuclear strategies. In addition to assured-retaliation postures, regional nuclear powers can choose catalytic or asymmetric escalation postures, both of which imply first use. See Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). [39] Green and Long, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVs,” 21. [40] Glenn A. Kent and David E. Thaler, First Strike Stability: A Methodology for Evaluating Strategic Forces (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1989) 5, [41] Earl C. Ravenal, “Counterforce and Alliance: The Ultimate Connection,” International Security 6, no. 4 (Spring 1982): 26–43, [42] Henry L. Trewhitt, McNamara: His Ordeal in the Pentagon (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 115. [43] For insight on how American policymakers explored and assessed pre-emptive nuclear options, see Francis J. Gavin and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Copenhagen Temptation: Rethinking Prevention and Proliferation in the Age of Deterrence Dominance,” unpublished paper, available at [44] Logically, it would seem debatable that possessing increased potential for damage limitation well short of perfect first-strike capabilities would increase U.S. willingness to risk nuclear war to protect allies and enhance extended deterrence and even coercive leverage. Yet, the historical record demonstrates that American leaders were willing to pay quite a bit — financially, politically, and in terms of risk — to acquire these capabilities and, perhaps more important, that the Soviet Union and U.S. allies took these efforts seriously. [45] Francis J. Gavin, “Beyond Deterrence: U.S. Nuclear Statecraft Since 1945,” in Linton Brooks, Francis J. Gavin, and Alexei Arbatov, Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age: U.S. and Russian Nuclear Concepts, Past and Present (Cambridge, MS: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018), [46] Kent and Thaler, First Strike Stability, 5. See also Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long, “Correspondence: The Limits of Damage Limitation,” International Security 42, no. 1 (Summer 2017), [47] Francis J. Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition: U.S. Grand Strategy, the Nuclear Revolution, and Nonproliferation,” International Security 40, no. 1 (Summer 2015): 9–46, [48] Andrew J. Coe and Jane Vaynman, “Collusion and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime,” Journal of Politics 77, no. 4 (2015): 983–97. [49] For excellent insight on the challenges this new environment presented to traditional constitutional practices in United States national security decision-making, see Matthew Waxman, “NATO and War Powers: Remembering the ‘Great Debate’ of the 1950s, Lawfare, July 11, 2018,; Matthew C. Waxman, “The Power to Threaten War,” Yale Law Journal, no. 123 (2014), [50] Exemplary works in this category include McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House,1988); George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992); Gregg Herken Counsels of War (New York: Knopf, 1985); Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon; Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007). Specialists in security studies and strategic studies demonstrate great appreciation for history, though they rarely pursue exhaustive, multi-archival work on their own and do not claim to do scholarly history. The best works in this tradition include the following: Richard Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1987);  Lawrence Freedman, Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 4th edition, 2019); Charles Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Scott Sagan, Moving Targets: Nuclear Strategy and National Security (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990). It is no overstatement to say that those in security and strategic studies would be thrilled if the scholarly history profession in the United States would devote more intellectual resources to mine the extraordinary increases in archival materials made available in recent years. That said, some of the best work with primary materials has been done by scholars in this field, including Brendan Green, Keir Lieber, Austin Long, and Daryl Press. [51] What follows is just a sample of this excellent new work on national nuclear programs, much of it supported by the path-breaking Nuclear Proliferation International History Project: On Australia, see Christine M. Leah, Australia and the Bomb (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014); on Brazil, see Carlo Patti, “Origins and Evolution of the Brazilian Nuclear Program (1947–2011),” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Nov. 15, 2012,; Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); on Italy, see Leopoldo Nuti, “Italy’s Nuclear Choices,” UNISCI Discussion Papers, no. 25 (January 2011),; on Japan, see Fintan Hoey Sato, America and the Cold War: U.S.–Japanese Relations, 1964–72 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015); on Pakistan, see Feroz Khan, Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); on Romania, see Eliza Gheorghe, “Atomic Maverick: Romania’s Negotiations for Nuclear Technology, 1964–1970,” Cold War History 13, no. 3 (2013),; on South Korea, see Se Young Jang, “Dealing with Allies’ Nuclear Ambitions: U.S. Nuclear Non-proliferation Policy toward South Korea and Taiwan, 1969–1981” (PhD diss., Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2015); on Sweden, see Thomas Jonter, “The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons, 1945–1968: An Analysis of the Technical Preparations,” Science & Global Security, no. 18 (2010): 61–86,; on West Germany, see Andreas Lutsch, “The Persistent Legacy: Germany’s Place in the Nuclear Order,” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP), Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, NPIHP Working Paper no. 5, May 19, 2015, [52] To give three examples: For an excellent history of U.S. arms-control policy during the Nixon presidency, see Cameron, The Double Game; for an excellent study of America’s early nuclear strategies, see Edward Kaplan, American Strategy in the Air-Atomic Age and the Rise of Mutually Assured Destruction (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); for an excellent history of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policies, see Shane Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). [53] Hal Brands, “The Triumph and Tragedy of Diplomatic History,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (December 2017), Even when there are diplomatic historians, there is almost no incentive for them to work on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. “Yet the turn toward diplomatic history as cultural, social, or gender history often pulled the field in a very different direction, one that dramatically deemphasized matters of foreign policy as it was traditionally understood?” See also Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin, “The Historical Profession is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 10, 2018, [54] Francis J. Gavin, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons: A Review Essay,” H-Diplo Roundtable, June 15, 2014,“what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-nuclear. [55] The exception is Marc Trachtenberg’s path-breaking account of the first decades of the Cold War, which brilliantly integrates nuclear strategy into an understanding of U.S. grand strategy. Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1949–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999). [56] Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition.” [57] For one excellent example that reveals the deep interconnections between Cold War geopolitics, imperialism and decolonization, international economics and globalization, and nationalism and regional rivalries, see Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, Suez Deconstructed: An Interactive Study in Crisis, War, and Peacemaking (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018). [58] Trachtenberg, History and Strategy, 46. [59] Bruce Kuklick, Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 15–16. “Yet my philosophers in government knew and understood little, and had little influence qua intellectuals, except to perform feats of ventriloquy.” [60] For an excellent analysis, see Janne Nolan, Guardians of the Arsenal: The Politics of Nuclear Strategy (New York: Basic Books, 1989). [61] John Foster Dulles, “The Strategy of Massive Retaliation,” speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jan. 12, 1954,; Robert McNamara, “No Cities” commencement address in Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 9, 1962,; Robert McNamara, speech on anti-China missile defense and U.S. nuclear strategy, Sept. 19, 1967,; “Nixon’s Nuclear Doctrine,” New York Times, Jan. 15, 1974,; “The Carter Transformation of Our Strategic Doctrine,” memo from National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Jimmy Carter, Aug. 26, 1980, [62] For an excellent synthesis of how policymakers wrestle with domestic politics in nuclear decision-making, see Elizabeth N. Saunders, “The Domestic Politics of Nuclear Choices: What Have We Learned?” (unpublished paper). [63] Cameron, The Double Game, 7. [64] Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 31. [65] David Alan Rosenberg, “Reality and Responsibility: Power and Process in the Making of United States Nuclear Strategy, 1945–68,” Journal of Strategic Studies 9, no. 1 (1986): 35, [66] For a recent overview — with recommendations for how these procedures should be changed — see Richard K. Betts and Matthew C. Waxman, “The President and the Bomb: Reforming the Nuclear Launch Process, Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018), [67] As Timothy McDonnell argues, “presidents, defense secretaries and other members of the president’s civilian executive team drive US nuclear posture, making posture decisions that they believe will advance American interests. At the same time, nuclear policy is a tough business, fraught with uncertainty and existential risk.” Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present,” (PhD diss., MIT, in progress). [68] For an excellent effort to make sense of the often contradictory policies and rhetoric of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on nuclear weapons, see Andrew P.N. Erdmann, “‘War no longer has any logic whatever’: Eisenhower and the Thermonuclear Revolution,” in Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb, ed. John Lewis Gaddis, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 87­–119. [69] Rosenberg, “Reality and Responsibility,” 48. McNamara’s view is obviously in slight tension with Rosenberg’s argument. [70] Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Signs 12, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 490, [71] Michael Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall Paper 41, online edition 2005, [72] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), ix. [73] Reid Pauly, “Stop or I’ll Shoot, Comply and I Won’t: The Dilemma of Coercive Assurance in International Politics” (PhD diss., MIT, in progress). [74] Rebecca K.C. Hersman, Clark Murdock, and Shanelle Van, The Evolving U.S. Nuclear Narrative: Communicating the Rationale for the Role and Value of U.S. Nuclear Weapons, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 2016, [75] See, for example, Patrick Malone, “Repeated Safety Lapses Hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Work on the Cores of U.S. Nuclear Warheads,” The Center for Public Integrity, June 18, 2017,; Editorial, “What the Air Force Can Learn from the Nuclear Cheating Scandal,” Washington Post, April 6, 2014, [77] Of course, the United States has also tried to demonstrate credibility by fighting wars that otherwise make little geostrategic sense from a narrow, traditional, non-nuclear “self-interest” perspective, such as in Korea in the early 1950s and in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. One might ask how U.S. decision-making toward limited wars would have proceeded in a world without nuclear weapons, where the demands of credibility are, presumably, smaller. [78] Gaddis, “The Long Peace,”100. [79] Francis J. Gavin, “History, Security Studies, and the July Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies 37, no. 2 (2014): 319–33, [80] “Even propositions about the achievement of nuclear weapons in deterrence lack hard evidence, since such propositions are essentially about alternative history — about what would have happened had matters been other than they were.” Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” 5. [81] The nuclear-revolution framework would have predicted that these states would acquire nuclear weapons. Some excellent work exists on states that decided not to go nuclear. On Sweden, for example, see Thomas Jonter, The Key to Nuclear Restraint: The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). On Australia, for example, see Christine M. Leah, Australia and the Bomb (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). [82] Philip Zelikow, “Review,” HF-Diplo Roundtable Reviews XV, no. 1 (2013), [83] Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” 5. [84] The Trump administration focused on the return of great-power geopolitical competition in both its National Security Strategy and its National Defense Strategy: National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC: White House, 2017),; Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), [85] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 9. [86] Michael Horowitz, “How Surprising Is North Korea’s Nuclear Success? Picking Up Where Proliferation Theories Leave Off,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 6, 2017, [87] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 10. [88] Ian Traynor, “Barack Obama Launches Doctrine for Nuclear-Free World,” Guardian, April 5, 2009, [89] Edward Geist and Andrew J. Lohn, How Might Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2018), 1, [90] Beyza Unal and Patricia Lewis, Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences, Chatham House, January 2018, [91] Joshua Rovner, “Two Kinds of Catastrophe: Nuclear Escalation and Protracted War in Asia,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 5 (2017), [92] Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 40, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 90, [93] Michael Kofman, “Searching for Strategy in Washington’s Competition with Russia,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 30, 2018, [94] Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., “The Eroding Balance of Terror: The Decline of Deterrence,” Foreign Affairs 98, no. 1 (January/February 2019): 66. [95] Michael C. Horowitz, Paul Scharre, and Alex Velez-Green, A Stable Nuclear Future? The Impact of Automation, Autonomy, and Artificial Intelligence, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2017). [96] James M. Acton, “Technology, Doctrine, and the Risk of Nuclear War,” American Academic of Arts and Sciences, 2018, . [97] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 19. [98] Heather Williams, Patricia Lewis, and Sasan Aghlani, “The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative: The ‘Big Tent’ in Disarmament,” Chatham House, March 2015, 17, [99] Quote from Williams, Lewis, and Aghlani, The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative, 13. [100] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 49. [101] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 370. [102] Gen. (Ret.) James Cartwright, chair, “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture,” Global Zero, May 2012, 2, [103] Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (February 2013): 188-206, [104] Reid Pauly, “Elite Aversion to the Use of Nuclear Weapons: Evidence from Wargames,” International Security (forthcoming). [105] For a summary of this critique of grand strategy, see Francis J. Gavin’s review of Hal Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy: Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush for H-Diplo, Oct. 17, 2014, [106] Walter A. McDougall, “Can the United States Do Grand Strategy,” Telegram: Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 13, 2010, [107] Francis J. Gavin and James B. Steinberg, “Mind the Gap: Why Policymakers and Scholars Ignore Each Other, and What Should Be Done About It?” Carnegie Reporter 6, no. 4 (Spring 2012). [108] Steve Coll, “Comment: Table Talk,” New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2012, [109] Matthew Kroenig argues that nuclear states seek freedom of action in Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfers and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). For an excellent overview of how U.S. grand strategy has, since the earliest days of the republic, unilaterally gone on the offensive in an effort to eliminate vulnerability, see John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). [110] As Richard K. Betts has pointed out, what may be good for the “system” — stability — may not be what the United States prefers. “If nuclear spread enhances stability, this is not entirely good news for the United States, since it has been accustomed to attacking small countries with impunity when it felt justified and provoked.” See Betts, “Universal Deterrence or Conceptual Collapse? Liberal Pessimism and Utopian Realism,” in The Coming Crisis: Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Interests, and World Order, ed. Victor A. Utgoff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 65. [111] “The Acheson-Lilienthal & Baruch Plans, 1946,” State Department Office of the Historian, [112] “If we were ruthlessly realistic, we would not permit any foreign power with which we are not firmly allied, and in which we do not have absolute confidence, to make or possess atomic weapons. If such a country started to make atomic weapons we would destroy its capacity to make them before it had progressed far enough to threaten us.” Memo from Gen. Leslie Groves, wartime commander of the Manhattan Project, in January 1946, cited in Marc Trachtenberg, “A Wasting Asset: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949–1954, International Security 3, no. 3 (Winter 1988/1989): 5, [113] Robert Jervis, “Foreword,” in Global Nuclear Disarmament: Strategic, Political, and Regional Perspectives, ed. Nik Hynek and Michal Smetana (London: Routledge, 2016), [114] For the importance of counterfactuals for hypothesis testing, see James D. Fearon, “Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science,” World Politics 43, no. 2 (January 1991): 169–95,; Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 425–30, [115] The most convincing version of this argument was made by John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). [116] I explore these possibilities in Nuclear Statecraft, 57–74. [117] Gideon Rose, “Introduction,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 6, (November/December 2018), [118] Joshua Keating, “The ‘Toxic Masculinity’ of Nuclear Weapons: An interview with Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize–winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,” Slate, Nov. 12, 2018, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 795 [post_author] => 235 [post_date] => 2018-11-30 05:00:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-30 10:00:40 [post_content] => The United States “stands at a crossroads in history,” the George H.W. Bush administration asserted in its National Security Strategy in January 1993. The world, it argued, had been “radically transformed” to an era that “holds great opportunities … but also great dangers.” Twenty-two years later, the Barack Obama administration stated that “at this pivotal moment, we continue to face serious challenges to our national security, even as we are working to shape the opportunities of tomorrow.” The National Security Strategy produced by Donald Trump’s administration last year, similarly, if somewhat more ominously, highlights both dangers and opportunities.[1] In each strategy document, American power is seen as vital to addressing the shifting international environment. Yet there are still plenty of areas of disagreement, and outside the Beltway the debate extends even further. What is America’s role in the world? And what policies would best realize those goals? These questions are at the heart of differing conceptions of American grand strategy. Though frequently conflated, they remain distinct. As a result, while there is no shortage of statements on U.S. grand strategy, there is little consensus on the basic contours of the debate, let alone which course would best serve American interests. Disagreements frequently arise due to fuzzy thinking about whether policy prescriptions follow from different conceptions of what the national interest should be or debates about the evidence supporting competing claims. At this critical juncture — to borrow a cliché from past national security strategies — it is worth stepping back to evaluate the competing grand-strategic positions that seek to enhance America’s national interests. A more fruitful debate would focus on claims about how policy means can or cannot realize U.S. interests rather than the nature of those interests. The former task is amenable to rigorous research; the latter rests on normative judgments that must be settled through a political process. Scholars can and should contribute to that process.[2] In doing so, however, they should be clear about whether they are making a claim about a policy achieving a particular interest or whether they are agreeing with that interest. A debate built on evidence of the links between means and ends can assess the efficacy of prescriptions and help diagnose situations. By contrast, reasonable individuals can disagree on how to weigh specific values and risks.[3] This article, therefore, focuses on the former while acknowledging the importance of the latter. A debate focused on the relation between means and ends has to meet four conditions. First, there must be some agreement on America’s national interests. Second, the underlying theories for each position on grand strategy must be clearly identified. Third, scholars must then evaluate the logic of each side’s theories and derive testable propositions. Fourth, those propositions must be subjected to rigorous assessment. Currently, debate over grand strategy satisfies few, if any, of these conditions. Satisfying all four is beyond the scope of one article. Therefore, we aim to develop a framework that addresses the first two and in so doing provide a necessary foundation for future research to evaluate trade-offs across grand strategies and rigorously assess competing claims. We focus on the scholarly debate, but this is not merely an exercise in academic navel-gazing. Duke political scientist and former National Security Council staff member Peter Feaver reminds us that “every policy choice is a prediction that can be expressed in the type of theory language familiar to academic political science: if we do X then Y will (or will not) happen.” Policymakers rely on an “implicit causal theory that links inputs to outputs.”[4] Similarly, a 2011 survey of former national security officials found that they sought “frameworks for making sense of the world they have to operate in,” which social scientists would call theories.[5] True, grand strategy must be adaptive and, at times, policymakers are reduced to reaction. Even in those cases, though, leaders draw on some set of notions about how the world works as they respond to new situations.[6] Policymakers may disregard scholarly research or use it instrumentally to support their own positions, of course. The incentives and focus of scholars and policymakers are different.[7] Moreover, policymakers pressed for time are unlikely to keep up with the most recent issues of peer-reviewed journals, though increasingly there are alternative outlets through which scholars can convey their findings.[8] Attention to the role that theory plays in grand strategy is, nevertheless, useful for at least two reasons. First, it can shape the studies available to policymakers. Second, it strengthens external critiques of policies for which there is little empirical support. Building our framework requires setting aside the normative components of the debate and focusing on how different grand-strategy positions advance a common set of interests. We do so by holding national interests constant to establish a common baseline.[9] We identify four major ideal-type grand-strategy positions deductively according to their underlying theoretical principles. First, differences in conceptions of power divide the positions into two overarching camps: those that adopt some variant of balance-of-power realism and those built on hegemonic stability theory (Table 1). This dichotomy alone obscures differences between grand strategies. Thus, the second part of our argument incorporates the role of international and domestic institutions (Table 2). We label these four schools restraint, deep engagement, liberal internationalism, and conservative primacy.[10] Others have highlighted how theory shapes thinking on foreign policy and grand strategy.[11] We extend these insights to offer a novel categorization of the contemporary scholarly debate that clarifies the sources of disagreement over interests, objectives, and tools. Table 1. Power and Grand Strategy Positions [table id=7 /] Table 2. Institutions and Grand Strategy Positions [table id=8 /] Parsing the contemporary grand-strategy debate this way is useful for several reasons. First, it provides a general and clear understanding of the landscape. Moreover, critics of our categorization can use this as a foil to make explicit what additional theories should be considered to generate alternative grand-strategy positions. Second, our deductive approach allows the identification of four positions in the debate that inductive approaches can obscure. For example, scholars who agree on one prescription, such as a robust U.S. military presence abroad, may disagree on others, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Third, our framework clarifies the links between the oft-conflated concepts of theory, interests, objectives, and policy tools. Separating the debate along these conceptual levels adds the precision needed to transform broad visions into specific propositions. It also helps to clarify when scholars’ policy prescriptions hinge on normative preferences as opposed to theory and evidence. In mapping how diverse worldviews inform grand strategy, we cannot address every aspect of the debate. We do not seek to demonstrate the superiority of one position or its potential domestic public appeal, and we necessarily gloss over minor disagreements in the interest of outlining ideal-types.[12] We are also unable to engage critical treatments of grand strategy.[13] Finally, we do not attempt an account of grand strategy in the Trump administration. A lively discussion of this subject is ongoing, with widely divergent conclusions.[14] We nevertheless provide a baseline with which to judge when the Trump administration is proposing novel positions of grand strategy, borrowing from discrete (and perhaps contradictory) approaches, and when policy is actually very much in line with existing formulations. For example, our framework could account for a more assertive nationalist position that blended elements of hegemonic stability (deep engagement, liberal internationalism, and conservative primacy) with skepticism toward the importance of both domestic and international institutions (restraint). We leave the ultimate categorization to others. The rest of this article proceeds in three parts. First, we develop our argument by unpacking the terms we use to characterize the dimensions of the debate. Next, we use this framework to outline four grand-strategy positions. We conclude by summarizing major areas of disagreement and ways to advance the debate.

The Framework

In this section, we separate and define the concepts of interests, objectives, and policy tools. Interests are the highest purposes of the state that grand strategy seeks to attain. To achieve their interests, states set objectives (such as preventing a Eurasian hegemon) and utilize specific policy tools (such as alliance commitments) to attain objectives. There is considerable disagreement over how to define grand strategy.[15] Hal Brands reviews multiple definitions and concludes that grand strategy is “the conceptual logic that ensures that [foreign policy] instruments are employed in ways that maximize the benefits for a nation’s core interests.”[16] In an important recent article, Nina Silove argues that scholars and practitioners have employed three discrete concepts of grand strategy over time, which she labels grand principles, grand plans, and grand behavior. All three share a focus on long-term and multiple elements of state power, as well as the relationship between ends and means.[17] Our emphasis on underlying theoretical principles highlights the role of grand principles. We suggest that in order to advance the grand strategy debate it is necessary to demonstrate how underlying principles guide both behavior and plans to advance the national interest. Specifically, by pursuing objectives with a particular set of policy tools. We adapt these definitions to the United States, defining grand strategy as the U.S. theory of how it can maximize American security, prosperity, and liberty. The assumption that U.S. interests are constant is controversial, so we want to unpack our logic.[18] First, this assumption establishes a baseline for competing grand-strategy prescriptions. Without this assumption, it is impossible to isolate the impact of each side’s theoretical assumptions on its prescribed policy prescriptions.[19] For instance, one might consider U.S. alliance commitments as a tool that may help obtain certain objectives. By contrast, labeling a U.S. alliance commitment as an interest indicates that whether the alliance helps or harms U.S. objectives does not matter; the alliance commitment is itself an intrinsic interest to pursue.[20] Social science tools are ill-suited to assess whether a national interest is normatively appropriate or not. We therefore focus on the theoretical links between specific tools and objectives that advance a particular policy interest. In other words, we examine how variation in worldviews informs disagreements over what objectives and policy levers will best maximize U.S. interests, rather than what those interests should be. [quote id="5"] The second virtue in limiting U.S. core interests to security, domestic prosperity, and domestic liberty is that most participants in the debate explicitly or implicitly adopt these interests. Generally, advocates for expansive grand strategies argue that these have been and should be U.S. national interests.[21] And even those favoring a reduced U.S. role in the world frequently assert interests beyond security. For example, Stephen Walt writes that the “central purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to make Americans safer and richer, and to preserve our political values here at home.”[22] Similarly, Christopher Preble argues that a less activist grand strategy would enhance American security, prosperity, and liberty.[23] Barry Posen defines security to include a state’s power position, which is in turn the “sum total of a state’s capabilities … [including] population size, health, and skill [and] economic capacity of all kinds.”[24] Domestic prosperity thus finds its way into security. To be sure, there is disagreement on the content of these concepts. For instance, domestic liberty has various meanings and the number of Americans who could claim liberty has expanded over time. Yet, as Henry Nau notes, “the core classical liberal belief in individual liberty and equality … binds all Americans, conservatives and liberals alike.”[25] We assume that the core U.S. interests are the security, prosperity, and liberty of the American people, not the world. As Posen notes, advancing “the economic welfare or liberty of people abroad” may enhance U.S. interests, but that need not be the case.[26] Much of the debate over grand strategy centers on the presence or absence of links between advancing stability, welfare, and freedom abroad with the well-being of the United States at home. Importantly, this is a narrower use of the term “interests” than is common in the policy discourse. Here we refer strictly to core U.S. values, as opposed to more instrumental objectives (e.g., preventing the rise of a Eurasian hegemon) that — although commonly referred to as “interests” — are pursued as means of maximizing the core interests we identify. This distinction helps to clarify how the schools of grand strategy differ more on how to achieve core U.S. interests than on what those core interests ought to be. We define grand strategy objectives as the real-world outcomes a state seeks to achieve in order to advance its interests. Objectives are instrumental to interests: Choosing which objectives to pursue depends on one’s theory of what objectives will best maximize interests given internal and external constraints. For example, some argue that maintaining stability in Eurasia is both affordable and necessary for attaining U.S. interests, while others argue that it is too costly or unnecessary. Finally, policy levers or tools are the instruments states employ to realize their objectives. A state’s choice to invest in its diplomatic corps or military forces is a lever that can affect the probability of realizing a given objective that would further an interest. Moreover, just as objectives are instrumental to interests, the specific policies a state adopts are means to realizing its objectives. We restrict our analysis to four specific policy levers: military force structure, security commitments, military deployments, and the use of force. States can rely on additional grand strategy tools, but we focus on military tools for several reasons. Much of the grand-strategy debate centers on the role of military power, and the most intense schisms involve the deployment of military forces and the extension of alliance commitments. This is not surprising: Extending alliance commitments, deploying troops, fighting, and acquiring the necessary military capabilities for each involve significant political, economic, moral, and human costs. There is also a practical concern: No article can focus on every U.S. policy tool. Limiting the focus allows us to more specifically describe and define the differences between grand strategies.

Four Grand Strategies

In this section, we outline each of the ideal-types of grand strategies. We focus on each strategy’s underlying theory and its relation to objectives and policy levers. Table 3 summarizes the arguments along each dimension. Table 3. Grand Strategy Types [table id=9 /] Restraint Theoretical Anchor Balance-of-power realism provides the intellectual foundation for restraint, or what some label an “offshore balancing,” grand strategy. This theoretical anchor makes several core assumptions: The international system is anarchic, states cannot fully know the intentions of other states, and states want to survive. “Because there is no government to protect them and they cannot know the intentions of others,” write Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler, “great powers must ultimately provide for their security.”[27] One state’s efforts to make itself more secure can create insecurity for others. This is the basis of the security dilemma that plays an important role for the restraint position.[28] Systemic constraints and the distribution of power are the key causal factors in shaping international outcomes, while international and domestic institutions play a marginal role. Alongside, but distinct from, the focus on the international system, the restraint position argues that nationalism remains a powerful motivating force.[29] The desire to survive imbues societies with strong incentives to resist outside influence. That is why states tend to balance rather than bandwagon. States with sufficient means work to block or undermine opponents by building up their own military capabilities, allying with states, or militarily challenging an opponent’s interests. Efforts to project power and counterbalancing occasionally lead to escalating spirals of hostility that can result in an arms race or conflict. There is disagreement about which behaviors provoke balancing, but there is consensus that the more geographically proximate and active a state is, the more likely it is that its actions will provoke reactions by capable states.[30] The emphasis on ability to balance is critical. Weak states not directly targeted by a great power may be able to do little and, therefore, simply bandwagon or stay out of the way until they find themselves directly in a great power’s crosshairs.[31] The basic balancing logic can extend to non-state actors, which will use asymmetric strategies (e.g., terrorism) to challenge the great-power policies they oppose.[32] Many link this restraint position to defensive realism.[33] Yet the U.S. geographic and power positions allow offensive realists to coherently advocate a policy of restraint. Offensive realism predicts that states will seek to expand when the benefits outweigh the costs. The United States’ position as the only major power in the Western Hemisphere provides a high level of security and prosperity. The costs associated with U.S. activism therefore outweigh the minimal benefits in the absence of a potential hegemon abroad. Objectives The focus on balancing and nationalism directly informs the restraint position’s contention that a short list of objectives best advances American interests. First, restraint focuses on thwarting any major threats to the American homeland. Second, the United States must prevent the emergence of a hegemon in Europe, Northeast Asia, or the Middle East. A rival could utilize the region’s power potential to endanger U.S. territory or block U.S. commerce. A hegemon in the Middle East, for example, could endanger energy flows, raising the global price of key commodities, which would in turn harm the U.S. economy.[34] Finally, the United States must deny another state the ability to command the global commons of the “sea, space, and air.”[35] If others command the commons, then the United States might find its homeland vulnerable to attack. In the long run, this could also undermine the U.S. economy. Restraint looks at the world today and sees few states capable of threatening these objectives. Distance and the American nuclear arsenal deter major assaults on U.S. territory. No state can unite European or Asian power potential in the near term, though China may be able to do so in the medium  to long term, necessitating a cautious balancing approach.[36] Preventing the emergence of a hegemon in the Middle East requires minimal U.S. investment because the regional powers are very weak. Moreover, global markets are robust and not easily disrupted.[37] [quote id="6"] The restraint position does not identify regional stability as a grand-strategy objective.[38] To begin with, instability abroad does not directly affect American security. Moreover, the tendency to balance causes others to contest U.S. efforts to impose stability, generating security dilemmas that actually can generate instability. Restraint prefers letting regional actors balance other regional actors. This may lead to conventional arming, the formation of new alliances, and even nuclear proliferation as others supply their own security. As more states provide for their own security, the United States can reduce its defense burden, enhancing U.S. prosperity and liberty without sacrificing security.[39] U.S. allies do not behave this way today, the restraint position argues, because they are “cheap-riding” while the United States foots the bill for security.[40] Worse, these actions may be creating a moral hazard, emboldening allies to act recklessly, which can in turn entrap the United States. Restraint considers terrorism an enduring challenge but not one that rises to the level of a grand-strategy objective. This grand-strategy position takes “seriously the threat from international terrorism,” notes Michael Desch, but it “also put[s] it into perspective.”[41] Expansive counterterror policies can provoke backlash. As Robert Pape argues, “U.S. ground forces often inadvertently produce more anti-American terrorists than they kill.”[42] Although terrorist acquisition of a nuclear weapon would be a “game changer,” the probability of that occurring is low.[43] States are unlikely to allow their nuclear weapons or fissile material to fall into the hands of a terrorist organization and risk losing control over how the material is used or risk potential retaliation from the terrorist’s target.[44] Rather than relying on military tools, the United States can help secure stockpiles and prevent accidents by sharing safeguard technology and best practices with other nuclear capable states.[45] Although few restraint proponents advocate nuclear proliferation, most do not consider nonproliferation a grand-strategy objective. Aggressive nonproliferation efforts are likely to encourage proliferation among hostile states as they seek to balance the United States.[46] Additionally, restraint adopts the nuclear-optimist position that nuclear weapons reduce conflict.[47] As long as the United States maintains its nuclear arsenal, deterrence will prevent nuclear attacks. Regional nuclear-armed states can deter regional aggression. Thus, Posen accepts that with the restraint position, “some nuclear proliferation would be tolerated.”[48] This may cause the United States to lose some power-projection ability, but restraint prefers that the United States do less in the current international environment. Restraint also does not count democracy promotion or humanitarian intervention among its objectives. Restraint does not oppose democracy or foreign aid, but its proponents believe that promoting either is inappropriate as part of a grand strategy. Whereas democracy promotion is difficult and unnecessary for advancing U.S. interests, humanitarian interventions can create failed states, generate havens for terrorists, and invite diplomatic backlash. A number of alternative diplomatic and foreign aid initiatives may, in the end, be more effective and save more lives. Policy Levers The restraint approach seeks to reduce U.S. defense commitments, forward deployments of troops, the frequency of using force, and the size of the U.S. military. Despite sharing a common theoretical base and set of objectives, individual scholars within this domain differ on the scope of reduction. The broadest divide is between those advocating modest versus major reductions. This reflects diversity in assessments of the balance of power, technology, preferences for hedging against geopolitical uncertainties, and estimates of domestic political feasibility. While these differences are important, they are outside the shared theoretical framework.[49] We do not, therefore, treat these differences as discrete grand strategies. Proponents of restraint argue in favor of reducing U.S. security commitments and forward deployments of troops. At the extreme end of the spectrum, scholars in this group advocate ending nearly all military commitments and bringing U.S. troops home.[50] More moderate positions agree on reducing the U.S. role in NATO and Europe, where Russian weakness and Western European wealth negate the need for U.S. involvement. U.S. air and naval power may remain in the Middle East, but the United States would remove ground forces and no longer support regimes against domestic opposition. Only in Asia, as a hedge against the rise of China, would sizable U.S. forces — primarily air and sea — and defense commitments potentially remain.[51] The objectives of restraint suggest the United States ought to use force rarely. It would do so only if a state stands poised to attain hegemony in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, or if a state makes a bid to command the commons. Additionally, the United States would use minimal force to degrade and contain terrorist organizations that have the desire and ability to strike the United States.[52] The limited global role would allow significant reductions in the current U.S. force structure. In particular, force structure would shift to one that privileges the Navy and Air Force with light, highly mobile ground forces that proponents of restraint contend would result in large savings. Deep Engagement Theoretical Anchor Hegemonic stability theory provides the underlying principles for the deep engagement approach to grand strategy.[53] This position shares much with what some have labeled “selective engagement.”[54] Deep engagement draws on a separate branch of realism than the restraint position and argues that balancing is not feasible when one state’s material capabilities far exceed those of all others. States are more likely to bandwagon with, rather than balance against, the hegemon. Not only is balancing unlikely, according to this framework, but the world is more peaceful and prosperous when there is a preponderance of power.[55] The hegemon can utilize its superior military and economic tools to provide public goods, such as regional security, that underwrite a stable international order. The provision of security alleviates regional security dilemmas and deters aspiring powers from challenging the hegemon’s authority.[56] Absent the hegemon’s presence, regional balances of power will not form and costly arms races will occur. Moreover, a distant hegemon will be dragged into the conflict, thereby harming its interests. Globally, the clear preponderance of power makes conflicts over prestige unlikely, removing another source of war. Thus, escalatining spirals of hostility are unlikely at both the global and regional levels. Advocates of deep engagement argue that the benefits of maintaining the hegemonic order outweigh the costs. Costs are low because other states are unlikely to balance and military spending is not a major drain on resources.[57] Moreover, peripheral wars are choices rather than necessities, and so do not generate major costs for this strategy so long as the hegemon exercises prudence.[58] The hegemon also benefits from increased security, extracts enormous privileges from the system, and enriches itself through the rise in global prosperity.[59] The hegemon’s ability to shape international institutions facilitates order and lowers transaction costs for managing the international system. For instance, the hegemon can use economic institutions to mold the global economic system to its comparative advantage.[60] International security institutions allow the hegemon to coordinate with allies to maintain regional stability.[61] However, in contrast to liberal internationalism, proponents of deep engagement argue that such institutions are unlikely to be effective in the absence of a hegemonic state powerful enough to underwrite them. Objectives Deep engagement aims to deter threats to the homeland and the global commons. It also focuses on maintaining stability in three key regions — Asia, Europe, and the Middle East — rather than just preventing a hegemon from emerging. Thus, Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth advocate economic globalization, promoting institutions, defending allies, and preventing conflict that would threaten the U.S.-led international order.[62] Proponents of deep engagement argue that the United States can, and should, continue to lead the international order: It can because it remains the only superpower and its position is durable;[63] it should because its presence stabilizes economic and security relations between states. Without a hegemon, regional actors will fail to balance potential peer competitors, harming U.S. security and prosperity. Finally, changes to the status quo adversely affect the United States because the system reflects American interests. Maintaining a stable, open, and U.S.-led order in the world’s core regions requires that the United States pursue several objectives. First, the United States must oppose the emergence of a regional hegemon and work to dampen strictly regional security competition in key areas. Without U.S. leadership, local balancing will be inefficient. Moreover, security competition generates negative externalities — such as conventional arms racing, nuclear proliferation, and trade disruption — that increase the risk of regional and global instability. In contrast to the restraint approach, deep engagement adopts nuclear pessimism, which highlights the dangers of nuclear accidents, inadvertent escalation, and loose nuclear weapons. These risks outweigh any potential stabilizing effects of nuclear weapons.[64] Thus, deep engagement contends that paying the costs associated with protecting American allies helps to deter and contain potential peer competitors and regional instability. This also gives the United States leverage over its allies, minimizing the risk of entrapment.[65] [quote id="1"] Second, deep engagement aims to protect the United States and its allies from terrorism and violent domestic instability. But it does not view these threats outside of the core regions as major dangers. For example, the risk of a terrorist attack or civil conflict in sub-Saharan Africa is a smaller concern than it would be in Saudi Arabia. Deep engagement might support efforts to prevent failed states, civil war, ethnic conflict, and humanitarian disasters but only if such outcomes have the potential to threaten stability in the core regions. Deep engagement supports the spread of democracy but does not view it as a grand-strategy objective because overt democracy promotion can undermine support for other U.S. objectives.[66] Efforts to protect human rights through humanitarian intervention or democracy promotion distract leaders from core objectives and may lead policymakers to pursue unnecessary or impossible objectives, squander resources, and produce negative externalities. Policy Levers Supporters of deep engagement seek to construct a military capable of maintaining existing alliance commitments and troop deployments abroad. These tools serve as the backbone of U.S. influence by deterring adversaries and reassuring allies. Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth make the point clearly:
The United States’ overseas presence gives it the leverage to restrain partners from taking provocative action. Perhaps more importantly, its core alliance commitments also deter states with aspirations to regional hegemony from contemplating expansion and makes its partners more secure, reducing their incentive to adopt solutions to their security problems that threaten others and thus stoke security dilemmas.[67]
To this end, the United States has constructed a set of commitments that include formal defense pacts with 68 countries that, together with the United States, represent 75 percent of world economic output.[68] America’s commitment to NATO and the security structures in the Middle East and Asia should continue. Moreover, contrary to the restraint approach, the deep-engagement position argues that forward-deployed forces are necessary to maintain command of the commons and allow the U.S. presence to surge in an emergency. International commitments and U.S. troop presence also encourage intelligence sharing and cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, as well as reducing domestic instability in these regions. Proponents of deep engagement argue that critics overstate the costs of this grand strategy. For one thing, offsetting arrangements with allies defrays the financial costs of deploying troops abroad. In terms of terrorism, U.S. troops may contribute to anti-Americanism, as some claim, but they are hardly the decisive factor.[69] Were most U.S. troops to come home tomorrow, the terrorist threat would not disappear, nor would much money be saved. Regarding entrapment, alliances allow the United States significant freedom to maneuver and tend to give Washington more influence over its weaker partners.[70] In this framework, military force is a tool to maintain, not alter, the status quo. Hence, deep engagement supports the use of force to protect existing commitments but does not support using military force to spread democracy or, except in extreme cases, remove human rights violators from power. As Brooks and Wohlforth write,
[T]hose who advocate ambitious projects to assertively spread democracy and liberal principles and foster dramatic improvement in human rights, by the sword if necessary, make the same mistakes as proponents of pulling back: they fail to appreciate the major benefits America derives by sustaining its long-standing grand strategy.[71]
Proponents of deep engagement seek to maintain U.S. force-structure projections made toward the end of the Obama administration but are not opposed to modest increases. This level of military power is necessary to maintain existing commitments and deployments, and it requires an amount of military spending that is both affordable and likely to decrease as a percentage of GDP over time.[72] A larger military is unnecessary because deep engagement does not seek to undertake new military missions or commitments outside core regions. Liberal Internationalism Theoretical Anchor Liberal internationalism rests on a combination of hegemonic stability theory and neoliberal institutionalism. This view of grand strategy depends on the “decentralized model” of hegemonic stability, in which it is the hegemon’s “benevolent leadership” more than its coercion of states that ultimately maintains the international order.[73] Liberal internationalism’s central tenet is that the hegemon creates and maintains an order built on “rules and institutions that advance collective security and cooperation among democracies.”[74] It holds that a stable international order can arise when a hegemon is able and willing to use its power to overcome collective action problems — in which states each have an incentive to free ride on the efforts of others — and provide international stability as a public good. Liberal internationalism does not accept that the hegemon’s power alone is sufficient, instead arguing that hegemonic leadership must command legitimacy. That legitimacy depends on upholding the interests of the other states in the system rather than coercing states to adhere to the hegemon’s rules. To accomplish this, the hegemon must tie its own hands by adhering to the same rules as other states and allowing a role for non-state actors.[75] By constructing effective, relatively flat (as opposed to hierarchical) international institutions, the hegemon restrains its ability to act coercively, which in turn enhances the legitimacy and stability of the order. Institutions also facilitate cooperation by reducing transaction costs, monitoring and enforcing agreements, and overcoming collective-action problems. Ultimately, a thick web of institutions can lock in the order and allow it to outlive the hegemon’s inevitable decline. Rising great powers can then be co-opted into supporting and perpetuating this order.[76] Institutions help overcome the nefarious consequences of anarchy touted by balance-of-power realists. Liberal international-relations theories of the economic and domestic-political underpinnings of international cooperation strongly inform liberal internationalism.[77] In particular, proponents of liberal internationalism contend that the promotion of open and free trade (economic liberalism) and the global spread of democracy (republican liberalism) are critical pillars of a stable and peaceful international order. As Anne-Marie Slaughter argues, the “origins of international conflict and cooperation lie in the political and economic micro-foundations of individual societies.”[78] Democratic states are unlikely to go to war with one another and can cooperate to form security communities.[79] Market democracies will pursue globalization with the free flow of goods, services, and ideas across borders. This type of economic interdependence not only promotes peace, by raising the costs of conflict, but also enhances prosperity. Objectives The core objective of liberal internationalism is the maintenance and expansion of a U.S.-led liberal international order embedded within a dense network of international institutions.[80] As Slaughter has written, the “next U.S. president should adopt a grand strategy of building and maintaining an open international order based on three pillars: open societies, open governments, and an open international system.”[81] Thus liberal internationalism parts company with deep engagement by considering the incorporation of liberal elements into the international order the very bedrock of U.S. grand strategy. Liberal internationalism considers the end of unipolarity and the rise of one or more rival great powers to be inevitable, but in contrast to the other grand strategies it opposes efforts to contain them.[82] Instead, proponents of liberal internationalism argue that by building a thick web of international institutions, the United States can co-opt potential rivals into the existing order and provide them a stake in maintaining it. The end of the Cold War created a unique historical moment and an unparalleled opportunity for the United States to lock in an international order amenable to its interests.[83] During this window of opportunity, the United States should use its power for building institutions, advancing democratic institutions and norms, promoting free markets, and reducing barriers to international trade — albeit while acting within the rules of the order it has constructed. Institutions, proponents of liberal internationalism argue, are “sticky.” Once states become enmeshed in a sufficiently thick, rules-based liberal international order, the benefits this order provides and the costs of dismantling it create powerful incentives for future great powers to continue to support it.[84] Friends and potential rivals  gain from the hegemon’s provision of global public goods like security and stability. Institutions also reassure other states that U.S. leadership is benign by constraining U.S. behavior. Although the United States may possess the military and economic power to violate institutional rules, doing so would undermine its international legitimacy.[85] [quote id="2"] Liberal internationalism considers the spread of democracy and globalization a keystone to global stability and a central grand-strategy objective. Liberal internationalism therefore advocates protecting established and nascent democracies, even to the point of providing military support to domestic democratic opponents of autocratic regimes. This democratizing impulse was the basic rationale behind the Clinton administration’s “democratic enlargement” policy, which expanded NATO eastward in the 1990s.[86] As Slaughter puts it, the United States must continue its policy of “supporting liberal democratic parties and institutions in countries determining their own political future. … The twenty-first century, like the twentieth century, must be made safe for democracy.”[87] Promoting globalization can also foster the development of a middle class, a core constituency for democratization in developing countries. Liberal internationalism highlights the importance of maintaining regional stability. Regional arms races and conventional conflict undermine the rules-based international order and end up sucking the United States into conflict. History has shown that “aggressors in faraway lands, if left unchecked, would someday threaten the United States.”[88] For liberal internationalism, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks demonstrated how internal and external stability can create conditions that can lead to direct harm to the United States. Proponents of liberal internationalism consider international terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and gross human rights violations to be significant threats to global order. These concerns are compounded by general suspicions of authoritarian and illiberal groups and a skepticism that they can reliably be deterred. Nuclear proliferation and terrorism can combine in particularly pernicious ways. Ikenberry and Slaughter assert that the “threat of nuclear terrorism looms greater than any other nuclear threat because of the limits of traditional concepts of deterrence against adversaries who would willingly martyr themselves.”[89] To states, on the other hand, nuclear proliferation generates instability and imposes limits on America’s ability to act against challengers to the liberal international order. Human rights violations can undermine nascent liberal movements and breed regional instability. Policy Levers Liberal internationalism holds that U.S. military dominance currently underwrites the liberal international order. The United States must, therefore, maintain the military capabilities and alliances necessary to deter and defend against revisionist, anti-liberal challengers.[90] As Ikenberry and Slaughter write, liberal internationalism’s objectives “require a continued high level of U.S. defense spending.”[91] The United States should maintain and expand its commitments and, where necessary, its troop presence. This is particularly true for nascent democracies outside Western Europe. “The United States,” Ikenberry argues, “should recommit to and rebuild its security alliances. … The updating of these alliance bargains would involve widening the regional or global missions in which the alliance operates and making new compromises over the distribution of formal rights and responsibilities.”[92] Although the regional emphasis may differ by scholar, liberal internationalism supports an expansion of troops in specific cases as a hedge against potential illiberal challenges. For instance, as noted by Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, and Janine Davidson, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, “The cornerstone of forward engagement [is] positioning U.S. troops in vital regions to help deter major conflicts and promote stability, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.”[93] At times it will be necessary to use force to attain American objectives. This can include the defense of emerging democracies, but liberal internationalism does not advocate the constant use of force to spread democracy. It emphasizes multilateralism, though not necessarily universal support, as a way to build legitimacy for any use of force. Thus Slaughter contends that “if the need for international action is great, the international community must turn to broadly representative regional institutions to authorize and implement intervention.”[94] Democratic communities can legitimize U.S. action when broader forums are not supportive.[95] Concerns over human rights violations led many proponents of liberal internationalism to support the Iraq War in 2003 and the intervention in Libya in 2011.[96] As Slaughter notes, “R2P, [the Responsibility to Protect] has gone deeply out of fashion, but that is surely temporary.”[97]  The initial stages of humanitarian intervention may require the kind of forces that only the United States is in a position to supply. Conservative Primacy Theoretical Anchor Conservative primacy is a broad family that includes, but is not limited to, neoconservatives, conservative internationalists, and conservative realists.[98] It is consistent with much of what Brands labels “a better nationalism” and Colin Dueck calls “conservative nationalism.”[99] To be sure, there are a number of disagreements between self-described members of each group. Those disagreements are narrow enough — and the differences with alternative grand-strategy positions wide enough — to justify treating them together as an ideal-type grand strategy. We adopt the term conservative primacy because it captures the core shared theoretical underpinnings driving several, though by no means all, self-labeled conservative positions.[100] [quote id="3"] Specifically, conservative primacy formulations of all types combine classical liberal assumptions and hegemonic stability theory to arrive at more assertive grand-strategic prescriptions. These prescriptions rest on a variant of hegemonic stability theory that combines “benevolent” and “coercive” elements.[101] The hegemon’s rule must be benevolent in that the international order it establishes must command legitimacy among other states. This legitimacy arises when core liberal values are shared. Because liberal, democratic states have a shared set of interests, a liberal democratic hegemon’s efforts to establish an international order will command legitimacy even when this requires the unilateral exercise of military force. Indeed, the hegemon’s legitimacy rises among its fellow liberal democracies when it exercises power to defend the international order against nondemocratic challengers. Absent this leadership, dangerous threats will multiply. As Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, and Brian Hook state, a “strong United States is essential to the maintenance of the open global order under which this country and the rest of the world have prospered since 1945 …the alternative is not a self-regulating machine of balancing states, but a landscape marked by eruptions of chaos and destruction.”[102] Conservative primacy shares with liberal internationalism a focus on domestic institutions but parts company when it comes to international institutions. For conservative primacy, behavior is largely driven by regime type rather than the distribution of power. “Democracies,” Charles Krauthammer wrote, “are inherently more friendly to the United States, less belligerent to their neighbors, and generally more inclined to peace” than illiberal regimes.[103] International institutions are suspect, particularly those that grant equal status to both democracies and autocracies, as they empower and legitimize tyrannical regimes. Because democratic regimes are more likely than autocratic ones to be bound by international rules, international institutions restrain the states that need a free hand to uphold the international order, while permitting challengers of the liberal order greater freedom of action. Thus, international institutions can have an important effect on state preferences (contra restraint) but only among democratic states (contra liberal internationalism).[104] In sum, conservative primacy’s various permutations share several core features. First, a belief that illiberal (both politically and economically) state and non-state actors are sources of danger. In the wake of the Iraq War, however, there has been disagreement on how aggressively to promote democracy abroad and widespread skepticism of regime-change adventures. Second, proponents of conservative primacy see the use of American military power as a necessary component of hegemony. Finally, under this grand-strategy position, there is a pronounced skepticism of international institutions. Objectives Conservative primacy, like its liberal counterpart, favors the promotion of an international order based on liberal characteristics; in particular, the spread of democracy, capitalism, and free trade. As Condoleezza Rice put it, “An international order that reflects our values is the best guarantee of our enduring national interest.”[105] Conservative primacy does not consider such an “international order” to be a rules-based order built on international institutions. In fact, it warns that faith in institutions could lead the United States to abrogate its leadership role while failing to constrain illiberal regimes. The United States ought to remain the sole superpower, albeit sharing the stage with several great powers. Even with a variety of challenges, that hegemonic status is, in this view, durable.[106] Conservative primacy prioritizes the spread of democracy and opposition to authoritarian regimes. Unlike liberal internationalism, which argues that democracies can resolve conflicts of interest through peaceful negotiation, conservative primacy holds that maintaining a U.S.-led international order is a globally shared interest and that democratic governments best channel popular support for U.S. hegemony. Authoritarian and “rogue” regimes, on the other hand, are unrepresentative of the populations they govern and therefore do not share the citizenship’s interest in maintaining the international political-economic order established by the United States. Proponents of conservative primacy do not rule out spreading democracy by the sword — many supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq — but they caution against ill-conceived or constant efforts to do so. Because non-democratic regimes are both illegitimate and naturally inimical to the established and popularly supported international order, their very existence is a security threat to the United States and its democratic allies. Conservative primacy posits that the stability of the international order rests on U.S. power. U.S. primacy and preventing the rise of a great-power rival, particularly an illiberal great power, are therefore core objectives. The focus on regime type and the importance placed on U.S. preeminence in the international system suggests a strategy toward China, for example, that would combine elements of engagement and regime transformation (similar to liberal internationalism) and a balancing approach (similar to deep engagement and, increasingly, restraint). The result is a strategy comparable to Aaron Friedberg’s “better balancing” approach, which “combines continued attempts at engagement with expanded and intensified balancing.”[107] It differs from other grand-strategic positions by assuming that engagement is the best tool for moving China toward democracy, when coupled with assertive balancing, and that U.S. balancing efforts do not risk escalation or require reassurance. Aggressive counterterrorism is a necessary objective of conservative primacy. According to Dueck, “jihadist terrorists” must be preempted: “The nature of this particular enemy leaves no superior alternative other than an assertive and determined strategy of rollback.”[108] Advocates of conservative primacy see an essential link between terrorism and “rogue” states that sponsor terrorist organizations and, therefore, favor strategies that focus on that link. For example, the Bush administration rapidly shifted focus to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks despite Iraq’s lack of connection to those attacks. James Mann describes the thinking of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as: “[F]orces behind terrorism in the Middle East were all interconnected … If the United States could defeat [Hussein], it would weaken terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. The issue was broader than Al Qaeda.”[109] Nonproliferation is also a critical objective because conservative primacy doubts the efficacy of deterrence when it comes to authoritarian and rogue states. Proponents of this grand strategy are supportive of preventive military action as well as ballistic missile defenses and nuclear counterforce capabilities. Concerns about proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons were at the center of the Bush administration’s case to invade Iraq. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, advocates of the neoconservative strain of conservative primacy within the administration expressed particular concern about “rogue” states such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons. This interacted with the terrorist threat to raise additional worry and played a central role in the development of the Bush Doctrine. More than a decade later, it has informed critiques of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action addressing Iran’s nuclear program.[110] Policy Levers Conservative primacy highlights the value of using U.S. military power to achieve American objectives. The tendency to bandwagon will dominate incentives to balance, so there are increasing returns to U.S. global activism with little risk of blowback. By this thinking, a robust troop presence would reassure skittish allies, deter and compel potential adversaries, and establish the means to defeat them should coercion fail.[111] As Robert Kagan notes, the
American presence enforced a general peace and stability in two regions [Europe and Asia] that for at least a century had known almost constant great-power conflict. … When the United States appears to retrench, allies necessarily become anxious, while others look for opportunities.[112]
As for the Middle East, Peter Feaver argues that the U.S. shift to an offshore balancing strategy “proved disastrous for American interests and paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State, forcing Obama to shift back once again to an onshore balancing in the region.”[113] Conservative primacy emphasizes alliances with democracies rather than autocracies but makes room for compromise on this issue. Mann explains how conservatives shifted during the Cold War from a position largely consistent with the one set forth in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s landmark 1979 Commentary article and toward more assertively supporting democracy even when it meant challenging the domestic security of anti-communist regimes supportive of the United States.[114] Similarly, Nau argues that although “critics often attack such cooperation” with authoritarian regimes “as hypocrisy,” it is necessary to set priorities and be sensitive to “the limitations of both resources and public will to support the end of tyranny everywhere at once.”[115] Thus, support for U.S. commitments to non-democratic allies in the Middle East and elsewhere is not inconsistent with the overall tenets of conservative primacy. Conservative primacy’s emphasis on military power leads to a large force structure and a willingness to use military force to advance U.S. objectives. This view of grand strategy emphasizes what Nau calls “armed diplomacy.”[116] The ability and resolve to use force “during negotiations and before an attack when it is a choice, not just after negotiations and in retaliation to an attack when it is a necessity,” is essential to “succeed in negotiations that move freedom forward.” This does not mean conservative primacy favors greater use of force overall. Rather, Nau argues that what is preferable is “the earlier and perhaps more frequent use of smaller force to deter, preempt, and prevent the later use of much greater force.”[117] Put differently, conservative primacy focuses on the risk of acting too late, while other grand strategies put greater weight on the risk of acting too soon. A large military is, therefore, essential, allowing the United States to act and bargain from a position of strength.[118] The conservative-primacy position contends that current U.S. spending on defense is low by historical standards and can be increased without undermining the domestic economy.


We argue that key disagreements over grand strategy hinge on theoretical disagreements about the role of power and institutions in international politics. Regarding power, the core disagreement is between the restraint position, which relies on balance-of-power realism, and the other three grand-strategy positions, which adopt variations of hegemonic stability theory. A focus on power alone, however, would lead to an incorrect portrayal of important elements of the debate. Equally significant are the roles that international and domestic institutions play in international politics. Different understandings of those roles have enormous implications for what specific objectives the United States ought to pursue to maximize its interests. Liberal internationalism focuses on spreading liberal economic, domestic, and international institutions, relying on all three pillars of what scholars label the Kantian tripod.[119] Conservative primacy draws on classical liberalism and agrees on the importance of spreading liberal economic and domestic institutions. In contrast to liberal internationalism, proponents of conservative primacy argue that international institutions dangerously constrain U.S. action while allowing illiberal states to pursue agendas inimical to U.S. interests. Deep engagement, on the other hand, is the mirror position of conservative primacy: For its proponents, spreading liberal domestic institutions is often a costly distraction from achieving core objectives. At the same time, deep engagement borrows some insights from institutionalism. Advocates of restraint argue that it is unnecessary, and perhaps even counterproductive, to use military tools to underwrite liberal international or domestic institutions to secure U.S. interests. Our framework makes several contributions to advancing the grand strategy debate. First, by holding interests constant, we identify four grand strategies that lead to a number of policy prescriptions that claim to maximize a given set of U.S. interests. Having done so, future research will be better able to assess which grand strategy offers the best mix of policies to maximize these interests. One could identify a different set of interests, but whatever interests one identifies must be consistent and carefully separated from objectives. Two recent works help illustrate how failing to adopt this framework can lead to conceptual confusion. In his important book outlining the tenets of a restraint grand strategy, Posen argues that foreign policy “may have many goals beyond security, including the prosperity of Americans at home,” but that grand strategy seeks to maximize security alone. Yet, as noted earlier, his definition of security includes “power position,” which in turn includes “economic capacity.”[120] Posen ultimately suggests that economic capacity, then, is both a means and an end.[121] This is problematic because, if it is an end, Posen would need to demonstrate that the objectives of restraint lead it to better advance U.S. economic capacity compared with alternative grand strategies. If it is a means, it would be necessary to make clear that there may be a trade-off between security and prosperity in favor of the former. It would also be necessary to specify the severity of this trade-off to assess whether it is sharp enough to undermine security in the long run. Yet Posen largely sidesteps these issues. In short, on his own terms, Posen’s treatment of the restraint position is incomplete. By clearly identifying and examining the issues that our framework highlights, scholars and policymakers will be better able to directly compare the costs and benefits of each grand strategy to maximize a given set of interests. [quote id="4"] The conflation of interests and objectives is apparent in other works as well. In their careful treatment of deep engagement, Brooks and Wohlforth have done just this, writing that “managing the external environment to reduce near- and long-term threats to U.S. national security” is one of three core U.S. grand-strategy interests that are essential for furthering U.S. security.[122] This argument borders on a tautology: The best way to preserve U.S. security is to reduce the threat to U.S. security. More important, it, like Posen, conflates means and ends. Managing the external security environment is a means for maximizing the U.S. interest of security; it is not an end itself. As our framework makes clear, interests or ends must be treated as constant, whereas means should vary depending on evidence regarding their effectiveness in realizing those interests. It is critical for future research on grand strategies to separate means from ends so that officials can clearly understand whether scholars are making claims about what interests the United States should adopt as opposed to what means would maximize a given end. Next, our framework reveals why analysts across grand-strategy positions may agree on some policy prescriptions but not others. For example, paying attention to underlying theories helps reveal why the policy prescriptions of some restraint proponents, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Barry Posen, overlap with the policy prescriptions of proponents of more robust grand-strategy positions regarding China but not elsewhere.[123] This is intellectually consistent: The restraint position focuses on the importance of preventing hegemons from emerging in areas where regional actors are incapable of mustering sufficient power. In such cases, the balance of power logic at the heart of restraint points to the necessity of a powerful outside actor to intervene. Thus, in an early post-Cold War statement of restraint, Eugene Gholz, Daryl Press, and Harvey Sapolsky recognized that an expansive American role was necessary when there was a Soviet peer competitor but was no longer needed once America’s relative power surged after the fall of the Soviet Union.[124] It follows that if China occupies a similar geopolitical position, then many restraint proponents would accept a larger U.S. role in balancing against China. Absent that type of peer-competitor, however, restraint’s underlying logic remains centered on allowing regional power balancing to deal with local challenges. To the extent that individual analysts within each grand-strategy position disagree on specific propositions, those divides stem from additional factors — such as disagreements over relative power, changing technology, or normative preferences — that lie outside those underlying theories. Finally, this article provides a framework for how best to apply existing research to the grand-strategy debate and what additional research should be undertaken. We illustrate this with two examples drawn from each axis of the debate. First, if a U.S. presence abroad provoked rival nuclear proliferation more than it limited allied proliferation this would support the restraint position while undermining alternative approaches to grand strategy. The converse, however, is not necessarily the case. If reduced American involvement caused more proliferation among allies, advocates of restraint may find that acceptable, arguing that it increases regional stability through mutual deterrence. It would then be necessary to consider research from the enduring debate on the consequences of nuclear proliferation for regional (in)stability as well as whether nuclear-driven (in)stability positively or negatively affected American interests. That is, it would be necessary to show how these changes would affect America’s ability to achieve other objectives and interests. Several studies examine U.S. nonproliferation tools, but more fine-grained analyses addressing the effectiveness of individual and combined policy levers are needed.[125] It would be informative, for instance, for research to disentangle whether a U.S. security commitment is sufficient to provide leverage (supporting deep engagement), or if it must be coupled with a global/regional institutional order and specific regime types (supporting liberal internationalism), or a strong commitment to use force against potential proliferators (supporting conservative primacy). A second example draws from the legitimacy axis of the debate. The different grand-strategic positions disagree on whether international legitimacy matters in determining whether U.S. strategies, such as troop deployments and the use of military force, are likely to be stabilizing or destabilizing (or have no effect on stability either way). Liberal internationalism holds that the use of American military force abroad promotes stability when the United States exercises self-restraint and adheres to international norms and the rules and processes of inclusive international institutions such as the U.N. Security Council. Conservative primacy, on the other hand, argues that U.S. military force can be carried out unilaterally and will command legitimacy among democracies so long as its exercise is consistent with liberal ends. For example, conservative primacy would predict that the U.S. failure to intervene in Syria after Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013 would undermine U.S. legitimacy and generate greater instability by inviting challenges to U.S. leadership. Alternatively, liberal internationalism would predict that unilateral U.S. efforts to roll back North Korean nuclear and missile achievements ought to promote instability by undermining alliances and provoking adversaries. Conservative primacy would expect the opposite result: that allies would be heartened by these measures and adversaries cowed. In each example, researchers can test the competing claims against international outcomes in terms of stability and public and elite opinion abroad as a measure of international legitimacy. In sum, this article’s focus on why proponents prefer a given set of grand-strategic objectives and corresponding levers will allow future research to better assess the relative effectiveness of these objectives and levers for attaining U.S. interests. It is necessary not only to test individual relationships between tools and objectives, but also to assess how those relationships interact with one another to highlight the various trade-offs inherent in any grand strategy that attempts to establish priorities, balance competing demands, and bring a diverse set of policies into an overarching agenda. This is more demanding than narrow hypothesis-testing but has the potential to fill a critical gap between scholarship and policy and move us closer to the ideal of evidence-based policy.   Acknowledgements: For helpful discussions and suggestions, the authors would like to thank Michael Beckley, Stephen Brooks, Michael Desch, Eugene Gholz, Kelly Greenhill, Henry Nau, Jacqueline Hazelton, Alexander Lanoszka, Barry Posen, Miranda Priebe, Andrew Ross, Joshua Rovner, John Schuessler, Joshua Shifrinson, Nina Silove, William Wohlforth, the three anonymous reviewers, and the Texas National Security Review editors.   Paul C. Avey is assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech. Jonathan N. Markowitz is an assistant professor in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. Robert J. Reardon is assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University. [post_title] => Disentangling Grand Strategy: International Relations Theory and U.S. Grand Strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => disentangling-grand-strategy-international-relations-theory-and-u-s-grand-strategy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-18 02:56:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-18 07:56:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => This article assesses the underlying sources of disagreement among competing scholarly treatments of U.S. grand strategy. It argues that much of the debate centers on differing conceptions of the roles of power and domestic and international institutions in international politics. In addition, it cuts through conceptual confusion that clouds much of the debate by clearly delineating interests, objectives, and policy levers. This framework will allow existing and future research to more usefully address and advance the debate. Finally, it provides a baseline with which to assess initiatives by U.S. administrations. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Proponents of deep engagement argue that the United States can, and should, continue to lead the international order... ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Liberal internationalism considers the end of unipolarity and the rise of one or more rival great powers to be inevitable, but in contrast to the other grand strategies it opposes efforts to contain them. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Conservative primacy shares with liberal internationalism a focus on domestic institutions but parts company when it comes to international institutions. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => It is critical for future research on grand strategies to separate means from ends... ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Much of the debate over grand strategy centers on the presence or absence of links between advancing stability, welfare, and freedom abroad with the well-being of the United States at home. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The focus on balancing and nationalism directly informs the restraint position’s contention that a short list of objectives best advances American interests. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 235 [1] => 236 [2] => 237 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The rhetoric can diverge from policy. See: National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC: White House, 1993),; National Security Strategy (Washington, DC: White House, 2015),; and National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC: White House, 2017), [2] They may face an uphill battle trying to do so, however. See, for example, Daniel Drezner, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats Are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017); Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). [3] For similar points, see Alexander L. George, Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1993). [4] Peter Feaver, “What Do Policymakers Want from Academic Experts on Nuclear Proliferation,” Washington Post Monkey Cage blog, July 8, 2014, Stephen Walt similarly notes that “policymakers who are contemptuous of ‘theory’ must rely on their own (often unstated) ideas about how the world works in order to decide what to do.” Stephen M. Walt, “International Relations: One World, Many Theories,” Foreign Policy no. 110 (Spring 1998): 29, [5] Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch, “What Do Policymakers Want from Us? Results of a Survey of Current and Former National Security Decision Makers,” International Studies Quarterly 58, no. 2 (June 2014): 244, [6] These frameworks can arise from multiple sources, but the key is that there is some framework for understanding the world. For discussions of how general visions informed grand strategy or specific policies see, for example, John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Hal Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy: Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Elizabeth N. Saunders, Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Jennifer Mitzen, “Illusion or Intention? Talking Grand Strategy into Existence,” Security Studies 24, no. 1 (2015): 61–94,; and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Two Concepts of Liberty: U.S. Cold War Grand Strategies and the Liberal Tradition,” International Security 37, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 9–43, [7] For a recent discussion on these issues see Hal Brands, “The Real Gap,” American Interest 13, no. 1 (September/October 2017): 44–54,; and John Glaser, “Truth, Power, and the Academy: A Response to Hal Brands,” War on the Rocks, March 26, 2018, [8] For example, Marc Lynch, “Political Science in Real Time: Engaging the Middle East Policy Public,” Perspectives on Politics 14, no. 1 (March 2016): 121–31,; Daniel Byman and Matthew Kroenig, “Reaching Beyond the Ivory Tower: A How To Manual,” Security Studies 25, no. 2 (May 2016): 289–319,; Michael Horowitz, “What Is Policy Relevance?” War on the Rocks, June 17, 2015, [9] As noted, we acknowledge that there are normative differences over national interests. This analytical move allows us to establish a baseline to assess the degree to which grand-strategy prescriptions differ according to theoretical disagreements rather than different conceptions of the national interest. [10] Representative examples of each are Barry R. Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); and Henry R. Nau, Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy Under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013). [11] Barry R. Posen and Andrew L. Ross, “Competing Visions for U.S. Grand Strategy,” International Security 21, no. 3 (Winter 1996/1997): 5–53,; Nina Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 27–57,; Lukas Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Jack Snyder, “One World, Rival Theories,” Foreign Policy, no. 145 (November/December 2004): 53–62,; Walt, “International Relations: One World, Many Theories.” [12] Posen and Ross, “Competing Visions for U.S. Grand Strategy,” 5; Stacie E. Goddard and Ronald R. Krebs, “Rhetoric, Legitimation, and Grand Strategy,” Security Studies 24, no. 1 (2015): 5–36, [13] For discussions on these points see Pascal Vennesson, “Is Strategic Studies Narrow? Critical Security and the Misunderstood Scope of Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 3 (2017): 358–91,; Eric Van Rythoven, “The Perils of Realist Advocacy and the Promise of Securitization Theory: Revisiting the Tragedy of the Iraq War Debate,” European Journal of International Relations 22, no. 3 (2016): 487–511,; Rodger A. Payne, “Cooperative Security: Grand Strategy Meets Critical Theory?” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 40, no. 3 (2012): 605–24, [14] See, for example, “Policy Roundtable: What to Make of Trump’s National Security Strategy,” Texas National Security Review, Dec. 21, 2017,; Barry R. Posen, “The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony: Trump’s Surprising Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018),; Hal Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018); Elizabeth N. Saunders, “Is Trump a Normal Foreign-Policy President? What We Know After One Year,” Foreign Affairs Snapshot, Jan. 18, 2018,; Matthew Kroenig, “The Case for Trump’s Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 96, no. 3 (May/June 2017),; Randall L. Schweller, “A Third-Image Explanation for Why Trump Now: A Response to Robert Jervis’s ‘President Trump and IR Theory,’” H-Diplo|ISSF Policy Series, Feb. 8, 2017, [15] Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword”; Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought. [16] Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy, 4. [17] Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword,” 46, see also 34–47. [18] For a general discussion on U.S. interests, see the contributions in this Aug. 19, 2015, National Interest symposium: “What Should Be the Purpose of American Power?” [19] Charles L. Glaser, Rational Theory of International Politics: The Logic of Competition and Cooperation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 15. [20] Anne-Marie Slaughter, “How to Succeed in the Networked World: A Grand Strategy for the Digital Age,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 6 (November/December 2016), For a similar point, see Jennifer Lind, “Article Review 52 on ‘The Myth of Entangling Alliances,’” H-Diplo|ISSF, April 13, 2016, [21] For example, Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 1; Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances: Reassessing the Security Risks of U.S. Defense Pacts,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015), Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America: The Case Against Retrenchment,” International Security 37, no. 3 (Winter 2012/2013),; Anne-Marie Slaughter, “A Grand Strategy of Network Centrality,” in America’s Path: Grand Strategy for the Next Administration, ed. Richard Fontaine and Kristin M. Lord (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 2012), [22] Stephen M. Walt, “Lax Americana,” Foreign Policy, Oct. 23, 2015, [23] Christopher A. Preble, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009). See also Eugene Gholz, “Restraint and Oil Security,” in US Grand Strategy in the 21st Century: The Case for Restraint, ed. A. Trevor Thrall and Benjamin H. Friedman (London: Routledge, 2018), 59. [24] Posen, Restraint, 3. [25] Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 13–14. [26] Posen, Restraint, 2. [27] Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler, “A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States,” Perspectives on Politics 9, no. 4 (December 2011): 805, [28] Eugene Gholz, Daryl G. Press, and Harvey M. Sapolsky, “Come Home, America: The Strategy of Restraint in the Face of Temptation,” International Security 21, no. 4 (Spring 1997), [29] Posen, Restraint, 22, 50–54; Stephen M. Walt, “Nationalism Rules,”, July 15, 2011, [30] John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 4 (July/August 2016): 70–83,; Posen, Restraint, 18–22; Stephen M. Walt, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), chap. 2; John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014). [31] Mearsheimer, Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 162–65. [32] Robert A. Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2006). [33] For example, Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America.” [34] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing”; Posen, Restraint; Rosato and Schuessler, “A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States.” [35] Barry R. Posen, “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony,” International Security 28, no. 1 (Summer 2003): 7–8, [36] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing,” 81; Posen, “The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony,” 27; Richard K. Betts, “American Strategy: Grand vs. Grandiose,” in America’s Path: Grand Strategy for the Next Administration, ed. Richard Fontaine and Kristin M. Lord, 39–40. [37] For example, Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press, “The Effects of Wars on Neutral Countries: Why It Doesn’t Pay to Preserve the Peace,” Security Studies 10, no. 4 (2001),; Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press, “Protecting ‘The Prize’: Oil and the U.S. National Interest,” Security Studies 19, no. 3 (2010): 453–85,; Gholz, “Restraint and Oil Security,” in US Grand Strategy in the 21st Century, ed. Thrall and Friedman. [38] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing,” 73; Rosato and Schuessler, “A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States,” 812–13; Walt, Taming American Power, 222. [39] Joseph M. Parent and Paul K. MacDonald, “The Wisdom of Retrenchment: America Must Cut Back to Move Forward,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 6 (November/December 2011), [40] Posen, Restraint, 35–50. [41] Michael C. Desch, “America’s Liberal Illiberalism: The Ideological Origins of Overreaction in U.S. Foreign Policy,” International Security 32, no. 3 (Winter 2007/2008): 40, See also Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing,” 77. [42] Robert A. Pape, “It’s the Occupation, Stupid,”, Oct. 18, 2010, [43] John J. Mearsheimer, “America Unhinged,” National Interest, no. 129 (January/February 2014): 12, [44] Walt, Taming American Power, 224–40. For empirical discussions, see Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “Why States Won’t Give Nuclear Weapons to Terrorists,” International Security 38, no. 1 (Summer 2013): 80–104,; John Mueller, Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), chaps. 12–15. [45] Posen, “The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony,” 27. [46] Harvey Sapolsky, Benjamin H. Friedman, Eugene Gholz, and Daryl G. Press, “Restraining Order: For Strategic Modesty,” World Affairs (Fall 2009): 91,; Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing,” 79; Posen, Restraint, 31, 61; Walt, Taming American Power, 239–40. [47] On nuclear optimism, see Kenneth Waltz’s contributions in Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013). [48] Posen, Restraint, 167. [49] As noted, our framework cannot account for every permutation in the grand-strategy debate and, instead, seeks to highlight how two factors can account for a large amount of the variation. [50] Gholz et al., “Come Home, America,” 17–29; Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006),188–89. [51] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing”; Posen, Restraint, 90–91, 100–13, 159; Parent and MacDonald, “The Wisdom of Retrenchment”; Betts, “American Strategy: Grand vs. Grandiose,” 37–40. [52] Posen, Restraint, 86. [53] Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981); William C. Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar World,” International Security 24, no. 1 (Summer 1999): 5–41, [54] Robert J. Art, A Grand Strategy for America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003). [55] Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar World.” [56] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 89–102. [57] Carla Norrlof and William C. Wohlforth, “Is US Grand Strategy Self-Defeating? Deep Engagement, Military Spending, and Sovereign Debt,” Conflict Management and Peace Science (November 2016), [58] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 122–33. [59] Carla Norrlof, America’s Global Advantage: US Hegemony and International Cooperation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Michael Mastanduno, “Preserving the Unipolar Moment: Realist Theories and U.S. Grand Strategy After the Cold War,” International Security 21, no. 4 (Spring 1997): 49–88, [60] Michael Mastanduno, “System Maker and Privilege Taker: U.S. Power and the International Political Economy,” World Politics 61, no. 1 (January 2009): 121–54, [61] Art, A Grand Strategy for America, 163–65, 247. [62] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 1–2. [63] Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar World,” 23–25; Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad; Michael Beckley, The Unipolar Era: Why American Power Persists (unpublished manuscript). [64] On nuclear pessimism, see Scott Sagan’s contributions to Sagan and Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. [65] Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances.” [66] Art, A Grand Strategy for America, 46, 69–73, 145; Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 74. [67] Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America,” 34. See also Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar World”; Art, A Grand Strategy for America, 8–9, 138–45, 231–32; Robert J. Art, “Selective Engagement in the Era of Austerity,” in America’s Path: Grand Strategy for the Next Administration, ed. Richard Fontaine and Kristin M. Lord, 15–18. [68] Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances,” 7. [69] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 141–43. [70] Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances” 18–22. [71] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 74. [72] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad; Norrlof and Wohlforth, “Is U.S. Grand Strategy Self-Defeating?[73] Duncan Snidal, “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory,” International Organization 39, no. 4 (Autumn 1985): 588–89, [74] G. John Ikenberry, “Woodrow Wilson, the Bush Administration, and the Future of Liberal Internationalism,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century, ed. G. John Ikenberry et al. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 2. [75] Slaughter, “How to Succeed in the Networked World,” 84–86; G. John Ikenberry, “The Future of the Liberal World Order: Internationalism After America,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 3 (May/June 2011): 56–68,; G. John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). [76] Ikenberry, After Victory; Ikenberry, “The Future of the Liberal World Order.” See also Robert O. Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984). [77] Andrew Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics,” International Organization 51, no. 4 (Autumn 1997): 513–53, [78] Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century, ed. G. John Ikenberry et al., 105. [79] Charles Lipson, Reliable Partners: How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), esp. chap. 2. [80] G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Project on National Security, 2006), 14–16; Slaughter, “A Grand Strategy of Network Centrality,” in America’s Path, ed. Fontaine and Lord, 46–47. [81] Slaughter, “How to Succeed in the Networked World,” 77. [82] G. John Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive?” Foreign Affairs 87, no. 1 (January/February 2008),; Ikenberry, “The Future of the Liberal World Order.” [83] Ikenberry, After Victory, 55–56. [84] Ikenberry, After Victory, 65. [85] Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan. [86] Douglas Brinkley, “Democratic Enlargement: The Clinton Doctrine,” Foreign Policy no. 106 (Spring 1997),; Ikenberry, “Woodrow Wilson, the Bush Administration, and the Future of Liberal Internationalism,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy, ed. Ikenberry et al., 20–22. [87] Slaughter, “Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy, ed. Ikenberry et al., 97, 109. [88] Ikenberry and Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law, 16. [89] Ikenberry and Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law. [90] Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan, 301–06; Ikenberry, After Victory, chap. 3. [91] Ikenberry and Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law, 29–30. [92] Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan, 354–55. [93] Michèle Flournoy and Janine Davidson, “Obama’s New Global Posture: The Logic of U.S. Foreign Deployments,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 4 (July/August 2012): 56, [94] Slaughter, “Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy, ed. Ikenberry et al., 114. [95] Slaughter, “Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy, ed. Ikenberry et al., 98–100; Ikenberry and Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law, 7. [96] Slaughter, “Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Crisis of American Foreign Policy, ed. Ikenberry et al., 109. [97] Slaughter, “How to Succeed in the Networked World,” 89. [98] For recent examples, see Eliot A. Cohen, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force (New York: Basic Books, 2017); Nau, Conservative Internationalism; and Colin Dueck, The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). The “neoconservative” label has always been contested. It fell deeply out of fashion in the aftermath of the Iraq War, inspiring efforts to highlight distinctions with neoconservatism. See, for example, Justin Vaisse, Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); and Michael C. Desch, “Neoconservatism Rebaptized,” American Conservative, Nov. 20, 2013,; as well as Nau’s reply, “Conservative Internationalism Is Not Bushism,” Nov. 20, 2013,, which was published in the same issue. [99] Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump, 114–22; Dueck, The Obama Doctrine, 176–96. Dueck notes that in the postwar era conservative nationalists and internationalists have made common cause, and this combination forms the basis for what he labels “conservative realism.” See 186, 196, and chap. 5. [100] We do not label this position “Primacy” alone because we agree with Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth (“Don’t Come Home, America,” 13–14) that primacy is a material condition that permits various grand strategies. While this position is frequently championed by those on the political right, not all conservatives support conservative primacy. Nor do we suggest that all conservative thinkers fall into this ideal-type. For instance, many self-described conservatives and liberals can be found in other grand-strategy positions such as restraint and deep engagement. [101] Snidal, “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory.” [102] Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, and Brian Hook, Choosing to Lead: American Foreign Policy for a Disordered World (Washington, DC: John Hay Initiative, 2015), 6. See also Cohen, The Big Stick; Hal Brands and Peter D. Feaver, “Should America Retrench? The Risks of Retreat,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 6 (November/December 2016): 168,; Dueck, The Obama Doctrine, 207–08. [103] Quoted in Vaisse, Neoconservatism, 244–45. See also 233. [104] Nau argues in Conservative Internationalism, 52, that “legitimacy in foreign affairs derives from the free countries making decisions independently or working together through decentralized institutions,” whereas liberal internationalism sees legitimacy as stemming from “participating and voting in universal organizations” that include authoritarian regimes on an equal footing. [105] Condoleezza Rice, “Rethinking the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs 87, no. 4 (July/August 2008): 26, [106] Cohen, The Big Stick, 63; Dueck, The Obama Doctrine, 203–12; Robert J. Lieber, Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), esp. chap. 6. [107] Aaron L. Friedberg, “The Debate Over U.S. China Strategy,” Survival 57, no. 3 (2015): 107, [108] Dueck, The Obama Doctrine, 236–37. [109] James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 302. [110] On the Bush Doctrine and Iraq, see Robert Jervis, “Understanding the Bush Doctrine,” Political Science Quarterly 118, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 365–88,; F. Gregory Gause III, The International Relations of the Persian Gulf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 186–238; Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy? chap. 4. On the Iran nuclear agreement see, for example, Eliot A. Cohen, Eric S. Edelman, and Ray Takeyh, “Time to Get Tough on Tehran: Iran Policy After the Deal,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 1 (January/February 2016): 64–75, [111] Dueck, The Obama Doctrine, chap. 5. [112] Robert Kagan, “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire: What Our Tired Country Still Owes the World,” New Republic, May 26, 2014, [113] Peter Feaver, “A Grand Strategy Challenge Awaits Trump,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 29, 2016, [114] Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 352; Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” Commentary, November 1979, [115] Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 55. [116] Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 6. [117] Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 7. Emphasis in original. [118] Cohen, The Big Stick; Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 179–81; Vaisse, Neoconservatism, 235. [119] John R. O’Neal and Bruce Russett, “The Kantian Peace: The Pacific Benefits of Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations, 1885–1992,” World Politics 52, no. 1 (October 1999): 1–37, [120] Posen, Restraint, 2–3. [121] Posen, Restraint, 69. [122] Brooks and Wohlforth, America Abroad, 1. [123] For example, Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing,” 81; Posen, “The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony,” 27. Also see Christopher Layne, “This Time It’s Real: The End of Unipolarity and the Pax Americana,” International Studies Quarterly 56, no. 1 (March 2012): 203–13; Michael Beckley, “China’s Century? Why America’s Edge Will Endure,” International Security 36, no. 3 (Winter 2011/2012): 41–78,; William C. Wohlforth, “How Not to Evaluate Theories,” International Studies Quarterly 56, no. 1 (March 2012): 219–22. [124] Gholz et al., “Come Home, America,” 5. [125] For a discussion see Francis J. Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition: U.S. Grand Strategy, the Nuclear Revolution, and Nonproliferation,” International Security 40, no. 1 (Summer 2015): 9–46, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 769 [post_author] => 224 [post_date] => 2018-11-14 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-14 10:00:03 [post_content] => After a post-Cold War interlude, arms control among the great powers is once again in vogue. Foreign policy debates increasingly turn on considerations of arms control: whether to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), whether to continue the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process, whether to include China in negotiations to limit armaments, and how to minimize the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, these debates are riven by differing assumptions concerning the ultimate purpose of arms-control efforts. For example: Should the United States take preventive military action to limit North Korea’s nuclear capability? Should it instead seek mutual strategic stability with a newly nuclear North Korea? Or should the United States redouble its efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons, everywhere?[1] Proponents of each course of action can credibly lay claim to the mantle of “arms control.” But which is correct? How would we know good arms control if we saw it? Robert Jervis observed, “If the main objective of arms control is to make war less likely, then any theory of arms control must rest on a theory of the causes of war.”[2] Why wars occur is a vast topic, however, and scholars remain divided over the causes of armed conflict.[3] This division among scholars is reflected in the competing concepts of how arms limitation among great powers can reduce the chances of war. In this essay, I examine three key explanations for the cause of war — influence groups, weapons, and actors — and demonstrate how each leads toward a different approach to arms control: disarmament, stability, and advantage, respectively. I will show that absent a solid consensus on the purpose of arms control, historically successful arms-limitation agreements have managed to serve multiple purposes. My essay concludes with a brief account of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty: specifically, how its creators and supporters managed to advance the purposes of disarmament, stability, and advantage simultaneously over the lifetime of the treaty. Recognizing the multiple motives that arms-control negotiations aim to serve is vital to understanding arms control’s impact on international security, for at least three reasons. First, scholars and commentators often cite the existence of arms-control negotiations as evidence that states are proceeding on a more cooperative path.[4] Yet the pursuit of arms control is not always a cooperative exercise. States often employ arms-control negotiations as vehicles for advancing their own competitive agendas, all in the name of peace. Treating arms control as purely cooperative risks misunderstanding its impact on international politics. Second, given the paucity of documentary resources from key actors such as the Soviet Union, historians struggle to evaluate the success or failure of particular arms-control negotiations. Understanding the theoretical debates surrounding the purpose of arms control can provide new criteria for understanding whether an arms-control regime succeeded. Third, a historical reconstruction of the multiple meanings of arms control can help to clarify the importance of time as a variable in such arrangements — in particular, how different arms-control rationales may rely on different time horizons and how the purpose of a single agreement may change over time. The manipulation of differing timelines provides opportunities for building consensus on arms control between radically different policy agendas, with some arms controllers receiving benefits in the short term and others over the longer term. U.S. policymakers considering the future of arms control would do well to consider how previous administrations built their complex arms-control policies. The study of arms control has produced a vast literature, but surprisingly little has examined the specific mechanisms whereby great powers can reduce the chances of war. As a result, scholars and experts often talk past each other — rather than to each other — in arms-control debates. Much of the existing literature describes the goals of arms control in generic terms such as “peace,” “stability,” or “security,” with little emphasis on how limiting specific weapons systems contributes to these hazily defined concepts.[5] Other works insist that there is a single war-preventing logic of arms control, usually downplaying or ignoring other possible motives.[6] Future research on arms control could benefit by placing these differing perspectives in dialogue with each other to foster an understanding of how, exactly, arms control can reduce the chances of war.

Explanations for War and Arms Control

Analysts and advocates of arms control fall into three broad categories, depending on which explanation of the cause of war they embrace. The first category includes those who believe that war is caused by influence groups, especially the military-industrial complex, and the various structures of thought and culture promoted by those groups. The second category involves those who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of weapons, especially weapons that promote first-strike advantages or create conditions of offense-dominance. The third category consists of individuals who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of actors, countries that are especially aggressive, ideological, or revisionist. Each of these explanations for what causes war leads to a different understanding of the purpose of arms control. For those who believe that influence groups create war, the proper purpose of arms control is disarmament: reducing the overall level of weapons and dismantling the organizations and cultures that produce them. For those who believe that dangerous weapons cause war, the purpose of arms control is stability, or limiting especially dangerous offense-dominant weapons while bolstering deterrence by allowing the procurement of defense-dominant weapons. For those who believe that pernicious actors cause war, the purpose of arms control is advantage: preventing dangerous countries from acquiring weapons technologies while preserving a favorable balance of power for trustworthy, status quo countries. Determining which of these three approaches to arms control best prevents conflict is difficult given the lack of consensus on the causes of war. Influence Groups and Disarmament One prevalent explanation for the cause of war is the impact that war-promoting influence groups, often described as the “military-industrial complex,”[7] have on governments. Critics of the military-industrial complex have identified several mechanisms whereby pro-war interest groups create the conditions for war to occur. First, critics claim that the drive for profits causes the military-industrial complex to lobby politicians directly for confrontational policies, which justify purchasing more weapons and also make war more likely.[8] Second, critics claim that the activities of the military-industrial complex shape the thinking of elite decision-makers, normalizing violence and creating the psychological and emotional space for extreme anti-social behavior — like war — to occur.[9] Third, critics argue that the military-industrial complex promotes structures of class, race, and gender that influence broader attitudes toward violence, providing rationales for conflict that leaders and citizens alike deploy to justify war.[10] Both directly and indirectly, military-industrial interest groups explain why governments and societies wage war rather than seek peaceful solutions. For those who argue that war is the result of pro-war interest groups, the primary purpose of arms control is disarmament. While arms-control agreements often reduce the number of weapons available to states, proponents of disarmament argue that the more important function of such agreements is to tame adverse military-industrial complexes and to dismantle old attitudes and cultures of war.[11] In addition to achieving anti-militarist objectives, the promotion of disarmament agreements provides opportunities to create new coalitions in favor of international and social justice while also freeing resources from wasteful military competition to pursue these peaceful agendas.[12] By contributing to the dismantlement of militarist interest groups, arms-control agreements can advance the cause of peace. Historically, disarmament has been an influential determinant of arms-limitation policies in great-power countries, especially through its widespread public appeal. The international disarmament movement can trace its roots to various reform efforts of the late 19th century.[13] Pro-disarmament organizations were especially active during the interwar period, and their aspirations were first given significant form through the League of Nations’ efforts at international disarmament.[14] After World War II, international disarmament efforts refocused on eliminating nuclear weapons, with major waves of anti-nuclear protests in the 1950s and 1980s.[15] The second wave of nuclear disarmament advocacy found willing partners in Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who saw the elimination of nuclear weapons as a long-term objective.[16] More recently, nuclear disarmament has regained strength via the “Global Zero” movement.[17] Disarmament has thus been an important goal of great powers’ arms limitation throughout the modern period. Proponents of disarmament arms control often take a long-term view of the purpose of arms control, recognizing that dismantling militarist influence groups and redirecting resources toward pursuing social justice will take time.[18] As a result, despite their expansive explanation of the cause of war, proponents of disarmament often support more limited arms-control measures, as long as those measures can be understood as part of a progressive program for dismantling weapons and militarist interest groups more generally.[19] For example, the 1987 INF Treaty is often praised by advocates of disarmament for its “elimination of an entire category of weapons systems,” even though the treaty limits only land-based missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and for only two countries at that.[20] Whatever the treaty’s perceived shortcomings, many disarmament advocates see the INF as a good first step toward the more comprehensive elimination of nuclear weapons. [quote id="1"] Although it rests on a coherent explanation of the cause of war, arms control with the goal of disarmament has its critics. Many proponents of arms control for the purpose of strategic stability and advantage argue that seeking disarmament may make war more likely if the effort dismantles the military capabilities necessary for deterrence.[21] Others question whether martial interest groups really drive international conflict or whether military-industrial complexes instead emerge as a response to preexisting political differences among states,[22] in which case finding a solution to existing political differences would have to precede disarmament.[23] The empirical record on the successes of disarmament is mixed. On the one hand, significant disarmament negotiations in the interwar period failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II, while the “long peace” of the Cold War was marked by high armaments on all sides.[24] On the other hand, proponents of disarmament can credibly argue that disarmament negotiations in the interwar period never went far enough to impede militarism and an arms race and that the nuclear disarmament movement played an important role in regulating and ultimately ending the U.S.-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War.[25] Proponents of disarmament argue that facing such a mixed empirical record, and mindful of the horrible consequences should deterrence fail, the safest path forward is for states to dismantle their weapons and tame hawkish interest groups.[26] Weapons and Stability A second prevalent theory of what causes war relates to the nature of weapons technologies and, especially, their impact on the offense-defense balance. This explanation for war begins with the structural condition of anarchy, in which states procure weapons for security and bargaining purposes.[27] Among the available weapons, some are useful primarily for defensive purposes and others are more useful for offensive purposes. The distribution and balance of these competing types of weapons can have a profound impact on the likelihood of war. In cases where the balance favors the defense, attacking a neighbor is expensive and difficult, thus strengthening deterrence and making states less likely to fight each other. In cases where the balance favors the offense, however, attacking a neighbor appears less costly, which in turn weakens deterrence and makes states more likely to fight each other.[28] An offense-dominant military balance can generate crisis instability, where the significant advantage of striking first can push states to escalate conflicts quickly in order to avoid the disadvantages of being attacked.[29] Relations between states in offense-dominant environments are also more likely to be poisoned by “security dilemmas,” in which states procuring offensive weapons for self-defense undermine the security of their neighbors, triggering arms races that ultimately undermine the security of both parties.[30] For these reasons, offense-defense theorists maintain that the balance of offense-defense capabilities determines the likelihood of war. For those who worry that the technological balance between offensive and defensive weapons is a primary driver of war, the proper purpose for arms control is stability, or promoting a defense-dominant international environment. By prohibiting or limiting the deployment of offensive weapons while allowing the deployment of defensive ones, arms control can shape the offense-defense balance, strengthen crisis stability, ameliorate security dilemmas, strengthen deterrence, and ultimately prevent war.[31] In the nuclear era, defense dominance has become closely associated with the strategy of mutually assured destruction, in which (paradoxically) “defensive” forces are aimed primarily at the destruction of the adversary’s country, maintaining deterrence by rendering any meaningful victory in war impossible. By making offensive war impossible, nuclear deterrence effectively privileges the defender, even if no material defense is possible.[32] Capabilities that might undermine mutual vulnerability by threatening an adversary’s nuclear forces directly — whether accurate, fast-striking offensive missiles or effective missile defense systems — are deemed to be “offensive” or “destabilizing,” because the “use them or lose them” dilemma they create generates strong incentives to shoot first in a crisis.[33] Stability arms control thus contributes to the cause of peace by limiting those weapons that might undermine the defense-dominance of great-power politics. Historically, stability has been an important objective of many great powers’ arms-limitation agreements. Some negotiations in the interwar period sought to tailor offensive and defensive forces to establish a more secure balance of power. For example, the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty placed limits on both battleship numbers and fortified bases in order to create a defense-dominant environment in the Pacific.[34] Before its disbandment, the World Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations also placed a high priority on limiting offensive arms.[35] The formal logic of stability took off in the 1950s with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Classical arms-control theorists including Thomas Schelling, Morton Halperin, and Hedley Bull argued that arms-control negotiations could construct a stable balance of terror between the superpowers.[36] In this view, deterrence could be reinforced by restricting access to damage-limiting capabilities, like large and accurate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and ABM defenses.[37] By reducing incentives to limit damage through preemptive attack, this approach to arms control would disincentivize countries from engaging in intentional war while also reducing the danger of accidental escalation in a crisis.[38] By the late 1960s, stability had become entrenched as one of the most important objectives of superpower arms control, with widespread condemnation — among experts and the public — of anti-ballistic-missile systems as well as large and accurate ICBM deployments.[39] Crisis and arms-race stability remain a touchstone for contemporary debates on arms-control policy.[40] Unlike disarmament, the policy prescriptions of stability arms control prefer immediate and permanent solutions to pressing military-technical problems. This is because most proponents of stability arms control locate the problem to be solved in the specific technical characteristics of the weapons and their interaction with other weapons systems. For example, large surface-based ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing because they can be effectively targeted and destroyed by other large surface-based ballistic missiles. By comparison, the technical capabilities of ballistic-missile submarines, and their relative invulnerability to other weapons, render them stabilizing, rather than destabilizing.[41] As a result, proponents of stability arms control tend to see arms-control agreements as fixed commitments to limit inherently dangerous weapons, whose revision or abrogation would, in their view, be a mistake.[42] To the extent that change occurs, it is primarily driven by the introduction of new, perhaps even more destabilizing, technologies.[43] Advocates of stability arms control also tend to be skeptical of partial measures, which they view as missed opportunities to control the entire military-technical problem.[44] This approach’s focus on producing self-contained, mutually beneficial, and timeless arms-control agreements is distinct from both disarmament and advantage arms control, which often consider individual agreements as components of larger programs to promote peace. As with disarmament, stability arms control is not without its critics. First, a number of scholars have criticized the central claims of offense-defense theory, arguing that weapons cannot be readily divided into “stabilizing” and “destabilizing” camps, that it is too difficult for states to determine whether an adversary’s deployments are stabilizing or destabilizing, or that states do not evaluate weapons types in crafting their foreign policy.[45] Absent the ability to classify weapons as stabilizing or destabilizing, it is difficult to imagine how states could reduce the chances of war by limiting destabilizing weapons. Second, proponents of the nuclear revolution thesis question whether the advent of nuclear weapons has rendered the military balance largely superfluous, creating instead a relatively stable realm of nuclear peace between the great powers. If nuclear weapons automatically eliminate the possibility of war, then negotiations to tailor the specific makeup of armaments may not matter much in reducing the chances of war.[46] Finally, deterrence skeptics call into question whether armed forces, especially nuclear forces, are really an effective tool for preventing war. If even “stabilizing” weapons cannot prevent war, then perhaps broader disarmament is preferable to cooperative tinkering of armed forces.[47] As with disarmament, the empirical record remains ambiguous, with scholars deeply divided over whether the offense-defense balance has driven great powers to war and whether effective engineering of the offense-defense balance through arms control has made the world a safer place.[48] Actors and Advantage A third common explanation for how wars start suggests that some actors are simply more prone to war than others. Scholars have advanced several reasons for why some states may be more likely to cause war. First, some states may be ideologically or culturally predisposed toward war. Nazi Germany is the most obvious and grotesque example,[49] but during the Cold War scholars criticized the United States and the Soviet Union as ideologically driven and especially war-prone.[50] Second, some states may be institutionally predisposed toward war, particularly if their leaders find international military disputes useful for distracting from domestic difficulties.[51] Since the Cold War ended, much attention has been given to “rogue states,” whose rejection of liberal internationalism and unstable domestic politics are said to pose a significant threat to world peace.[52] Third, the anarchic structure of international politics may drive some states to grow more aggressive over time. Scholars of power-transition theory maintain that war becomes more likely as newly rising great powers seek to revise the distribution of goods in their favor, while hegemons attempt to preempt the emergence of new rivals.[53] Under any of these conditions, peace may depend primarily on the ability of relatively peaceful status quo states to maintain a preponderance of military power, to deter aggressive adversaries from attacking.[54] If some states are particularly prone to war, and international peace depends primarily on arraying sufficient forces to deter them, then arms control can contribute to peace primarily through promoting the military advantage of status quo powers. To accomplish this goal, states can structure arms-control agreements to place stricter limits on their adversaries than on themselves, or they can seek to construct symmetrical arms-control regimes that limit weapons technologies more advantageous to their adversaries.[55] Although it is tempting to write off advantage arms control as a cynical ploy, it rests on a clear logic of preventing war: Limiting particularly dangerous actors’ access to advanced weapons technology can strengthen deterrence by reinforcing the military advantages of the status quo powers. [quote id="2"] Historically, advantage has been a chief objective of many arms-limitation arrangements. Early efforts to leverage arms control for advantage occurred at the conclusion of major wars, including Sparta’s destruction of Athens’s walls and navy, Rome’s disarmament of Carthage after the Punic Wars, and the limitations on German military power in the Treaty of Versailles.[56] Interwar naval arms control was also heavily influenced by calculations of relative military and industrial advantage, especially the United States and Great Britain’s imposition of a 10-to-six ratio in naval strength regarding Japan.[57] Although all of the signatories of interwar naval arms limitation agreements pursued advantage within the formal negotiated limits, the Germans and Japanese also sought advantage by cheating on their arms-control commitments.[58] During the Cold War, a number of U.S. political scientists, including Donald Brennan, William Kintner, and Robert Pfaltzgraff, developed more formal arguments concerning how the United States might employ arms control to limit Soviet military advantage, though these ideas never received the same level of attention as those of stability arms-control advocates like Schelling, Halperin, and Bull.[59] Although proponents of advantage arms control had limited impact on the emerging field of political science, their ideas had a stronger influence over U.S. arms-control policy: U.S. leaders privately evaluated arms-control proposals on the basis of the relative advantages they afforded to the United States and the Soviet Union.[60] Furthermore, although the evidence on Soviet motives is limited and mixed, there is also reason to believe that the Soviet leadership continued to seek some margin of nuclear superiority over the United States in arms-control negotiations.[61] To date, much of the discussion concerning arms-limitation negotiations with North Korea centers on the importance of denying its unstable regime the military advantages of possessing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.[62] Like disarmament, and unlike stability, advantage arms control views the value of individual arms-control agreements through the prism of their contribution to a larger peace-promoting agenda: in this case, promoting the military advantage of status quo powers over war-prone revisionist powers. While stability arms control characterizes specific weapons technologies as inherently stabilizing or destabilizing, advantage arms control proceeds by emphasizing the role of various weapons technologies within the structure of long-term competition. For advocates of advantage arms control, agreements may dictate the pace of arms competition, allowing status quo states to put off competition until more favorable circumstances arise. They may push competition into environments more conducive to status quo states, for example by forcing revisionist land powers to compete primarily at sea, or vice versa. They may also shape competition to promote the relative military-technical advantages of status quo states, for example, by shifting competition from quantitative arms racing to qualitative arms racing.[63] Because the mix of political, military, economic, and cultural factors driving long-term competition changes over time, proponents of advantage arms control tend to see arms-limitation agreements as temporary tools whose utility may expire as the larger structure of competition changes. Unlike disarmament arms controllers, advantage arms controllers do not necessarily see arms-control agreements as progressive building blocks toward a larger, peaceful goal. Rather, many advocates of advantage arms control view long-term competition as a normal part of great-power relations in which states compete for marginal military advantages over time. Arms-control agreements are seen as instrumental in shaping this competition, to be concluded and discarded as convenient.[64] Peace is a product of this competitive interaction rather than an end result of a transformative process. While it is difficult to imagine a state concluding an agreement that places it at a disadvantage, scholars studying competitive arms control have suggested a number of scenarios under which advantage arms limitation might occur. First, a state seeking stability might be tricked into an arms-control agreement that undermines its relative security. Cold War theorists of competitive arms control were constantly concerned that the Soviet Union might trick the United States into such an agreement.[65] Second, a leader in a weak political position might agree to a disadvantageous arms-control agreement in order to secure the domestic political benefits of the agreement. Some observers have viewed Gorbachev’s dramatic arms-control concessions in this light.[66] Third, adversaries might conclude an arms-control agreement that promotes different relative advantages for each side. For example, while the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty codified a 10-to-six U.S. advantage in battleship tonnage over Japan, the U.S. agreement not to fortify its bases in the Western Pacific provided Japan with a substantial advantage in Northeast Asia.[67] Finally, adversaries might have different calculations about the long-term implications of an arms-control agreement, with each side seeking to advance its own competitive advantage.[68] The practice of negotiating limitations on complex weapons systems opens up possibilities for creative misunderstandings, generating opportunities for states to seek advantage through arms control.[69] Like both disarmament and stability, the basic assumptions underlying arms control for advantage have been subject to ample criticism. First, many scholars question whether factors such as regime type, ideological orientation, or power transition theory adequately explain the outbreak of war.[70] Even among those who accept that these factors might explain why wars begin, debates rage over which regimes, ideologies, or positions are most prone to war.[71] Second, analysts remain uncertain over how much relative advantage in military capabilities actually improves deterrence when compared with other factors such as the relative interests or resolve of the adversaries involved, or their ability to communicate those interests and resolve to each other.[72] This is especially the case where nuclear weapons are involved: Some scholars argue that even a small nuclear arsenal makes deterrence easy, rendering the balance of capabilities largely superfluous, while others maintain that even marginal advantages in the relative nuclear balance can have outsize effects on the success or failure of deterrence.[73] Third, critics maintain that arms-control negotiations are ineffective in modifying the balance of military capabilities, and instead simply ratify the preexisting balance.[74] In the face of this criticism, it is difficult to determine whether arms control for advantage really makes war less likely. Jervis’ admonition that one’s theory of arms control ought to emerge from one’s theory of war thus presents a serious problem. The multiple, competing explanations for war call for multiple, competing approaches to arms control. The theoretical bases of these competing explanations for war are diverse, focusing on different causal mechanisms and generating very different policy prescriptions. Indeed, these competing approaches to arms control rest on such different theoretical foundations that proponents of each often downplay or even ignore the existence of the others. Yet given the diversity of explanations for war, each approach can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control,” and none can be easily rejected as obviously false. This cacophony of arms-control purposes creates serious challenges for policymakers.

Purpose and Policy: The ABM Treaty, 1972–2001

While scholars may agree to disagree about arms control, political leaders can enjoy no such luxury. In order to conduct effective negotiations, a government must develop an arms-control policy to guide its negotiators. Absent a clear and uncontested understanding of the purpose of arms control, how can such a policy be constructed? In theory, one might expect a government to select from the approaches outlined above and to pursue it as the primary objective of negotiations. In practice, however, leaders often produce arms-control policy that seeks to compromise among the competing goals. This sort of compromise allows leaders to build the domestic coalitions necessary to prevail in the “two-level game” of arms control, where leaders must conclude international and domestic bargains at the same time.[75] It also allows leaders to hedge their bets between competing theories. Analyses assuming a single, obvious rationale for arms control have generally viewed these sorts of compromises as a dilution of true purpose.[76] Once one accepts that arms control can have multiple purposes, however, it becomes easier to appreciate that these compromises serve as the building blocks of success. A key example is the 1972 ABM Treaty, a single agreement that ultimately came to embody the hopes and fears of all three approaches to arms control — disarmament, stability, and advantage. The idea of a treaty to limit anti-ballistic missiles originated in the Johnson administration in the mid-1960s. Already facing the double challenge of waging the Vietnam War while advancing the Great Society program, President Lyndon Johnson was eager to avoid an ABM arms race with the Soviets, which threatened to be both costly and politically unpopular. Johnson also feared that conservatives would punish him politically if he unilaterally limited America’s ABM deployments. So, Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sought to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the Soviet Union limiting these missiles, an approach that would avert the costs of their deployment while also bolstering the U.S. strategy of assured destruction, which sought to convince the Soviets of the futility of further arms racing.[77] The Soviets initially rebuffed Johnson’s proposal for arms limitation but ultimately agreed to talks. Soviet willingness to begin Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) came too late for Johnson, who, by 1968, was already on his way out of office.[78] Unlike Johnson, incoming President Richard Nixon remained committed to deploying some kind of ABM system. Nixon had wooed conservative voters in 1968 with promises of restoring America’s strategic superiority over the Soviet Union, including some form of ABM deployment.[79] Moreover, Nixon appointed a cadre of competitive arms controllers to the Defense Department and National Security Council staff who saw ABM technology as a crucial area of U.S. advantage that should be fully exploited. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard believed that U.S. advantages in precision manufacturing, advanced electronics, and digital computing would ultimately allow the United States to deploy an ABM system far superior to anything that the Soviets could produce.[80] In March 1969, Laird proposed that the United States deploy an ABM system known as “Safeguard” — which included a dozen major ABM sites across the United States — that was capable of providing a limited defense of U.S. cities and strategic forces from a Chinese or Soviet attack.[81] In addition to its own merits, many within the defense establishment saw Safeguard as a first step toward an even more capable ABM system.[82] From the beginning, conservatives in the Nixon administration were determined to use ABM technology to promote U.S. military advantage over the Soviet Union. For Nixon, the test would be finding ways to exploit those advantages while also bolstering strategic stability. The Nixon administration blended arms-control purposes for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious was that policymakers were unsure as to which logic was best or whether some combination of them might be preferable. For example, in approaching SALT, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was of two minds. In a May 1969 memo to Nixon on SALT options, Kissinger outlined the major U.S. objective in arms-limitation negotiations with the Soviet Union as such: “An agreement could freeze or codify strategic relationships in a manner which preserves ‘equality’ at worst and a U.S. edge at best.” Kissinger sought an agreement that would broadly stabilize the arms race while allowing for U.S. advantages on the margins, the better to strengthen “an American President’s resolve in a crisis.”[83] In doing so, Kissinger personally combined both the stability and advantage approaches to arms control. [quote id="3"] Arms-control purposes are further blended through the domestic policy process as officials with differing preferences build coalitions to support their own views and compromise with other coalitions to produce policy. On the issue of anti-ballistic missiles, Nixon could not do as he pleased because his government was deeply divided over the merits of ABMs. While proponents in the Defense Department and White House insisted on moving forward with ABM deployments, opponents in the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including Secretary of State William Rogers and agency Director Gerard Smith, insisted that any ABM deployment would undermine the strategic equilibrium with the Soviet Union. Rogers and Smith instead promoted a stability approach to arms control, arguing that the United States should seek an agreement with the Soviets to ban ABMs as soon as possible.[84] The conflict between advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department and proponents of stability arms control at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency would define the Nixon administration’s approach to SALT.[85] The division between proponents and opponents of ABMs initially led the Nixon administration to an impasse regarding SALT. Proponents of advantage arms control, like Laird, Packard, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earle Wheeler, argued that any SALT agreement would need to allow the full 12-site Safeguard deployment. Meanwhile, stability arms controllers, including Smith and Rogers, called for an immediate freeze on all ABM construction.[86] Internal debates about the wisdom of ABM deployment quickly spilled into public view as congressional opponents of the missiles organized to block the first phase of Safeguard’s deployment. Constant leaking from the administration, as well as awkward public controversies between government officials, repeatedly undermined Safeguard’s chances.[87] After a bruising congressional battle, funding for the first phase of Safeguard squeaked through the U.S. Senate in August 1969 on a 50-50 split, with Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the tie-breaking vote.[88] Challenged by Congress and unable to control his subordinates, Nixon’s strategic arms policy was off to an inauspicious start. Congressional opposition to Safeguard shaped the U.S. position on SALT. By the fall of 1969, the intensity of congressional opposition convinced advantage arms controllers like Laird and Packard that the United States would not be able to deploy the full 12-site Safeguard system in the near future. Not coincidentally, they began to promote a much more stringent ABM agreement that would, in effect, confine the Soviets to the level of ABM deployment that the U.S. Congress would allow — the two ABM sites authorized in the first phase of Safeguard.[89] The Defense Department’s shifting priorities lined up with the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s continued advocacy of a zero- or low-level ABM agreement.[90] As a result, the initial U.S. proposals on SALT in April 1970 sought to limit ABMs to very low levels, with only one or two bases allowed per side.[91] The Soviets immediately accepted, in principle, the idea of maintaining low-level ABM deployments, setting the basic terms for the ABM Treaty that would be concluded in Moscow two years later.[92] The ABM “compromise” in the Nixon administration was itself the result of some creative misunderstanding between advocates of advantage and stability arms control. While Smith and Rogers saw the ABM limitations as preventing widespread proliferation of a destabilizing weapons technology, Laird and Packard saw these limitations as necessary to prevent unlimited Soviet deployments, which, for political reasons, the United States would not be able to match. We know that advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department continued to see ABM technology as an area of relative U.S. advantage because they continually attempted to push the envelope on ABM deployments. Although by late 1969 Laird and Packard had despaired of further ABM deployments by the United States, at least in the short term, Senate debate in the summer of 1970 suggested that Congress might fund a more extensive ABM deployment if it were limited to defending ICBM fields in the Midwest. This, in turn, rekindled Laird and Packard’s interest.[93] The realization that Congress might fund more than two ABM sites caused Laird and Packard to have serious buyer’s remorse over the April 1970 SALT proposals limiting ABM deployments, which the Soviets had already accepted. In 1971, in the face of deadlock with the Soviets over how to limit offensive forces, the Defense Department began insisting that any SALT agreement provide the United States with a four-to-one advantage in ABM bases, driven by Laird and Packard’s conviction that Congress would eventually fund four ABM sites.[94] The U.S. and Soviet SALT delegations spent the better part of a year wrangling over this new ABM proposal, with the U.S. delegates eventually falling back to two-for-one, while the Soviets continued to insist on the April 1970 proposal for equal bases.[95] By that point, the Defense Department had already moved on from its interest in Safeguard ABM “bases” and was, instead, proposing a new ABM modality in which several short-range interceptors would be co-located with each ICBM silo, resulting in the distributed deployment of thousands of interceptors and hundreds of networked radars. True to form, Laird and Packard pushed for a new ABM arms-control proposal under which the United States would be able to deploy such an expansive ABM system while the Soviets would remain limited to their single ABM facility in Moscow.[96] This was too far even for Nixon, who, along with Kissinger, had concluded that anything other than ABM equality would be non-negotiable with the Soviets.[97] As a result, the ABM Treaty concluded by Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in May 1972 allowed each side two ABM bases, later reduced to a single base for each.[98] The Defense Department’s efforts to reformulate the ABM negotiations have received little attention from historians because the final agreement dictated an equal number of bases. However, these behind-the-scenes efforts indicate that many within the U.S. government continued to view ABM technology as an area of U.S. relative advantage and sought to use the ABM Treaty as an opportunity for gaining strategic advantage over the Soviets. Even in establishing numerical parity, the 1972 ABM Treaty contained several concessions to proponents of advantage arms control.[99] First and foremost, the United States was allowed to deploy an ABM base, which Laird and Packard hoped would provide the opportunity to gain real experience in operating ABM technology, if only on a small scale.[100] But even this small-scale deployment was not guaranteed: Stability arms controllers had argued on numerous occasions that the United States ought to push the Soviets for a zero-ABM agreement.[101] The crux of the issue was not so much the immediate ABM deployment but, rather, the long-term implications of ABM research and testing. In addition to the perceived wastefulness of ABM deployments, stability arms controllers argued that a zero-ABM agreement would be easier to verify, since it would prohibit not only ABM deployments but also testing of ABM system components, making covert cheating by the Soviets all but impossible.[102] Advantage arms controllers generally agreed that a treaty that allowed limited ABM deployment and testing would be harder to verify but argued that the United States needed to retain its basis for ABM testing to enable possible future deployments.[103] Rather than a simple ban on deployment and testing, the 1972 ABM Treaty allowed testing at specified ranges, with verification enabled by a series of definitions concerning “ABM system components,” including the allowed power-aperture ratio for search radars and the permitted testing configuration of surface-to-air missiles.[104] The complexity and risk involved in this scheme demonstrate the value that advocates of advantage arms control placed on retaining ABM testing facilities — Laird, Packard, and others were willing to run higher risks of Soviet cheating if it meant the United States retained the ability to test and deploy new ABM technologies. In addition to allowing deployment and testing of ABM system components, the ABM Treaty contained two other important concessions to advocates of advantage arms control. First, although the treaty banned testing and deployment of “exotic” ABM technologies, it did not ban research short of testing. As a result, even under the treaty the United States would be able to push the envelope of ABM technology, pursuing new sensors and interceptors considerably more advanced than the Safeguard components of the early 1970s.[105] Second, the ABM Treaty contained explicit withdrawal provisions, providing each party with the right to terminate the treaty should its “supreme interests” be on the line.[106] Stability arms controllers, as well as the Soviet SALT delegates, argued that such language was unnecessary, but advantage arms controllers in the National Security Council staff and Defense Department insisted on its inclusion, creating a backdoor for possible future abrogation.[107] As a result, while stability arms controllers could praise the ABM Treaty for placing limits on a dangerous technology in perpetuity, advantage arms controllers saw the treaty as a temporary measure designed to hold off Soviet deployments while the United States made progress on ABM technology, awaiting a more propitious domestic political environment when full ABM deployment would be possible.[108] The compromise at the heart of the ABM Treaty rested on the different time horizons of the proponents of stability and competitive arms control. Advocates of stability arms control insisted that ballistic missile defenses were, by nature, destabilizing. Their insistence on technology’s unchanging nature meant that their time horizon was short: Because the technology’s meaning was fixed, what was good for the moment was assumed to be good in perpetuity. By comparison, proponents of advantage arms control believed that the meaning of ABM technology might evolve organically as the technology itself matured and as the political context changed. The resulting ABM Treaty succeeded by juggling these differing time horizons: Stability arms controllers received concrete restrictions in the present, while advantage arms controllers satisfied themselves with possibilities for the future. By exploiting the two time horizons of the opposing schools of arms control, Nixon and Kissinger were able to build a historic compromise. Imbued from its creation with multiple purposes, the ABM Treaty did not remain static in meaning but evolved over time. Originally a compromise between the stability and advantage schools of arms control, by the 1980s the ABM Treaty also gained a substantial disarmament logic, as proponents of disarmament embraced the treaty as a tool for reducing nuclear arsenals. Nuclear disarmers argued that the mutual vulnerability enshrined in the ABM Treaty provided the context in which steep cuts to offensive nuclear forces could take place.[109] Much like advantage arms controllers, disarmers came to see the ABM Treaty as an important first step — however flawed — in a much longer contest, allowing them to join advantage and stability arms controllers in supporting the same arms-control regime, albeit for radically different reasons. [quote id="4"] Around the same time, advantage arms controllers began questioning whether the moment had come for the United States to cast off the ABM Treaty and rush ahead in ABM technology. Advantage arms controllers in the Reagan administration tested the treaty’s limits in order to pursue more advanced ABM technology through the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), arguing that the text of the ABM Treaty technically allowed the testing of certain “exotic” ABM system components, even if the negotiating record was ambiguous.[110] Debate over SDI between the disarmament, stability, and advantage factions was fierce. Nevertheless, the new “exotic” ABM technologies offered by SDI were insufficiently mature to warrant testing or deployment. When Reagan left office, the ABM Treaty remained in place even as the United States continued to develop new ABM concepts and components.[111] Over time, however, the ABM Treaty’s appeal to advantage arms controllers diminished, much as its initial pro-advantage authors had intended. By the late 1990s, many proponents of advantage arms control believed that new ABM technology had matured to the point where it was ready for serious testing and deployment.[112] At the same time, evolving threats from the smaller missile arsenals of “rogue states” increased the incentive to develop even a small ABM system.[113] These changes in context convinced many conservatives that the period in which the ABM Treaty contributed to U.S. national security had passed. In another example of the U.S. search for advantage in arms control, the Clinton administration initially attempted to modify the ABM Treaty to allow for further U.S. deployments.[114] When Russia proved unwilling to modify the treaty to allow such deployments, the George W. Bush administration announced its intention to withdraw in December 2001, setting off a wave of ABM testing and deployment that continues today.[115] The ABM Treaty’s greatest long-term strength was its ability to encompass multiple arms-control agendas, which gave it significant staying power and even allowed additional rationales to be added to the treaty over time. However, it could not survive the wholesale defection of advantage arms controllers in the 1990s and, as such, was abrogated. Proponents of stability arms control saw leaving the ABM Treaty as a betrayal of its original principles, allowing an inherently dangerous technology back into the world.[116] In some ways, however, abrogation of the ABM Treaty was not a betrayal of its founding principles but, rather, their natural culmination. From the advantage point of view, the treaty had stalled any Soviet or Russian ABM program, allowing continued U.S. progress on ABM technology while waiting for a domestic political circumstance more favorable to deployment. Whether the ABM Treaty was a failure or success depends largely on one’s perspective.


To understand the history or the contemporary practice of arms control, one must recognize that arms-limitation agreements often serve multiple and contradictory purposes. In the quest to prevent war, arms limitation may assist in disarmament, stability, or advantage, each of which is rooted in a plausible explanation for what causes war and each of which can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control.” Absent consensus on which approach is most effective at preventing war, the formation of arms-control policy has been difficult. In practice, policymakers have juggled the differing time horizons of competing arms-control constituencies to produce compromises capable of advancing all three arms-control aims simultaneously, at least for a time. Recognizing the multiple purposes of arms control has critical implications for scholars and policymakers. For scholars, recognizing arms control’s multiple goals is important for expanding an understanding of arms control and international politics more broadly. Arms control is not always a cooperative enterprise: Such agreements have served as vehicles for promoting the relative military advantages of great and minor powers. Studies that treat arms control as a purely cooperative endeavor will inevitably capture only half of the picture. For political scientists, this may involve recoding cases in which the existence of arms-control negotiations is treated ipso facto as evidence of improving cooperation between states rather than a different form of competition.[117] For historians, this will require reconsidering the success or failure of arms-control negotiations in light of their ability to advance multiple agendas rather than a single logic.[118] For both political scientists and historians, the flexibility of what arms control means may pose deeper questions concerning the nature of cooperation and competition in international politics and whether those concepts are mutually exclusive or interrelated. Given the difficulties entailed in producing a unified theory of arms control, scholars would do well to consider lessons from the practical world of statecraft, where theoretical rigor is often less important than political necessity. This is especially the case when arms-control arrangements must be cobbled together out of multiple competing purposes, assembling the parallel coalitions required to prevail in complex two-level negotiations. Under these circumstances, one of the most important resources available to a would-be arms controller is time. Competing interests with different time horizons can be assembled into arms-control compromises in which each side gets what it wants but at different points. Furthermore, initial compromises on the meaning of arms control are open to reinterpretation and revision over time, as arms-control regimes gain new meanings and contexts. Recognizing that arms-control agreements can serve multiple purposes, and that these objectives might change over time, can lead to a better understanding of why some agreements last, why some end, and why those that end break down when they do. The longest-lasting arms-limitation agreements are likely to be those that can continue to embody multiple agendas while also adapting to new contexts. An agreement is unlikely to last when it no longer appears to serve a sufficiently large range of purposes and when leaders become disillusioned with the utility of arms control for achieving their objectives. For policymakers, recognizing the existence of multiple arms-control agendas is both good and bad. The bad news is that understanding the policy implications of existing and notional arms-control agreements is extremely difficult, because agreements often serve several purposes and may have different meanings for different actors. As a result, the State and Defense Departments may have radically different understandings of a given agreement’s purpose, while foreign interlocutors are likely to have views of their own.[119] Balancing these competing views is tremendously difficult, especially in periods of significant international and domestic political confusion and rancor. As in the Cold War, the goal of enacting arms control is likely to remain very challenging. The good news is that significant opportunities exist in the contemporary U.S. political scene for effective coalition building in favor of arms-control proposals, with figures as far apart politically as John Bolton, Bill Clinton, and Derek Johnson all calling for an arms-control solution to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.[120] There is strong reason to suspect that Bolton, Clinton, and Johnson each prefer an arms-control solution to the North Korean nuclear threat for different reasons.[121] Nonetheless, the fact that three prominent figures with such different views about national security affairs have arrived at a similar policy aim, even in a period of tremendous partisan division, is surely cause for hope. As the example of the ABM Treaty demonstrates, appeals to cooperation and normative leadership are unlikely to be sufficient to advance a successful policy of arms control. Proponents of arms-control solutions would do better to cast a “big tent” on any such policy and seek to justify their prescriptions to multiple constituencies based on multiple logics. In doing so, considerable advantage can be derived by emphasizing that each constituency can receive what it wants, just at different times. Some good work has been done concerning how “progress” on arms-control issues might be organized into timelines,[122] which could provide different benefits to different arms-control constituencies at different times. Such an approach stands a chance of succeeding, even in the face of tremendous division over America’s proper role in the world. The future of arms control, much like its past, will depend on effective compromise between competing purposes.   John D. Maurer is the Henry A. Kissinger Postdoctoral Fellow at International Security Studies (ISS) and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. His current book project focuses on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in the Nixon administration, drawing on the Kissinger Papers at Yale to examine how academic ideas on the nature of arms control shaped U.S. arms control policy. His work has appeared in Diplomatic History, the National Interest, and War on the Rocks. He would like to thank Fritz Bartel, Paul Braken, Ian Johnson, Paul Kennedy, Keir Lieber, Nicholas Meyers, Nuno Monteiro, Kathryn Olesko, David Painter, Eric Sand, Evan Wilson, Remco Zwetsloot, the participants in the Yale ISS Colloquium, and the three anonymous readers at Texas National Security Review for their useful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.   Image: Ford Library Museum [post_title] => The Purposes of Arms Control [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-purposes-of-arms-control [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-15 11:31:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-15 16:31:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In this paper, I review three major purposes for arms control negotiations — disarmament, stability, and advantage. In the first part of the paper, I compare the three purposes against the causes of war literature to show that each provides a defensible rationale for reducing the chances of war. While scholars debate which approach to arms control is correct, historically, policymakers have embraced arms control pluralism, pursuing agreements that can advance multiple arms control objectives simultaneously. In the second part of the paper, I demonstrate how the Nixon administration’s negotiation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty combined these multiple purposes. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Proponents of disarmament arms control often take a long-term view of the purpose of arms control... ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [A]dvantage arms control views the value of individual arms-control agreements through the prism of their contribution to a larger peace-promoting agenda... ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The division between proponents and opponents of ABMs initially led the Nixon administration to an impasse regarding SALT. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Imbued from its creation with multiple purposes, the ABM Treaty did not remain static in meaning but evolved over time. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 224 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Uri Friedman, “John Bolton’s Radical Views on North Korea,” Atlantic, March 23, 2018,; Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda, “War of the Words: North Korea, Trump, and Strategic Stability,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 10, 2017,; “Global Zero Statement on North Korea Nuclear Crisis,” Common Dreams, Aug. 9, 2017, [2] Robert Jervis, “Arms Control, Stability, and Causes of War,” Political Science Quarterly 108, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 239, [3] Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959); James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International Organization 49, no. 3 (1995): 379–414, [4] Emanuel Adler, “The Emergence of Cooperation: National Epistemic Communities and the International Evolution of the Idea of Nuclear Arms Control,” International Organization 46, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 101–45,; Jeffrey W. Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation: The Impact of Protest on US Arms Control Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Steven Pifer, “Arms Control, Security Cooperation, and U.S.-Russian Relations,” Brookings Institution, Nov. 17, 2017, [5] Steve Weber, Cooperation and Discord in U.S.-Soviet Arms Control (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation; Jozef Goldblat, Arms Control: The New Guide to Negotiations and Agreements (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002), 10–11; Marie Isabelle Chevrier, Arms Control Policy: A Guide to the Issues (New York: Praeger, 2012), 5–6. [6] Jervis, “Arms Control, Stability, and Causes of War”; Marc Trachtenberg, “The Past and Future of Arms Control,” Daedalus 120, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 203–16,; Michael Krepon, Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 40–43; James H. Lebovic, Flawed Logics: Strategic Nuclear Arms Control from Truman to Obama (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). [7] Dwight Eisenhower, “Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People,” Jan. 17, 1961, [8] Seymour Melman, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970); Stuart D. Brandes, Warhogs: A History of War Profits in America (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1997). [9] Norman Cousins, Who Speaks for Man? (New York: Macmillan, 1953); “The Russell-Einstein Manifesto,” July 9, 1955,; Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth and the Abolition (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 3–96; Harald Müller, “Out of the Box: Nuclear Disarmament and Cultural Change,” in Stable Nuclear Zero: The Vision and Its Implications for Disarmament Policy, ed. Sverre Lodgaard (New York: Routledge, 2017), 55–72. [10] William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 142–45; Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Curve of American Power,” New Left Review 40 (July-August 2006): 77–94; Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Signs 12, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 687–718,; Elizabeth Frazer and Kimberly Hutchings, “Revisiting Ruddick: Feminism, Pacifism and Non-Violence,” Journal of International Political Theory 10, no. 1 (2014): 109–24;; Slavoj Žižek, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (New York: Verso Books, 2005). [11] Lela B. Costin, “Feminism, Pacifism, Internationalism and the 1915 International Congress of Women,” Women’s Studies International Forum 5, no. 3–4 (1982): 301–15,; Elmar Schmähling, “Conclusion: A New Way of Thinking for a Future Security Regime,” in Life Beyond the Bomb: Global Stability Without Nuclear Deterrence, ed. Elmar Schmähling (New York: Berg, 1990), 189; Sverre Lodgaard, Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World? (New York: Routledge, 2011), 219–22. [12] Frazer and Hutchings, “Revisiting Ruddick: Feminism, Pacifism and Non-Violence”; Kyle Harvey, American Anti-Nuclear Activism, 19751990: The Challenge of Peace (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 12–41; Ian Harris and Charles F. Howlett, “Educating for Peace and Justice in America’s Nuclear Age,” Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum 1, no. 1 (2011): 20–51, [13] I.S. Bloch, Is War Now Impossible? Being an Abridgement of ‘The War of the Future in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations’ (London: Grant Richards, 1899); Norman Angell, The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power to National Advantage (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1911); Charles Chatfield and Peter van den Dungen, eds., Peace Movements and Political Cultures (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1988); John Chambers, The Eagle and the Dove: the American Peace Movement and United States Foreign Policy, 19001922 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991). [14] Walter Lippmann, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (New York: Little, Brown, 1943), 54–57; Andrew Webster, “From Versailles to Geneva: The Many Forms of Interwar Disarmament,” Journal of Strategic Studies 29, no. 2 (2006): 225–46,; Waqar H. Zaidi, “Aviation Will Either Destroy or Save Our Civilization: Proposals for the International Control of Aviation, 1920–45,” Journal of Contemporary History 46, no. 1 (January 2011): 150–78,; Michael Pugh, Liberal Internationalism: The Interwar Movement for Peace in Britain (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). [15] Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, Volume One: One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993); Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Lyn Smith, Voices Against War: A Century of Protest (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2009), 173–210. [16] Daniel Calingaert, Soviet Nuclear Policy Under Gorbachev: A Policy of Disarmament (New York: Praeger, 1991); Paul Lettow, Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (New York: Random House, 2006); Ken Adelman, Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War (New York: Broadside Books, 2014). [17] “We Can Eliminate Nuclear Weapons in Our Lifetime,” Global Zero, [18] Angela Kane, “The ‘Step-by-Step’ Process of Nuclear Disarmament: Quo Vadis?” United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, April 24, 2013,; Randy Rydell, “A Strategic Plan for Nuclear Disarmament: Engineering a Perfect Political Storm,” Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament 1, no. 1 (2018): 49–65, But also see: John Carl Baker, “A First Look at a 21st Century Disarmament Movement,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dec. 16, 2016, [19] Jeffrey A. Larsen, “Strategic Arms Control since World War II,” in Arms Control: History, Theory, and Policy, Volume I: Foundations of Arms Control, ed. Robert E. Williams Jr. and Paul R. Viotti (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012), 220–46; Scott Ritter, Dangerous Ground: America’s Failed Arms Control Policy, from FDR to Obama (New York: Nation Books, 2010), 8–12. [20] Jeffrey A. Larsen and James M. 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[56] Stuart Croft, Strategies of Arms Control: A History and Typology (New York: Manchester University Press, 1996), 67–90. [57] Thomas Buckley, “The Icarus Factor: The American Pursuit of Myth in Naval Arms Control, 1921–36,” in The Washington Conference, 192122: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor, ed. Erik Goldstein and John H. Maurer, (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1994), 131–34; John Kuehn, “A Turning Point in Anglo-American Relations? The General Board of the Navy and the London Treaty,” in At the Crossroads Between Peace and War: The London Naval Conference of 1930, ed. John H. Maurer and Christopher Bell, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 16–17. [58] Joseph Maiolo, “‘I Believe the Hun Is Cheating’: British Admiralty Technical Intelligence and the German Navy, 1936–39,” Intelligence and National Security 11, no. 1 (1996): 32–58,; David Evans and Mark Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 18871941 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 223–37. [59] Donald Brennan, “On the Use of Nuclear and Gas Weapons in Limited War,” folder 24, Box 9, Henry A. Kissinger Papers, Part II (MS 1981), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library; William Kintner, “Arms Control and National Security: A Caveat,” in Arms Control for the Late Sixties, ed. James E. Dougherty and J.P. Lehman, Jr. (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1967), 31–42; Robert Pfaltzgraff, “The Rationale for Superpower Arms Control,” in SALT: Implications for Arms Control in the 1970s, ed. William R. Kintner and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973), 3–30. [60] Letter, Moorer to Goodpaster, Jan. 24, 1969, folder SALT January-May [1969] Volume I [2 of 2], Box 873, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, May 23, 1969, folder SALT January–May [1969] Volume I [1 of 2], Box 873, NSC Files, Nixon Library; and Conversation Among Nixon, Laird, and Joint Chiefs, Aug. 10, 1971, Foreign Relations of the United States (hereafter FRUS) 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, SALT I, 1969-1972, ed. Erin R. Mahan (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2010), Document 190, [61] Aleksandr Savel’yev and Nikolay Detinov, The Big Five: Arms Control Decision-Making in the Soviet Union (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), 7–9; interview with retired Gen.-Col. Adrian Danilevich, in Soviet Intentions 19651985, Volume II: Soviet Post-Cold War Testimonial Evidence, ed. John Hines, Ellis Mishulovich, and John Shull (BDM Federal, 1995), 29–33,; John Battilega, “Soviet Views on Nuclear Warfare: The Post-Cold War Interviews,” in Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, Its Origins and Practice, ed. Henry Sokolski (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2004), 160. [62] Robert Litwak, Preventing North Korea’s Nuclear Breakout (Washington, DC: Wilson Center, 2017). [63] John D. Maurer, “The Forgotten Side of Arms Control: Enhancing U.S. Competitive Advantage, Offsetting Enemy Strengths,” War on the Rocks, June 27, 2018, [64] Andrew Marshall, Long-Term Competition with the Soviets: A Framework for Strategic Analysis (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1972); Richard Nixon, 1999: Victory Without War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 79–81. [65] Robert Strausz-Hupé, “Arms Control and the Atlantic Alliance,” in The Prospects for Arms Control, ed. James Dougherty and John Lehman Jr. (New York: McFadden-Bartell Book, 1965), 242–48; William Van Cleave, “Political and Negotiating Asymmetries: Insult in SALT I,” in Contrasting Approaches to Strategic Arms Control, ed. Robert L. Pfaltzgraff (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1974), 9–29. [66] Lisa Baglione, To Agree or Not to Agree: Leadership, Bargaining, and Arms Control (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 87–110. [67] John H. Maurer, “Arms Control and the Washington Conference,” in The Washington Conference, 192122: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor, ed. Erik Goldstein and John H. Maurer (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1994), 286–89. [68] Donald Brennan, “On Common Understanding in Arms Control and Communication to Develop it,” Jan. 25, 1961, folder 1, Box 10, Henry A. Kissinger Papers, Part II (MS 1981), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. [69] Eric Grynaviski, Constructive Illusions: Misperceiving the Origins of International Cooperation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 28–40. [70] John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 29–40; Richard Ned Lebow and Benjamin Valentino, “Lost in Transition: A Critical Analysis of Power Transition Theory,” International Relations 23, no. 3 (2009): 389–410,; Peter Harris, “Problems with Power-Transition Theory: Beyond the Vanishing Disparities Thesis,” Asian Security 10, no. 3 (2014): 241–59, [71] Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder, “Democratic Transitions, Institutional Strength, and War,” International Organization 56, no. 2 (2002): 297–337,; Brian Lai and Dan Slater, “Institutions of the Offensive: Domestic Sources of Dispute Initiation in Authoritarian Regimes, 1950–1992,” American Journal of Political Science 50, no. 1 (2005): 113–26,; John Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002). [72] Robert Jervis, “Deterrence and Perception,” International Security 7, no. 3 (Winter 1982-1983): 3–30,; Paul Huth and Bruce Russett, “What Makes Deterrence Work? Cases from 1900 to 1980,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 496–526,; James D. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audience Costs and the Escalation of International Disputes,” American Political Science Review 88, no. 3 (September 1994): 577–92, [73] Colin S. 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[75] Robert Putnam, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42, no. 3 (Summer 1988): 427–60, [76] Raymond Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1994), 146–226; Steven Miller, “Politics over Promise: Domestic Impediments to Arms Control,” International Security 8, no. 4 (Spring 1984): 67–90. [77] James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 79–107. [78] Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 10–11. [79] John Newhouse, Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), 133–34; Sandra Scanlon, The Pro-War Movement: Domestic Support for the Vietnam War and the Making of Modern American Conservatism (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), 52–54, 94–97. [80] Notes of National Security Council Meeting, Feb. 14,1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, National Security Policy, 1969-1972, ed. M. Todd Bennett (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2011), Document 7,; Memo, Wheeler to Laird, Feb. 26, 1969, folder Anti-Ballistic Missile System [Feb-Mar 1969], Box 843, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting, Jan. 27, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 129,; Memcon, Nixon, Laird, et al., Aug. 10, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 190, [81] Paper prepared in the Department of Defense, undated, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 14, [82] Memo, Wheeler to Laird, Feb. 26, 1969, folder Anti-Ballistic Missile System [Feb-Mar 1969], Box 843, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [83] Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, May 23, 1969, Document 1, in The Secret History of the ABM Treaty, 19691972, ed. William Burr, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 60, Nov. 8, 2001, [84] See, for example, Smith’s comments on Feb. 19, 1969, in minutes of National Security Council meeting, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 8, [85] Disarmament was not seriously considered as an arms-control rationale by the U.S. government in the early 1970s. The ABM Treaty’s disarmament rationale was developed after the agreement had been concluded. [86] Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, “NSSM 28, Substantive SALT Issues and NATO Aspects,” June 10, 1969, folder NSSM-28 2 of 2 [2 of 3], Box H-140, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Paper Prepared by the Interagency SALT Steering Committee, undated, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 14,; Minutes of a National Security Council meeting, June 25, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 22,; Memo, Laird to Kissinger, July 3, 1969, folder SALT June-July [1969] Volume II [1 of 2], NSC Files, Nixon Library; “Alternative I,” folder Review Group SALT [part 1] 7/7/69, Box H-039, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [87] Minutes of National Security Council Meeting, March 5, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 16, fn. 3,; Beecher, “Pentagon Drafts Revised Proposal on Missile Shield,” New York Times, March 2, 1969; “The Negotiator and the Confronter,” Time, April 4, 1969; Beecher, “Administration Gets Study of Global Nuclear Strategy,” New York Times, May 1, 1969; FRUS 1969–76, Vol, XXXIV, Editorial Note 25,; Memo, BeLieu to Nixon, June 11, 1969, folder Sentinel ABM System Vol. III 6/1/69, Box 844, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [88] Finney, “ABM Debate Aims at Ten Senators Still Undecided,” New York Times, July 9, 1969; Averill, “ABM Debated Behind Locked Senate Doors,” Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1969; FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Editorial Note 18,; Letter, Nixon to Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Kissinger, Aug. 7, 1969, folder Sentinel ABM System Vol. III 6/1/69, Box 844, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [89] William Hyland, Mortal Rivals: Superpower Relations from Nixon to Reagan (New York: Random House, 1987), 44–45; Memo, Knight to Baroody, Oct. 7, 1969, folder Issue Areas — General, 1969 (2), Box A74, Laird Papers, Ford Library; Minutes of Defense Program Review Committee, Oct. 22,1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 96,; Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, Oct. 23, 1969, folder Sentinel ABM System Vol. III 6/1/69, Box 844, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Minutes of Defense Program Review Committee Meeting, Nov. 13, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 100, fn. 7,; Memorandum for the Record by Packard, Dec. 8, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 106, Despite this change, the Joint Chiefs of Staff remained committed to U.S. ABM superiority: Memo, Wheeler to Laird, Dec. 31, 1969, folder ABM-System 1–70 – 3–70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [2 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [90] Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, Jan. 31, 1970, folder ABM-System 1/70 – 3/70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [1 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library; “Task Y-1 ABM/MIRV Options,” March 13, 1970, folder ABM-System Vol. IV 2-70 –  30 Apr 70 Memos and Misc. [1 of 3], Box 841, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, March 20, 1970, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 6/20/70, Box H-005, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Spiers to Rogers, “Preparation for SALT II,” March 6, 1970, DEF 18-3 AUS (VI), 1970–1973 SNF, RG59, USNA; “ABMs: Should SAMs Be Counted As ABMs,” folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT Options 4/6/70, Box H-005, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [91] Memcon, Nixon et al., April 11, 1970, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 69,; Memo, Kissinger to Smith, April 13, 1970, folder SALT Talks (Vienna) Vol. VIII 4/9/70 – 5/10/70 [1 of 2], Box 877, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [92] Memo, Laird to Kissinger, April 27, 1970, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 73, fn. 3, [93] Letter, Drell to DuBridge, Dec. 23, 1969, folder ABM-System 1-70 – 3-70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [2 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, Jan. 5, 1970, folder ABM-System 1-70 – 3-70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [2 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Letter, DuBridge to Kissinger, July 1, 1970, folder ABM-System Vol. VI, May 1970 – July 30, 1971 [2 of 2], Box 842, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [94] Letter, Laird to Kissinger, Oct. 21, 1970, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vol. XIII Oct 70 – Dec 70 [2 of 3], Box 880, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [95] Memo, Wayne Smith to Kissinger, Feb. 28, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 3/2/71, Box H-007, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Davis to Kissinger, March 4, 1971, folder SALT Backup 1970–71 [2 of 2], Box 886, NSC Files, Nixon Library; National Security Decision Memorandum 102, March 11, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 138,; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, June 30, 1971, folder NSC Meeting SALT 6/ 30/71, Box H-031, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; National Security Decision Memorandum 140, Nov. 15, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 212, [96] Paul Nitze, Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision (New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1989), 317–18; Memo, Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Oct. 30, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Packard to Kissinger, Nov. 6, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Jan. 12, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 225,; Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Feb. 4, 1972, folder SALT Talks (Helinski) (sic) Vol. 17 Jan - Apr 1972 [2 of 3], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [97] Memcon, Brown to Kissinger, Aug. 30, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vo. 17 Sep-Dec 71 [2 of 2], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Smith to Nixon, Sept. 28, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vo. 17 Sep-Dec 71 [1 of 2], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Oct. 30, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, folder Verification Panel Meeting – SALT 2/ 9/72 [1 of 2], Box H-010, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [98] Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, March 6, 1972, folder Verification Panel Meeting – SALT 3/8/71 [1 of 2], Box H-010, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memcon, Kissinger and Dobrynin, March 17, 1972, in Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972, ed. David C. Geyer and Douglas E. Selvage (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2007), 615–27; Telegram from the Department of State to the SALT Delegation, April 10, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 256,; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, April 18, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 258,; Memo, Odeen to Kissinger, April 23, 1972, folder SALT Talks (Helinski) (sic) Vol. 17 Jan-Apr 1972 [1 of 3], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memcon, Brezhnev, Kissinger, et al., April 22, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 262, [99] Even recent archival work on the ABM Treaty has underplayed the importance of these concessions to competitive arms controllers. See, for example: David Tal, US Strategic Arms Policy in the Cold War: Negotiations and Confrontations over SALT, 19691979 (New York: Routledge, 2017), 158–59; James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 6–11; and Matthew J. Ambrose, The Control Agenda: A History of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018) 45­–46. [100] Letter, Laird to Jackson, Aug. 7, 1970, folder ABM–General (5) – July 1970 – July 1972, Box A50, Laird Papers, Ford Library; Memo, Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, June 28, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 184, fn. 4,; Memo, Laird to Nixon, Aug. 2, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 187,; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 8/9/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; National Security Decision Memorandum 127, Aug. 12, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 192, [101] FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Editorial Note 6,; Memo, Smith to Rogers, May 9, 1969, folder Review Group SALT (NSSM 28) [part 1] 6/12/69, Box H-037, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Paper Prepared in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, June 11, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 16,; “Task Y-1 ABM/MIRV Options,” March 13, 1970, folder ABM-System Vol. IV 2-70 –30 Apr 70 Memos and Misc. [1 of 3], Box 841, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Letter, Smith to Nixon, March 8, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vol. XIV 1 Jan 71 – April 71 [1 of 3], Box 880, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Minutes of National Security Council Meeting, June 30, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 170,; Memo, Irwin to Tucker, Feb. 1, 1972, DEF 18, 1970–1973 SNF, RG59, USNA. [102] “Report to the Verification Working Group on Net Assessment of NCA Defense Radar Limitations,” Feb. 25, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vol. XIV 1 Jan 71 – April 1971 [1 of 3], Box 880, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [103] Conversation Among Nixon, Laird, and Joint Chiefs, Aug. 10, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 190,; Memorandum for the Record, March 17, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 240, [104] Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense for the Verification Panel Working Group, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 207,; Memo, Tucker to Laird, March 27, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 244,; National Security Decision Memorandum 164, May 1, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 271,; Treaty Between the United States and the Soviet Union, May 26, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 316, [105] Memo, Laird to Kissinger, July 12, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 174, fn. 1,; Memo, Laird to Kissinger, July 20, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 181,; Memo, Wayne Smith and Hyland to Kissinger, Aug. 11, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 8/ 9/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [106] Treaty Between the United States and the Soviet Union, May 26, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 316, [107] Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Dec. 16, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 216,; Memo, Tucker to Laird, March 27, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 244, [108] Nixon himself later admitted that the treaty was intended as a temporary measure. See: Nixon, 1999, 94–96. [109] Michael Krepon, “Dormant Threat to the ABM Treaty,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41, no. 1 (1986): 31–34,; John Kogut and Michael Weissman, “Taking the Pledge Against Star Wars,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 42, no. 1 (1986): 27–30, [110] Paul Nitze, SDI and the ABM Treaty (Washington, DC: State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, 1985),; Kim Holmes and W. Bruce Weinrod, Weighing the Evidence: How the ABM Treaty Permits a Strategic Defense System (Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 1987),; Donald Gross, “Negotiated Treaty Amendment: The Solution to the SDI-ABM Treaty Conflict,” Harvard International Law Journal 28, no. 1 (1987): 31–68. [111] Thomas Friedman, “U.S. Formally Rejects ‘Star Wars’ in ABM Treaty,” New York Times, July 15, 1993,; Steven Pifer, “The Limits of U.S. missile defense,” National Interest, March 30, 2015, [112] James Lindsay and Michael O’Hanlon, Defending America: A Plan for a Limited National Missile Defense (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001); James Dao, “Rumsfeld Outlines to NATO Fast Track for Missile Shield,” New York Times, June 8, 2001, [113] Ivan Eland and Daniel Lee, “The Rogue State Doctrine and National Missile Defense,” CATO Institute Foreign Policy Briefing No. 65, March 29, 2001,; “U.S. Withdraws From the ABM Treaty: President Bush’s Remarks and U.S. Diplomatic Notes,” Arms Control Association, Dec. 13, 2001, [114] Alexander Pikayev, “ABM Treaty Revision: A Challenge to Russian Security,” Disarmament Diplomacy 44 (March 2000), [115] Terence Neilan, “Bush Pulls Out of ABM Treaty; Putin Calls Move a Mistake,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001,; Wade Boese, “U.S. Withdraws From ABM Treaty; Global Response Muted,” Arms Control Today, July 1, 2002, [116] Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, “Unilateral Withdrawal From the ABM Treaty Is a Bad Idea,” Brookings Institution, April 30, 2001, [117] Charles Lipson, “International Cooperation in Economic and Security Affairs,” World Politics 37, no. 1 (1984): 1–23,; Robert Axelrod and Robert Keohane, “Achieving Cooperation Under Anarchy: Strategies and Institutions,” World Politics 38, no. 1 (1985): 226–54,; James D. Fearon, “Bargaining, Enforcement, and International Cooperation,” International Organization 52, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 269–305, [118] Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 1155–58; April Carter, Success and Failure in Arms Control Negotiations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Ritter, Dangerous Ground: America’s Failed Arms Control Policy, from FDR to Obama. [119] Rick Gladstone, “Trump and Kim May Define ‘Korea Denuclearization’ Quite Differently,” New York Times, June 10, 2018, [120] Eli Watkins, “Bolton: US Still ‘Waiting’ for North Korea to Start Denuclearizing,”, Aug. 7, 2018,; “Bill Clinton Says America Should Be Rooting for Trump’s Success on North Korea,” PBS News Hour, June 8, 2018,; “Global Zero Statement on North Korea Nuclear Crisis,” Common Dreams, Aug. 8, 2017, [121] John Bolton, “John Bolton: Get Real, America. ‘Agreements’ with Rogue States Like North Korea Aren’t Worth a Thing,” National Post, April 26, 2017,; Bill Clinton, “Joint Statement on Strategic Stability and Nuclear Security,” Sept. 29, 1994,; Derek Johnson, “‘Security’ Is Not 17,000 Nuclear Weapons,” Huffington Post, March 26, 2014, [122] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “Is a World Without Nuclear Weapons Really Possible?” Brookings Institution, May 4, 2010,; Mitsuru Kitano, “How to Transcend Differences in Nuclear Disarmament Approaches,” Arms Control Today, September 2018, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 805 [post_author] => 241 [post_date] => 2018-11-12 05:00:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-12 10:00:46 [post_content] => Does the United States have a grand strategy? Scholars, analysts, and policymakers vigorously debate this question, and for good reason: The answer has profound implications for American foreign policy, both in theory and in practice. After nearly three decades in which overwhelming grand strategic continuity rendered the “Kennan Sweepstakes” little more than an inside-the-Beltway parlor game, Washington faces raised geopolitical stakes. The unipolar moment is undoubtedly over, and the United States must now advance its interests as the most powerful state in an increasingly multipolar international system characterized by sharpening competition among great powers. Meanwhile, social, political, and economic fractures at home create a faulty foundation for a renewed grand-strategic consensus.[1] While the election of Donald Trump did not create these challenges, his presidency has exacerbated them through two years of policy uncertainty, rhetorical whiplash, and strategic drift. Despite some of the chief executive’s long-standing proclivities — antagonism toward free trade, antipathy for American alliances, admiration for strongmen — these preferences have not always served as a reliable guide to his administration’s policy.[2] Instead, the Trump doctrine is best characterized by its ethos: a “tactical transactionalism” in pursuit of apparent foreign policy “wins”;[3] a chauvinistic militarism;[4] and an assertion that “We’re America, Bitch.”[5] In short, the need for an American grand strategy is great at the very moment when its feasibility is diminished. There is thus no better time to revisit the vast literature on grand strategy — a field that spans multiple academic disciplines as well as the realm of policy analysis — and consider how it might help extract the United States from its grand-strategic deficit.[6] An assessment of this literature’s accumulated wisdom yields decidedly mixed results. Grand-strategy scholarship is rightly critiqued for employing its animating concept inconsistently, which has hindered the advancement of social scientific attempts to “describe, explain, and predict” the causes and effects of grand strategy.[7] Yet, focusing unduly on the incoherence of the grand-strategy literature obscures the coalescence of its three component research agendas: those that treat grand strategy as a variable, process, and blueprint. Each of these agendas offers a distinct lens for scholars and practitioners of international relations. The “grand strategy as variable” agenda provides a prism through which academics may study the origins of state behavior, with particular attention to the perennial question of how agency and structure interact to produce grand-strategic outcomes. Far from a theoretical abstraction, this question has immediate relevance for policy practitioners who seek to understand other states’ grand strategies as well as influence the trajectory of their own. The “grand strategy as process” agenda foregrounds the importance of grand strategizing, whether as a governmental strategic-planning process or as a more generic mode of decision-making. In training attention on formulation, this line of inquiry assumes both that grand strategy matters and that individuals can influence its design; consequently, it seeks to extract procedural principles that maximize the likelihood of “good” grand strategy. Finally, the “grand strategy as blueprint” agenda proffers broad visions in hopes of influencing future governmental behavior. These prescriptions may entail defenses of the status quo or — more often — recommendations for redirecting the ship of state. Identifying these component research agendas and placing them in dialogue highlights ripe opportunities for future research. Despite inquiry into the origins of grand strategy, historical case studies, and examination of grand-strategic planning, the literature bears too little insight into the determinants of effectiveness. What distinguishes successful grand strategies from those that have foundered, whether in their encounters with international or domestic hurdles? And while international obstacles are well theorized, domestic political constraints are much less so. Although Trump’s election initially appeared to be a death knell for American global leadership, public support for internationalism has actually increased since he took office. How will Trump’s presidency and the highly polarized political environment over which he presides shape the future of U.S. grand strategy — including the likelihood that a novel blueprint will be adopted? Lastly, as this article amply demonstrates, the field focuses overwhelmingly on American grand strategy. Although the United States is certainly a crucial case, all three research agendas would benefit from a wider international aperture. The literature’s faults, gaps, and ambiguities notwithstanding, this article concludes with a defense of the continued study of grand strategy. Studying grand strategy trains academics’ and analysts’ sights on the highest-order questions of international relations: why, how, and for what purposes states employ their national power, including the crucible of military force. For academics, this focus counterbalances growing tendencies toward narrowly construed, methodologically myopic, or policy-irrelevant research in political science and history. For policymakers, grand strategy persists as an essential enterprise. Even if grand strategy is seldom discussed as such in the White House Situation Room, an overarching strategic vision defines a nation’s international role, guides the alignment of means and ends, and serves as a lodestar for discrete foreign policy decisions. Consequently, strategists within and outside the ivory tower share the task of advancing the study of grand strategy, so as to better inform both scholarship and policy. This task begins by clarifying the meaning of grand strategy and distinguishing among the vast literature’s component research agendas.

What Is ‘Grand Strategy’?

The study of grand strategy constitutes a rich and growing literature. Yet a confounding breadth of subjects fall under what is nominally a single conceptual umbrella.[8] In many cases, works on grand strategy talk past each other, use definitional quibbles to invalidate competing ideas, and define alternative explanations selectively. Notably, these divergences occur despite a remarkable degree of agreement over the basic definition of grand strategy. Indeed, two complementary definitions are cited by nearly every major recent study of grand strategy. The first is from Paul Kennedy and draws on earlier work by Edward Mead Earle and Basil Liddell Hart[9] to contend, “The crux of grand strategy lies therefore in policy, that is, in the capacity of the nation’s leaders to bring together all of the elements, both military and nonmilitary, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation’s long-term (that is, in wartime and peacetime) best interests.”[10] The second is by Barry Posen, who draws on a similar strategic tradition and offers an even more succinct definition: Grand strategy is “a state’s theory about how it can best ‘cause’ security for itself.”[11] These definitions co-exist comfortably without intrinsic contradictions. Their complementarity is well demonstrated by Hal Brands’ elaboration of the conception of grand strategy in his study of the subject:
At its best, then, a grand strategy represents an integrated scheme of interests, threats, resources, and policies. It is the conceptual framework that helps nations determine where they want to go and how they ought to get there; it is the theory, or logic, that guides leaders seeking security in a complex and insecure world.[12]
Accordingly, grand strategy is, as Nina Silove argues, long term in its vision, holistic in its treatment of all instruments of national power, and important in its focus on the most consequential interests.[13] These attributes distinguish grand strategy from its narrower cognates — strategy and military strategy — as well as from foreign policy and statecraft. The concept of strategy has a long genealogy: Its ancient precursors date to Thucydides and Polybius. First appearing in European military analyses in the late 18th century, it evolved from an exclusively military character to incorporate political objectives after World War I. Strategy then assumed a general meaning over the course of the 20th century.[14] “Military strategy” has come to occupy the historical domain of “strategy” in referring exclusively to the employment of military force: In Liddell Hart’s words, “[T]he art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.”[15] Strategy, by contrast, is a generic term without clear temporal, instrumental, or substantive dimensions; rather, it refers to the process of careful marshalling of means to achieve desired ends in pursuits as diverse as football, poker, and marketing.[16] Nor is “grand strategy” synonymous with foreign policy and statecraft. Foreign policy lacks the time horizon and emphasis on vital interests intrinsic to grand strategy: The United States may, for example, have a foreign policy toward Bolivia that is short-term and of minor consequence.[17] Finally, statecraft — though rarely defined — typically refers to the practical conduct of international relations, with a focus on tools and implementation.[18] [quote id="1"] Even as most scholars who research and write about grand strategy agree on its basic definition, they employ the concept in markedly different ways, each associated with a component research agenda within the grand-strategy literature. The “grand strategy as variable” camp seeks to develop analytical arguments that explain the origins of states’ grand strategies and account for their change over time. The “grand strategy as process” camp sees the strategic planning process as the essence of grand strategy and focuses on the improvement and/or generalization of such processes. Finally, a “grand strategy as blueprint” camp outlines prescriptive broad visions for grand strategy, particularly in the United States. Of course, this article is not the first attempt to bring clarity to the study of grand strategy.[19] While most review the literature without clearly delineating the various meanings of grand strategy, Silove’s recent contribution presents an alternative tripartite typology focused on “theories of the concept of grand strategy.” Based on a careful intellectual history, Silove describes how scholars often subtly diverge on whether grand strategy refers to detailed plans (“grand plans”), general organizing principles (“grand principles”), or emergent patterns of state behavior (“grand behavior”).[20] This contribution, though important, is primarily methodological: Plans, principles, and behavior are distinguished by the standard of evidence required to establish the existence of grand strategy. What’s more, these three categories are not easily distinguished from each other in practice, as Silove readily admits:
Grand plans specify ends and the means by which to achieve them in detail. Grand principles do the same in more general terms. Grand behavior is a pattern in the relative allocation of means to certain ends, regardless of whether that pattern is the result of a grand plan, a grand principle, or some other factor.[21]
In more concrete terms, this means that America’s early Cold War grand strategy was simultaneously animated by grand principles (containment), detailed in grand plans (NSC-68), and manifested in grand behavior (the Korean War, defense budgets, and so on). These three methods of measuring grand strategy as a phenomenon may assist in answering different research questions, but they do not in themselves qualify as distinct research agendas.[22] Despite its methodological contribution, therefore, the three meanings of grand strategy Silove identifies provide little help for those seeking to organize the major debates in the current grand-strategy literature. Instead, analysts will find greater value in recognizing the thematic coherence in a field that frequently coalesces around similar research puzzles — a task better served by the variable-process-blueprint typology developed here.

Agenda 1: Grand Strategy as Variable

Social scientists have produced a vast literature that treats grand strategy as a subject to be explained — that is, as a dependent variable. Scholars in this vein focus predominantly on the origins of grand strategy: theorizing where grand strategy comes from and the conditions under which it might change. This emphasis trains scholars’ attention on cases in which states (usually great powers) engage in major strategic pivots. Consider the most salient 20th-century examples: Why did Japan turn toward autarky in the late 1930s?[23] Why did Germany seek to overturn the European order through expansionism in the years leading up to World War II?[24] Why did Britain abandon its initial strategy of appeasement in favor of a more confrontational posture toward Nazi Germany?[25] Why did Russia turn toward “new thinking” in the 1980s?[26] Within the international relations literature, theories of grand strategy track closely with broader debates about whether the sources of state behavior lie at the international, domestic, or individual level. Scholars debate the role of the international environment in determining states’ grand strategies, as compared with domestic considerations such as public opinion, bureaucratic politics, strategic culture, or political leadership that may explain why states respond differently when they face similar international circumstances. Distinguishing between arguments about how grand strategy is generated is more than an exercise in rehashing the contest between the “isms” of international relations theory; rather, it reveals practically relevant assumptions about whether grand strategy is an output or a tool. If grand strategy is merely an output, there is little room for strategic choice. If future Chinese grand strategy were determined by Beijing’s relative power position, it matters little whether the nation is guided by Xi Jinping or another leader. Similarly, American grand strategy would dramatically reorient only if international conditions change, notwithstanding Trump’s heterodox designs. If grand strategy is a tool, however, individual agency may change the course of history by developing and implementing grand strategies that transcend structural constraints — or prove ill-equipped to surmount them. According to the structural-realist perspective, grand strategy is essentially the conveyer belt between systemic incentives and state behavior — or, an output. When John Mearsheimer contends that states “are aware of their external environment and they think strategically about how to survive in it,”[27] he is referring to a process of automatic adaption according to a predictable pattern of state behavior. Grand strategy changes when the international system changes. The act of strategizing has no place in this view of grand strategy. Because grand strategy derives directly from the structure of the international system, any apparently intentional acts of grand-strategic articulation are merely epiphenomenal — in other words, they may reflect underlying factors but have no independent influence on observed outcomes. Indeed, structural-realist, or neorealist, theories of international relations emphasize the role of the international system in determining states’ grand strategies. Material attributes of the system — most importantly, the distribution of power — create pressures that “shape and shove” strategic choice.[28] For offensive realists like Mearsheimer, the anarchic, self-help nature of the international system yields constant great-power competition, as each major state seeks to maximize its share of world power. While all major powers desire hegemony, they may temporarily adopt strategies oriented to maintain the status quo when “the costs and risks of trying to shift the balance of power are too great, forcing great powers to wait for more favorable circumstances.”[29] Defensive realists also treat the international system as determinative, but they describe the attributes of the system with more nuance and make more sanguine assumptions about states’ default grand-strategic modes, emphasizing the quest for security rather than hegemony.[30] [quote id="2"] The fundamental problem with structural theories of grand strategy, of course, is that they explain very little. As Aaron Friedberg has noted, “structural considerations provide a useful point from which to begin analysis of international politics rather than a place at which to end it.”[31] A great power may seek security or hegemony in countless ways. Faced with a rising challenger, for instance, a state may initiate a preventive war, but it may also cooperate or even retrench.[32] Much depends on how states perceive their international environment and the domestic pressures that condition their response. Considering these domestic dimensions can clarify how states perceive the structure of their external environments, as well as the conditions under which grand strategy may change even as structural circumstances remain the same. Understanding this variation is important, and interesting, for scholars and strategists alike. Consequently, most recent work on grand strategy incorporates state-level attributes when explaining its origins. Neoclassical-realist scholarship accepts the importance of broad strategic parameters set by the international system but incorporates domestic-level factors into explanations of states’ particular grand-strategic choices.[33] Typically characterized as “intervening variables” that mediate the translation of systemic incentives into state behavior, domestic variables take one of two forms. The first is domestic politics. Whether a function of state capacity,[34] party preferences,[35] or sectoral interests,[36] this view of grand strategy is only moderately more dynamic than the structural one. By allowing the possibility of choice from a menu of grand-strategic options,[37] these theories seem to create greater space for agency — but once domestic-political variables are introduced as intervening or interacting forces, grand strategy regains its status as an output. In explaining why American grand strategy transitioned from selective engagement during the Bill Clinton administration to offensive war in the George W. Bush administration, for example, Peter Trubowitz does not credit distinct presidential designs. Instead, he argues, the difference lay in domestic politics: Although both Clinton and Bush were president at times of few geopolitical constraints, Clinton’s Democratic Party profited politically from investing in social services (butter over guns) while Bush’s Republican Party benefited from defense spending (guns over butter).[38] Grand strategy emerged from the crucible of domestic and international pressures rather than leadership by the president or other senior policymakers. A second type of neoclassical-realist theory emphasizes the intervening variable of strategic culture, a subject of increasing attention among scholars of grand strategy. Some studies treat strategic culture as an essentially fixed mediator between international constraints and grand-strategic outcomes. Evaluating the American case, for example, Christopher Layne points to “Open Door economic and ideological expansion” in explaining why the United States has continuously pursued a grand strategy of “extraregional hegemony” since World War II, and Patrick Porter attributes the continuity of American post-Cold War grand strategy to a primacist monoculture among Washington’s foreign policy establishment.[39] These are essentially theories of continuity; they provide little traction in explaining the conditions for change.[40] A more dynamic approach to the American case introduces multiple strategic cultures and examines how they compete with each other for influence over grand strategy — whether the rival poles of Woodrow Wilson’s idealism and Theodore Roosevelt’s realpolitik, Enlightenment rationalism and Christian theology, or classical liberalism and the “limited liability” foreign policy tradition, as characterized by Henry Kissinger, Walter McDougall, and Colin Dueck, respectively.[41] This genre of argument intriguingly highlights the rhyme and repetition that so frequently characterize grand-strategy debates in the United States.[42] Moreover, it acknowledges the fundamental importance of international conditions without succumbing to determinism: The United States’ historical repertoire provides multiple narratives for leaders or strategists to draw upon while also holding out the possibility of influential new formulations. Nevertheless, as Sara Plana argues, strategic cultural theories of grand strategy remain underdeveloped and often unfalsifiable. More work is needed to identify the conditions required for change between strategic subcultures,[43] as well as the mechanisms by which culture translates into grand-strategic outcomes.[44] Finally, historians — and only rarely political scientists — attribute the origins of grand strategy to the designs of individuals.[45] Such works vary in the relative weight they attribute to structure or agency. Some scholars take international structure as the starting point, which then filters through leaders’ perspectives and preferences. This view is characteristic of Hal Brands’ work, which explores the interaction between international dynamics and the worldviews of American presidents and their advisers in the post-World War II period.[46] Others focus more intently on the grand-strategic interventions of individuals. These scholars acknowledge international constraints but contend that strategists can see through structural forces in crafting their grand designs. John Gaddis’ discussion of George Kennan’s development of containment exemplifies this view, as does his recent work celebrating the grand-strategic triumphs of leaders such as Elizabeth I and Abraham Lincoln. Similarly, Charles Edel portrays John Quincy Adams as an architect of American grand strategy in the early decades of the republic.[47] What insights does the “grand strategy as variable” research agenda offer to scholars and policymakers? For scholars, this research amounts to less than the sum of its parts. These studies tend to develop their own approach to operationalizing and measuring grand strategy.[48] While some studies conceive of grand strategy as a state’s approach to international order or the balance of power, others operationalize grand strategy at the level of specific foreign policy choices.[49] This ad hoc treatment makes it difficult to competitively test rival theories against each other and, in turn, accumulate knowledge about where grand strategy comes from and why it changes. For policymakers, this sub-literature provides alternate lenses through which to assess the origins of other states’ grand strategies, as well as the conditions under which allies and adversaries may pursue different tacks in the future. It also foregrounds the structural constraints that grand strategists face at the international and domestic levels, emphasizing the importance of designing grand strategies that account realistically for such limitations, rather than wishing them away. The balance of evidence indicates that it is these constraints — more so than the blue-sky creativity of virtuosic policy intellectuals — that determine a nation’s grand-strategic course, though individuals do occasionally distinguish themselves by designing grand strategies that intelligently navigate this bounded pathway.

Agenda 2: Grand Strategy as Process

A second research agenda treats grand strategy as a process rather than a subject. This perspective conceives of grand strategy primarily in terms of its mode of formulation and only secondarily — in some cases, not at all — in the substance of the strategy itself. By focusing on decision-making processes, these works reject structural determinism and embrace the possibility that choices made by individuals and organizations can alter a state’s grand-strategic course. One group sees grand strategy as a “common sense” method of decision-making and looks to history for universal principles applicable to a wide range of pursuits. Another sub-literature equates strategic planning with grand strategy, focusing primarily on the United States. The broadest conception of grand strategy as process entails the generalization of grand strategy as a generic method of leadership and decision-making.[50] This school of thought echoes the tradition of 19th-century theorists who sought to develop universal principles of military strategy.[51] By studying great commanders, these writers distilled genius into teachable guidelines, transforming strategy from an art to a science. Today, this tradition is most closely associated with Yale’s Grand Strategy program. Gaddis, a don of the Yale program, encapsulates this approach:
Grand strategy is the calculated relationship of means to large ends. It’s about how one uses whatever one has to get to wherever it is one wants to go. Our knowledge of it derives chiefly from the realm of war and statecraft. … But grand strategy need not apply only to war and statecraft: it’s potentially applicable to any endeavor in which means must be deployed in the pursuit of important ends.[52]
Careful study of grand strategy can thus yield principles relevant to a wide range of pursuits; this approach amounts to “teaching common sense.”[53] By generalizing insights from military and diplomatic history, the common-sense school mirrors the transformation of strategy from a specifically military term into a generic one. But while scholars and strategists can surely extract universal lessons from military and diplomatic history, it does not necessarily follow that it is possible to have a grand strategy of just anything. Rather, to stretch the concept in this manner is to render it indistinguishable from the contemporary concept of strategy. Consider the similarities — in both content and level of abstraction — between advice offered to decision-makers by business strategist Richard Rumelt and by Gaddis, a scholar of grand strategy. Where Gaddis advises against directly opposing an adversary’s strengths and “respecting constraints,” Rumelt cautions strategists to “define the challenge competitively” and avoid “failure to recognize or take seriously the fact that resources are scarce.”[54] Each of these insights is worthy and wise, but following them entails acting strategically, not grand strategically. To retain its meaning and avoid the conceptual muddle that plagues its sister concept, grand strategy must remain substantively anchored in the realm of statecraft. [quote id="3"] By contrast, another cluster of scholarship and policy analysis conceives of grand strategy in terms of strategic planning. Echoing Dwight Eisenhower’s maxim about planning, for this sub-literature, grand strategizing is everything. Among military theorists, grand strategy has long-standing associations with planning: Basil Liddell Hart, in his original definition, explains the role of grand strategy as “to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, toward the attainment of the political object of the war.”[55] Despite some critics’ contention that decision-making assumes a qualitatively different cast under conditions of peace rather than war, the extrapolation of grand strategy to include peacetime strategic planning has become common.[56] Scholars and policy analysts in this camp typically conceive of grand strategy as the method by which a government articulates its national security strategy. Debates about strategic planning in the U.S. government offer a prime example, given the enormity of American global interests and national capabilities, but these dynamics are by no means exclusive to the United States or to great powers generally.[57] Often, debates about grand-strategic planning in Washington center on the congressionally mandated national security strategy. Much of the literature on the national security strategy focuses on the utility of mobilizing the American national security apparatus for such strategic-planning exercises.[58] Proponents such as James Goldgeier and Jeremy Suri contend that the national security strategy is vital to the practice of grand strategy:
Without a clear strategy statement, the next president will find it difficult to align U.S. capabilities behind core national interests. Without a clear strategy statement, the next president will fail to set a foreign policy course for his/her new administration that leverages U.S. resources and allies, escaping the damaging tendency to do a little everywhere and seek to stamp out fires wherever they burn.[59]
Publication of each administration’s national security strategy cues a chorus of critics who decry the degradation of the grand-strategy process into an exercise in banality and bureaucratic consensus-building, divorced from the crucial work of implementation.[60] For the most part, however, national security strategy critics believe that strategic planning is a virtuous exercise; their gripe centers on the consistent failure of the national security strategy and related processes to produce anything resembling grand strategy.[61] A process optimized to effectively link ends, ways, and means might, for example: lean into, rather than shy away from, difficult trade-offs; always contain a classified component where priorities are explicitly enumerated; and translate into clear implementation guidance, including budgetary requirements. Despite wide recognition of these deficiencies, however, there has been little progress toward reform, implicitly revealing a set of political — rather than geostrategic — priorities that drive the planning process.[62] First, the national security strategy, like many strategy documents, is mandated by Congress; every presidential administration is required to produce it. Second, planning advocates ascribe value to the process for its own sake, saying it forces policymakers to think beyond their inboxes and engage strategic questions with their counterparts across the national security bureaucracy, which improves day-to-day decision-making even if it doesn’t produce a coherent strategic vision. Third, the national security strategy is a vessel for communicating with audiences at home and abroad. Domestically, the national security strategy can guide interagency decision-making and inform public debate. Internationally, the document signals the broad direction of U.S. foreign policy to allies and adversaries. Constrained by these political imperatives, there is little incentive for policymakers to make hard grand-strategic choices. Indeed, little changes between presidential administrations, even as reams of studies explore means of improving U.S. strategic competence.[63] Some skeptics contend that U.S. incompetence may actually be salutary: Grand-strategic planning, they argue, yields dangerously constraining and inflexible foreign policy doctrines. Building on Richard Betts’s critiques of strategy and doctrine,[64] David Edelstein and Ronald Krebs argue that strategic planning imposes dangerous rigidity on policymaking: “The ritual of crafting strategy encourages participants to spin a narrative that magnifies the scope of the national interest and exaggerates global threats.”[65] Ionut Popescu characterizes grand strategy as a model of national security decision-making whereby governments “formulate and implement a long-term coherent plan to accomplish the nation’s highest goals.”[66] He contrasts this approach with a superior alternative model of “emergent strategy” that rejects long-term planning in favor of incrementalism, short-term adaptation, and crisis response.[67] James Graham Wilson uses history to make a similar case, characterizing the end of the Cold War as a “triumph of improvisation” rather than grand strategy.[68] Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski herald the “end of grand strategy” because the coherence it requires is at odds with the operational processes of the U.S. military, particularly the Navy.[69] These critics are undoubtedly correct that grand strategy should not impose undue rigidity on policymaking. Yet, advocates of emergent strategy or case-by-case pragmatism are arguing against a straw man: Proponents of grand-strategic planning do not propose that policymakers engage in an exquisite design process that anticipates every contingency, nor is there historical evidence to support this caricature of grand strategy. Instead, planning documents like the national security strategy tend to be statements of grand-strategic principles while glossing over questions of implementation. Indeed, focusing unduly on plans themselves risks missing the fundamental point of grand strategy: As Brands and Porter have argued, “grand strategy is best understood not as a formal planning process, but as a guiding intellectual framework. … It is an ecological worldview, formed from a mix of different influences — experience, study, values, ideology — that helps officials make sense of complexity and bring resources and commitments into alignment.”[70] In this sense, planning may contribute to that framework — for example by elaborating a set of principles or inculcating a strategic subculture — but grand strategy is not reducible to even a well-executed strategic planning process. What insights does the “grand strategy as process” research agenda offer to scholars and policymakers? For academics, this sub-literature usefully highlights the temporal dimension of grand strategy: Whereas scholars tend to focus on only the early stages of grand-strategy formulation, they ought to take a broader view that includes implementation — the phase at which strategic designs tend to founder in encounters with resource constraints, bureaucratic resistance, or other barriers.[71] This research agenda is also notable for what it lacks: rigorous studies of the qualities that render grand-strategic planning processes more or less successful.[72] Indeed, from a policymaking perspective, the grand-strategy-as-process research agenda should pick up where the grand-strategy-as-variable agenda left off. It should elucidate the methods by which individuals and organizations can effectively diagnose the international and domestic environments, then develop grand strategies that seize on opportunities and circumvent constraints. Yet the literature lacks this kind of how-to guide for grand-strategic planning beyond the strategic aphorisms put forth by the common-sense school. Finally, the debate over the utility of grand strategizing emphasizes the dangers associated with following rigid doctrines or strategic plans for their own sake. Nevertheless, the recommendation to replace grand strategy with “pragmatism” or “emergent strategy” does not withstand scrutiny. There is no intrinsic reason why grand strategy — in the United States or elsewhere — cannot entail a design process that is long-term in its vision, disciplined in its prioritization, and pragmatically flexible in its implementation. An ad hoc alternative is hardly preferable.

Agenda 3: Grand Strategy as Blueprint

The final strand of the grand-strategy literature is grand strategy as blueprint.[73] The works in this category provide recommendations that seek to guide the future course of a given state’s foreign policy. Whereas the grand-strategy-as-variable research agenda is descriptive and the grand-strategy-as-process agenda is both descriptive and prescriptive, this agenda is entirely prescriptive. Like the process literature, discussions of grand strategy as blueprint assume that grand strategy is a tool, rather than an automatic output, and therefore can be manipulated by agents who enact intentional designs. As with strategic planning, debates about grand-strategic blueprints are ongoing around the world.[74] This article uses the United States as an example because U.S. grand strategy is the primary concern of American scholars of international relations and, given the predominant U.S. role in the world, it is also the most consequential. The heart of current scholarly debate is between advocates of a restrained grand strategy, often described as “retrenchment” or “offshore balancing,”[75] and proponents of variants of liberal internationalism, referred to as “deep engagement,” “liberal hegemony,” and “primacy.”[76] Liberal internationalism is, in the words of Stephen Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth, the devil we know. Its three core tenets have guided U.S. grand strategy since World War II:
Managing the external environment to reduce near- and long-term threats to U.S. national security; promoting a liberal economic order to expand the global economy and maximize domestic prosperity; and creating, sustaining, and revising the global institutional order to secure necessary interstate cooperation on terms favorable to U.S. interests.[77]
Proponents of this grand strategy point to the past seven decades as evidence of its remarkable success; the peace and prosperity it has offered represent a departure from the “economic mercantilism, political conflict, and repeated war” that characterized much of world history.[78] Even in the post-Cold War context, advocates defend its record: As Brands writes, “for all its travails, American strategy has played a central role in making the post-Cold War international system more stable, more liberal, and more favorable to U.S. interests and ideals than it would otherwise have been—and certainly in bringing about a more benign international environment than many expert observers expected when the post-Cold War period began.”[79] [quote id="4"] Advocates of retrenchment disagree with this characterization of liberal internationalism’s record of success, as well as the costs and risks ascribed to it. In his book-length treatise making the case for offshore balancing, Layne takes aim at the core liberal internationalist assumption that national security requires the United States to police a world order amenable to American values, institutions, and economic penetration.[80] As Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argue, “By pursuing a strategy of ‘offshore balancing,’ Washington would forgo ambitious efforts to remake other societies and concentrate on what really matters: pre­serving U.S. dominance in the Western Hemisphere and countering potential hegemons in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf.”[81] But even in forestalling the rise of a Eurasian hegemon, the first line of defense would be regional powers, and the United States would intervene only if absolutely necessary. Offshore balancers differ in their approaches toward nuclear proliferation and counterterrorism, but overall they agree that the rewards of pulling back from global engagement would outweigh the risks. The resulting savings, based on the military strategy and force structure outlined in Barry Posen’s Restraint, would enable the United States to cut its defense budget to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from the current level, 3.62 percent of GDP.[82] Beyond the grand debate between restraint and deep engagement, there are important divergences within each camp. Even among those who laud the U.S. strategic successes of the past 70 years, there is disagreement about the best way forward for U.S. leadership of a liberal international order under increasing stress from both global power shifts and the growing salience of transnational challenges. Brands and Eric Edelman advocate a major defense recapitalization to sustain U.S. military primacy, credibly maintain American commitments overseas even when challenged by increasingly capable great-power adversaries, and, in so doing, uphold the existing international order.[83] In contrast, Bruce Jentleson argues that while the United States is not in terminal decline, changes in the global landscape ineluctably diminish American influence abroad. He proposes a strategy of “recalibration,” which rejects both retrenchment and calls for the United States to reclaim global primacy in favor of a subtler and more selective application of American power in service of clearly defined interests.[84] Paul Stares advocates a strategy of “preventive engagement” to manage global threats without resorting to costly uses of military force.[85] Others examine U.S. interests in the context of transnational security challenges, advocating constraints on American power in service of a truly global, rather than U.S.-dominated, order. Richard Haass calls for progress toward a “world order 2.0” in which states move beyond the Westphalian system and accept “sovereign obligations” for managing the globalized consequences of domestic policies.[86] Thomas Weiss goes further, contending that transnational problems require more muscular global governance, centered on empowered (and reformed) international organizations.[87] Anne-Marie Slaughter advocates a networked grand strategy that complements state-to-state interaction with a “web of commercial, educational, cultural, and human relations.”[88] What insights does the grand-strategy-as-blueprint agenda hold for scholars and policymakers? Unlike the other two, this research agenda presupposes that grand strategies can be intentionally designed and provides preconceived prescriptions for such interventions. Yet, the blueprint debates remain oddly divorced from parallel discussions about the origins of grand strategy. This disconnect is particularly stark among realist scholars who engage in the study of grand strategy as variable in addition to blueprint. Mearsheimer, for example, predicts in his academic work that states will act as power maximizers, strive for hegemony, and preclude the rise of other hegemons; these are not choices but, rather, the inevitable consequence of an anarchic international system.[89] When he turns to prescription, however, Mearsheimer recommends that the United States restrain its own quest for power by retrenching from its forward positions around the globe and seeking hegemony only in the Western Hemisphere.[90] Yet the proposition that the United States is pursuing an inefficient or even dangerous grand strategy of liberal hegemony would seem to contradict the core neorealist assumption that states respond rationally and consistently to their international environments. Meanwhile, the suggestion that the United States should pursue more limited grand-strategic aims is at odds with the prediction that states seek to maximize their power. The juxtaposition of these arguments suggests a logical double bind: Either Mearsheimer’s recommendations are superior to the current course of American grand strategy, which calls into question his explanatory theory, or his theory of grand strategy is accurate, which calls into question the wisdom of his recommendations. For policymakers, such distinctions may seem arcane and pedantic, but they matter a great deal: Those advocating prescriptions derived from structural realism have the loudest academic voices in debates about American grand strategy, as well as the prospects for U.S.-China competition, and partial alignment with Trump’s heterodox international outlook may amplify their influence over policy.[91] More broadly, any grand-strategic prescriptions ought to be transparent about their assumptions, and when those assumptions prove faulty the attendant recommendations should be updated or discounted accordingly. When grand-strategic blueprints are well crafted, however, they can challenge conventional wisdom, refine extant doctrines, and provide a lodestar for policy.

Opportunities for Future Research

Three separate research agendas thus characterize the grand-strategy literature, with the variable, process, and blueprint camps each centering on different questions: Where does grand strategy come from? What are the procedural characteristics of grand strategy’s formulation and execution? And what should a particular state’s grand strategy be? By reorganizing what is nominally a single literature into three component research agendas, the preceding sections should help scholars adjudicate disagreements endemic in existing work and identify their main interlocutors in future work. Recognition of these dividing lines ought to facilitate the clash of ideas, particularly in debates over processes and blueprints. For the grand-strategy-as-variable school to advance through competitive theory testing, however, differentiation from the process and blueprint camps is only a first step. Further conceptual clarification remains necessary through a more disciplined approach to definition, operationalization, and measurement. [quote id="5"] Despite the value of acknowledging these divisions, it would be a mistake to reify them or ignore their intersections. A single academic work may speak to more than one research agenda, and many thinkers have contributed to more than one of the three camps. Scholars should therefore remain attuned to opportunities for synthesis and integration, especially where assumptions linking explanatory and normative approaches to grand strategy are implicitly or explicitly interdependent. In particular, there are three promising avenues for future research into the determinants of effectiveness, the domestic politics of grand strategy, and grand strategy beyond the United States. The Determinants of Grand-Strategic Effectiveness Despite the vast literature on grand strategy, scholars know remarkably little about the determinants of effectiveness. Does grand strategy truly influence the practice of statecraft and, if so, under what conditions is it successful? As Williamson Murray notes, “Those who have developed successful grand strategies in the past have been much the exception.”[92] Moreover, for grand strategy to matter, it must be distinct from predetermined forms of advantage and perhaps even overcome material deficits.[93] There is no more policy-consequential question for scholars than the ingredients of these rare strategic triumphs. Historians and, to a lesser extent, political scientists, have identified and analyzed cases of grand-strategic success: both wartime success, such as the Allies’ grand strategy during World War II,[94] and long-term imperial-hegemonic endurance, like that of the British and Roman Empires.[95] But at the theoretical level, existing work provides little insight into the general determinants of grand-strategic effectiveness. To account for success, scholars generally point to the careful balance of means and ends.[96] This approach is problematic, however, because it conflates definitional and causal claims.[97] If grand strategy is defined as statecraft that astutely balances means and ends, and if well-balanced grand strategy is necessarily successful, then there is no space to study variation in grand-strategic effectiveness. The debate becomes about the presence or absence of grand strategy rather than the efficacy of a given grand strategy. To be useful as a variable, grand strategy cannot be a normatively laden term. Future work can fill this gap by examining grand strategy as an independent, rather than dependent, variable. Of what effects is grand strategy the cause? Those interested in theorizing grand strategy can begin by searching for hypotheses in the process literature, which implicitly or explicitly describes the criteria for successful strategic planning but rarely evaluates these criteria rigorously or comparatively across cases.[98] Risa Brooks’ scholarship on the influence of civil-military cooperation on the effectiveness of strategic planning and Popescu’s evaluation of the comparative effectiveness of grand strategy and emergent strategy provide models for much-needed future work in this area.[99] The Domestic Politics of Grand Strategy The shock of Trump’s election in November 2016 spotlighted the perennial uncertainty surrounding the domestic politics of grand strategy. Regarding Trump specifically, a significant proportion of American voters proved willing to elect a presidential candidate who brazenly rejected core elements of the post-World War II elite foreign policy consensus on trade, alliances, and other issues. But while Trump’s election creates the temptation to pronounce the death of American global leadership, there is evidence that popular support for internationalism persists — raising the possibility that some voters supported Trump despite, not because of, his heterodox foreign policy positions.[100] Scholars can help clarify whether Trump’s election is a harbinger of structural shifts in the domestic politics of foreign policy — or an aberration. Toward that end, future studies could revisit two long-standing debates in the literature on public opinion and American grand strategy. First is the power of what Theodore Roosevelt famously called the “bully pulpit.” All presidents advocate their preferred foreign policies, whether Harry Truman’s aid to Greece and Turkey, Ronald Reagan’s support for Nicaraguan contras, Clinton’s pursuit of NATO enlargement, George W. Bush’s march to war in Iraq, or Barack Obama’s lobbying for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Yet, the varying successes of these efforts demonstrate the limits of presidential powers of persuasion. What, then, determines why some efforts succeed while others fail? In contemporary terms, why has public opinion grown more favorable toward long-standing American alliances and the Iran nuclear deal since Trump’s election, even as he has denigrated them from the White House?[101] A potential answer lies in the politics of persuasion. Stacie Goddard and Krebs contend that the process of public legitimation constrains the range of available grand-strategy choices.[102] Krebs investigates these boundaries of legitimacy in his book-length study of narrative and the making of U.S. national security. National security narratives catch on, he argues, during times of crisis, when presidents tell stories that help their citizens impose order on seemingly chaotic circumstances. Krebs’s analysis of ripe narrative moments and the importance of presidential authority is helpful, but the core contribution lies in his focus on the mechanics of storytelling as contrasted with argumentation — a dimension of politics that rarely captures the attention of scholars of international relations but that warrants consideration, particularly among those confounded by the political failures of their grand-strategic prescriptions.[103] Second, scholars can continue to investigate polarization’s influence on the domestic politics of grand strategy. Whereas public opinion studies in the early Cold War showed limited correlation between domestic and foreign policy views, greater partisan consistency began to emerge around the time of the Vietnam War.[104] Since then, partisan polarization has grown and sharpened with the rise of across-the-aisle antipathy, also known as “affective polarization.”[105] Future research could investigate how widening polarization might alter the domestic dynamics of grand strategy.[106] One avenue for investigation entails the interaction between policy expertise and partisan polarization — in particular, whether elites retain the ability to persuade the public to accept their preferred grand strategy. Rather than a wholesale death of expertise, recent research indicates that — especially on controversial issues — citizens remain attentive to experts, but only those who share their partisan affiliation.[107] This finding would suggest that as long as a bipartisan elite consensus on grand strategy endures, the public is likely to follow. In light of many Republicans’ resistance to central elements of the Trump administration’s national security agenda, however, additional scholarship should explore citizens’ response to elite dissent within political parties on matters of foreign policy or grand strategy. Researchers can also turn their attention to polarization’s consequences for grand strategy. Kenneth Schultz contends that polarization will introduce greater volatility in American foreign policy and diminish the effectiveness of Washington’s diplomatic signaling, opening the door to myriad opportunities for additional theoretical elaboration and empirical testing.[108] Grand Strategy Beyond the United States Finally, the grand-strategy literature suffers needlessly from American parochialism. As a case study, U.S. grand strategy is undoubtedly crucial: The United States’ rise to global power, its response to victory in two world wars, and its emergence as a unipolar hegemon with unprecedented power are unique moments of world-historic significance. Nonetheless, as a matter of theory, policy, and history, all three veins of the grand-strategy research agenda would benefit from a wider aperture. The grand-strategy-as-variable camp should expand to include more non-Western cases and to more ambitiously aspire to generalizability across time periods and national contexts. Even explanatory theories specific to non-U.S. cases could help illuminate the grand-strategic courses, choices, and cultures of allies and adversaries alike.[109] By looking beyond the United States, the grand-strategy-as-process camp could shed light on strategic planning in comparative perspective and especially on the vital question of whether autocratic regimes are more capable of effective grand strategy than democracies. Finally, grand-strategy debates are likely to proliferate and amplify as power continues to diffuse over the coming decades. Scholars of international relations have much to contribute to blueprint debates beyond the United States, especially among allies and partners, and prescriptions for the future of American grand strategy would benefit from richer understanding of other states’ visions for their own power.

Conclusion: The Necessity of Grand Strategy

The literature of grand-strategic studies is vast and frequently disjointed — yet, for all its flaws, grand strategy remains an attractive object of scholarly attention. Academic programs focused on grand strategy are flourishing: Yale’s program celebrated its 15th year in October 2016,[110] and similar institutions continue to proliferate.[111] Meanwhile, a sense of acute geopolitical flux and uncertainty about the future character of international politics has renewed the “Kennan Sweepstakes” for the post-post-Cold War era. Experts are keen to offer their grand-strategic analysis in popular and academic publications, present blueprints for grand strategy, and advise governments on the formulation and execution of grand strategy. These trends may indicate that continued study of grand strategy is inevitable — but it is also beneficial for several reasons. First, grand strategy as a field of study is inherently relevant to policy.[112] By illuminating the origins of state behavior, theories of grand strategy help policymakers understand the drivers of allies’ and adversaries’ foreign policies, as well as the conditions for change in their own countries’ grand strategies. Meanwhile, studying grand strategy requires academics to engage with policymakers, who provide insight into real-world processes of grand-strategy development and implementation. Rather than alienate these practitioners with inscrutable research methods, all three grand-strategy research agendas invite engagement by practitioners. At a time when international relations continues to fight off the cult of the irrelevant, the study of grand strategy provides a useful corrective against the field’s growing obsession with mid-range theory and hypothesis testing.[113] Second, grand strategy is inherently interdisciplinary. The rich grand-strategy literatures in history and political science invite dialogue between two fields that share many interests but are too often estranged by methodological differences. Studying grand strategy encourages social scientists to mine historians’ work for case studies and encourages historians to engage social scientists’ theories. As Brands and Porter argue, the historical record contains much variation that political scientists can leverage: “History offers instructive examples of effective grand strategic behavior, where states have effectively brought power and commitments into balance, either by expanding means (resources, alliances, opinion) to meet ends, or refocused depleted resources to strengthen its core security interests.”[114] Grand strategy also invites dialogue with the literatures of psychology, organizational studies, and business administration — connections that have yet to be fully explored and exploited.[115] [quote id="6"] Similarly, a focus on grand strategy can help policymakers think in a more interdisciplinary — which is to say, interagency — manner. Breaking down entrenched barriers between diplomatic, military, informational, and economic activities will be necessary as the United States grapples with the intensification of competition and aggression below traditional conflict thresholds. From island-building in the South China Sea and economic coercion, to election interference and proxy warfare in Ukraine, China and Russia have already shown the capability and willingness to challenge American interests in the “gray zone.” Despite the growing prevalence of such measures short of war, however, the United States is ill prepared to respond.[116] As the National Defense Strategy Commission wrote, “Because gray-zone challenges combine military and paramilitary measures with economic statecraft, political warfare, information operations, and other tools, they often occur in the ‘seams’ between DOD and other U.S. departments and agencies, making them all the more difficult to address.”[117] As a policymaking framework, grand strategy can help overcome this challenge by integrating — first conceptually and then practically — the work of government agencies responsible for the United States’ myriad tools of national power. Third, grand strategy as a field illustrates the value of methodological diversity in international relations. Qualitative methods, especially process tracing, are suited to the study of grand strategy.[118] Unpacking the complexity of grand strategies and the factors that drive their continuity or change requires in-depth historical knowledge and attention to micro-processes that are difficult to capture with quantitative data or to test using an experiment. As such, the study of grand strategy helps to demonstrate the importance of pluralistic approaches to causal inference, with preference for the method best suited to the subject. Of course, grand strategy also has its flaws. As a corollary to its bias toward qualitative methods, studies of grand strategy are not amenable to cutting-edge quantitative methodologies and may never be taken seriously by political scientists outside of international relations who rely on methodological sophistication as a proxy for scholarly value. More charitably, the overdetermined nature of many grand-strategic choices may legitimately erode scholars’ ability to draw high-confidence causal inferences. Beyond methodological issues, grand strategy is laden with significant political baggage. The predominance of right-leaning funders in seeding programs for its study, the recent interest of the Koch foundation, and grand strategy’s long-standing association with Henry Kissinger can create the appearance of a political agenda that  intellectuals on the left find objectionable.[119] Finally, grand strategy should not be projected onto governmental decision-making where it does not exist, and critics are correct to warn against overselling grand strategy’s potential for elegant implementation or its transformative effects.[120] Even so, while scholars of grand strategy should be cognizant of this context, these objections do not justify rejecting wholesale either the study or practice of grand strategy. Indeed, scholarly engagement with grand strategy is gravely necessary. Foreign policy elites broadly agree that the tenets that have guided American grand strategy since the end of the Cold War, and in many ways since the end of World War II, are under great strain and may no longer be tenable. Trump’s presidency seems both to ratify concerns about adverse trends and to raise the possibility that his leadership will accelerate them. For the first time in decades, it is plausible that the U.S. theory of national security that has guided a liberal-hegemony strategy since the dawn of the Cold War may be reevaluated. From this perspective, previous “revolutions” in American foreign policy, which entailed adjustments to subordinate grand-strategic assumptions, seem small by comparison.[121] Whether or not such seismic changes ultimately materialize, the time is ripe for serious study of grand strategy. To fully seize this opportunity, those of us who study grand strategy must place the field on stronger conceptual ground. This article represents an initial step toward strengthening that foundation.   Acknowledgements: For helpful discussions and suggestions, the author would like to thank Jon Askonas, Hal Brands, David Edelstein, John Gaddis, Michael Horowitz, Richard Immerman , Bruce Jentleson, Charlie Kupchan, Sarah Maxey, John McNeill, Sara Plana, Brad Potter, Mira Rapp-Hooper, Jim Steinberg, Marin Strmecki, Stephen Wertheim, Micah Zenko, two anonymous reviewers, the Texas National Security Review editors, and participants in seminars convened by International Security Studies at Yale University, Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Carnegie International Policy Scholars Consortium. Particular thanks to Frank Gavin for his enthusiastic support.    Rebecca Friedman Lissner will be an Assistant Professor at the Naval War College (beginning in January 2019).      Image: Chris Goldberg [post_title] => What Is Grand Strategy? Sweeping a Conceptual Minefield [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => what-is-grand-strategy-sweeping-a-conceptual-minefield [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-14 18:08:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-14 23:08:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Amidst acute geopolitical flux, the study of grand strategy is necessary for scholars and strategists alike. As a framework for scholarship, it trains attention on the highest-order questions of international relations: why, how, and for what purposes states employ their national power, including the crucible of military force. For policymakers, grand strategy defines a nation’s international role, guides the alignment of means and ends, and serves as a lodestar for discrete foreign policy decisions. Yet, despite its importance, the proliferation of academic and policy-analytical work on grand strategy has left the field disjointed, conceptually inconsistent, and difficult to navigate. This article resolves that confusion by distinguishing between three component research agendas within the grand strategy literature: those that treat grand strategy as a variable, process, and blueprint. The “grand strategy as variable” agenda provides a prism through which academics may study the origins of state behavior, with particular attention to the perennial question of how agency and structure interact to produce grand-strategic outcomes. The “grand strategy as process” agenda foregrounds the importance of grand strategizing, whether as a governmental strategic-planning process or as a more generic mode of decision-making. Finally, the “grand strategy as blueprint” agenda proffers broad visions in hopes of influencing future governmental behavior. Identifying these component research agendas and placing them in dialogue yields important policy insights and highlights ripe opportunities for future research. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Even as most scholars who research and write about grand strategy agree on its basic definition, they employ the concept in markedly different ways... ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => According to the structural-realist perspective, grand strategy is essentially the conveyer belt between systemic incentives and state behavior — or, an output. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Despite some critics’ contention that decision-making assumes a qualitatively different cast under conditions of peace rather than war, the extrapolation of grand strategy to include peacetime strategic planning has become common. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [D]iscussions of grand strategy as blueprint assume that grand strategy is a tool, rather than an automatic output, and therefore can be manipulated by agents who enact intentional designs. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Despite the vast literature on grand strategy, scholars know remarkably little about the determinants of effectiveness. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [A] sense of acute geopolitical flux and uncertainty about the future character of international politics has renewed the “Kennan Sweepstakes” for the post-post-Cold War era. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 241 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Day after Trump: American Strategy for a New International Order,” Washington Quarterly 41, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 7–25, [2] For distillations of these proclivities: Thomas Wright, “Trump’s 19th Century Foreign Policy,” Politico Magazine, Jan. 20, 2016,; Colin Kahl and Hal Brands, “Trump’s Grand Strategic Train Wreck,” Foreign Policy, Jan. 31, 2017, On the gap between the president’s views and his administration’s policy statements, particularly the 2017 National Security Strategy, see: Peter Beinart, “Trump Doesn’t Seem to Buy His Own National Security Strategy,” Atlantic, Dec. 19, 2017,; Hal Brands, “Trump Doesn’t Believe in His Own Foreign Policy. Does That Matter?” Foreign Policy, Jan. 16, 2018,; Rebecca Friedman Lissner, “The National Security Strategy Is Not a Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, Dec. 19, 2017, [3] Micah Zenko and Rebecca Friedman Lissner, “Trump Is Going to Regret Not Having a Grand Strategy,” Foreign Policy, Jan. 13, 2017,; Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Micah Zenko, “There Is No Trump Doctrine, and There Will Never Be One,” Foreign Policy, July 21, 2017, [4] Stephen Wertheim, “Quit Calling Donald Trump an Isolationist. He’s Worse Than That,” Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2017, [5] Jeffrey Goldberg, “A Senior White House Official Defines the Trump Doctrine: ‘We’re America, Bitch,’” Atlantic, June 11, 2018, [6] The term “grand strategic deficit” is borrowed from John Lewis Gaddis: John Lewis Gaddis, “What Is Grand Strategy?” (Karl von der Heyden Distinguished Lecture, Duke University, Feb. 26, 2009). [7] Nina Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (2018),; Thierry Balzacq, Peter Dombrowski, and Simon Reich, “Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay,” Security Studies, Oct. 1, 2018, [8] For in-depth conceptual analyses, see: Lukas Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought (Oxford University Press, 2016); Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy.’[9] According to Earle: “Strategy is the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation — or a coalition of nations — including its armed forces, to the end that its vital interests shall be effectively promoted and secured against enemies, actual, potential, or merely presumed. The highest type of strategy — sometimes called grand strategy — is that which so integrates the policies and armaments of the nation that the resort to war is either rendered unnecessary or is undertaken with the maximum chance of victory.” Edward Mead Earle, “Introduction,” in Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, ed. Edward Mead Earle, Gordon A. Craig, and Felix Gilbert (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1944), viii. For his part, Liddell Hart offered this definition: “Grand strategy should both calculate and develop the economic resources and manpower of nations in order to sustain the fighting services. Also the moral resources — for to foster the peoples’ willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power. ... Moreover, fighting power is but one of the instruments of grand strategy — which should take account of and apply the power of financial pressure, of diplomatic pressure, of commercial pressure, and, not least of ethical pressure, to weaken the opponent’s will... It should not only combine the various instruments, but so regulate their use as to avoid damage to the future state of peace — of its security and prosperity.” See: Basil Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Praeger, 1967), 322. [10] Paul Kennedy, “Grand Strategy in War and Peace: Toward a Broader Definition,” in Grand Strategies in War and Peace, ed. Paul Kennedy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 5. [11] Posen proffers a slightly different formulation in Restraint: “A grand strategy is a nation-state’s theory about how to produce security for itself.” Barry R. Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 1. [12] Hal Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 3. [13] Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 19–23. [14] Lawrence Freedman, “The Meaning of Strategy, Part I: The Origins,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (November 2017),; Lawrence Freedman, “The Meaning of Strategy, Part II: The Objectives,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 2 (February 2018),; Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought. [15] Liddell Hart, Strategy, 321. On the distinction between military strategy and grand strategy, see: Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 19–21. Nevertheless, this distinction can be muddled by scholars who operationalize grand strategy as military strategy; Balzacq et al. call this the “classicist tradition of grand strategy.” Balzacq, Dombrowski, and Reich, “Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay,” 11–14. [16] An exception to the means-ends conception of strategy is that used by game theorists. When Thomas Schelling employed the word “strategy,” he clarified: “The term ‘strategy’ is taken, here, from the theory of games … The term is intended to focus on the interdependence of the adversaries’ decisions and on their expectations about each other’s behavior. This is not the military usage.” Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 3 fn 1. [17] Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 21. [18] Statecraft lacks a widely accepted definition but is frequently invoked in the context of particular instruments of national power, such as “economic statecraft.” [19] For example: Kennedy, “Grand Strategy in War and Peace: Toward a Broader Definition”; Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy?; William C. Martel, Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice: The Need for an Effective American Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought. [20] For instance: the “grand plans” camp is exemplified by the work of military historians such as Paul Kennedy and Basil Liddell Hart, as well as iconic government documents like National Security Council Paper 68 (NSC68) and Eisenhower’s Project Solarium; “grand principles” are manifest in studies that treat containment as a grand strategy, those that examine the strategic ideas of seminal leaders like John Quincy Adams, and the prescriptive literature on American grand strategy; and “grand patterns” are instantiated by the work of particular scholars, including Edward Luttwak and Christopher Layne, who are united less by their subject than their use of evidence. Silove even points to different conceptualizations of grand strategy within the oeuvre of a single prominent scholar, Hal Brands. Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 8. [21] Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 19. [22] Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 25–26. [23] Jeffrey W. Legro, Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 122–42; Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 112–53; Charles A. Kupchan, The Vulnerability of Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994). [24] Snyder, Myths of Empire, 66–112; Legro, Rethinking the World, 84–122; Dennis E. Showalter, "Total War for Limited Objectives: An Interpretation of Germany Grand Strategy," in Grand Strategies in War and Peace, ed. Kennedy, 105–25; Thomas U. Berger, Cultures of Antimilitarism: National Security in Germany and Japan (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); John S. Duffield, World Power Forsaken: Political Culture, International Institutions, and German Security Policy After Unification (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998). Glaser identifies Nazi Germany’s bid for power as a crucial case: Charles L. Glaser, Rational Theory of International Politics: The Logic of Competition and Cooperation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 221–27. [25] E.g., Stacie E. Goddard, “The Rhetoric of Appeasement: Hitler’s Legitimation and British Foreign Policy, 1938–39,” Security Studies 24, no. 1 (2015): 95–130,; Arthur A. Stein, “Domestic Constraints, Extended Deterrence, and the Incoherence of Grand Strategy: The United States, 1938–1950,” in The Domestic Bases of Grand Strategy, ed. Richard Rosecrance and Arthur A. Stein (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); Randall L. Schweller, Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), chap. 3. [26] Condoleezza Rice, “The Evolution of Soviet Grand Strategy,” in Grand Strategies in War and Peace, ed. Paul Kennedy, 145–67; Snyder, Myths of Empire, 212–55; Legro, Rethinking the World, 142–60. Matthew Evangelista, “Internal and External Constraints on Grand Strategy: The Soviet Case,” in The Domestic Bases of Grand Strategy, ed. Rosecrance and Stein; Chris Miller, The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016). [27] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 31. [28] Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural Realism after the Cold War,” International Security 25, no. 1 (Summer 2000): 24, [29] Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 2. For additional articulations of offensive realism: Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Fareed Zakaria, From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Peter Liberman, “The Spoils of Conquest,” International Security 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 125–53, [30] Robert Jervis, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30, no. 2 (January 1978): 167–214,; Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986); Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 1987); Snyder, Myths of Empire; Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 1999); Charles L. Glaser, “Realists as Optimists: Cooperation as Self-Help,” International Security 19, no. 3 (Winter 1994): 50–90, [31] Aaron L. Friedberg, The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895–1905 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 8. [32] Paul K. MacDonald and Joseph M. Parent, “Graceful Decline? The Surprising Success of Great Power Retrenchment,” International Security 35, no. 4 (Spring 2011): 7–44, [33] Gideon Rose, “Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy,” World Politics 51, no. 1 (1998): 144–72,; Colin Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Peter Trubowitz, Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011). [34] Zakaria, From Wealth to Power. [35] Trubowitz, Politics and Strategy. [36] Kevin Narizny, The Political Economy of Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2007). [37] I borrowed this metaphor from Gideon Rose: Rose, “Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy,” 147. [38] Trubowitz, Politics and Strategy, 97–105, 120–28. [39] Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2007); Patrick Porter, “Why America’s Grand Strategy Has Not Changed: Power, Habit and the U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment,” International Security 42, no. 4 (2018), [40] Porter traces the “habit of primacy” to the final years of World War II and argues that a primacy grand strategy was “interrupted only occasionally” since then. Porter, “Why America’s Grand Strategy Has Not Changed: Power, Habit and the U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment,” 9. Layne traces “strategic internationalism” to “at least 1940.” Layne, The Peace of Illusions, 7. [41] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (Simon & Schuster, 1994), chap. 2; Walter A. McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997); Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders. Walter Russell Mead goes beyond Kissinger’s dichotomy to propose four American traditions of grand strategy: Wilsonian, Hamiltonian, Jacksonian, and Jeffersonian. Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (New York: Random House, 2001). John Gaddis also identifies continuities in American grand-strategic culture, though in less taxonomic terms: John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). [42] Christopher Hemmer, American Pendulum: Recurring Debates in U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2015); Stephen Sestanovich, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). [43] Although Legro frames his argument in terms of ideas about international society rather than strategic culture, his work is a model for future study in this area: Legro, Rethinking the World. [44] Sara Plana, “Making Sense of Grand Strategy,” paper presented at the 2018 International Studies Association annual convention, 12–14. [45] Among political scientists who study leaders, only Dan Byman and Ken Pollack attribute grand-strategic choice to individuals. Others usefully develop the causal mechanisms linking leaders’ preferences and attributes with state behavior but focus on more narrowly construed dimensions of foreign policy. Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack, “Let Us Now Praise Great Men: Bringing the Statesman Back In,” International Security 25, no. 4 (Spring 2001): 107–46; Elizabeth N. Saunders, Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2011); Jessica L.P. Weeks, Dictators at War and Peace (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2014); Michael C. Horowitz, Allan C. Stam, and Cali M. Ellis, Why Leaders Fight (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [46] Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy?; Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016). [47] John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy (Penguin, 2018); Charles N. Edel, Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic (Cambrdige, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). [48] For elaborations on this problem, see: Balzacq, Dombrowski, and Reich, “Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay”; Silove, “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy’”; Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought. [49] I call these the first- and second-order dimensions of grand strategy. See: Rebecca Lissner, “Rethinking Grand Strategic Change,” paper presented at the 2018 International Studies Association annual convention. [50] Stephen Wertheim, “Grand Strategy: An American Power Politics,” in Rethinking Grand Strategy, ed. Elizabeth Borgwardt, Christopher McKnight-Nichols, and Andrew Preston (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). [51] Freedman, “The Meaning of Strategy, Part I: The Origins”; Freedman, “The Meaning of Strategy, Part II: The Objectives.” [52] Gaddis, “What Is Grand Strategy?” [53] Charles Hill, Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010); Linda Kulman, Teaching Common Sense: The Grand Strategy Program at Yale University (Prospecta Press, 2016). [54] Rumelt cited in: Walter A. McDougall, “Can the United States Do Grand Strategy?” Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Telegram, April 13, 2010,; Gaddis, On Grand Strategy, chap. 2. [55] Liddell Hart, Strategy, 321–22. [56] Timothy Andrews Sayle, “Defining and Teaching Grand Strategy,” Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Telegram, Jan. 15, 2011, [57] On strategic planning in a cross-national context, see: William I. Hitchcock, Melvyn P. Leffler, and Jeffrey W. Legro, eds., Shaper Nations: Strategies for a Changing World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016). [58] Jordan Tama, “Does Strategic Planning Matter? The Outcomes of U.S. National Security Reviews,” Political Science Quarterly 130, no. 4 (2015): 735–66, [59] James Goldgeier and Jeremi Suri, “Revitalizing the U.S. National Security Strategy,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 4 (2015): 35–55, On the relationship between the National Security Strategy and American grand strategy, see also: Hemmer, American Pendulum, 3–6. [60] Lissner, “The National Security Strategy Is Not a Strategy”; Richard Fontaine and Shawn Brimley, “Don’t Expect Too Much From Obama’s National Security Strategy,” Foreign Policy, Feb. 5, 2015,; Raphael S.  Cohen, “Why Strategies Disappoint—and How to Fix Them,” Lawfare, March 19, 2017, [61] Cohen, “Why Strategies Disappoint—and How to Fix Them”; Fontaine and Brimley, “Don’t Expect Too Much From Obama’s National Security Strategy.” [62] On the lack of reform, see: Raphael S. Cohen, Air Force Strategic Planning: Past, Present, and Future (RAND Corp., 2017),; Joe Gould, “QDR Dead in 2017 Defense Policy Bill,” DefenseNews, April 25, 2016, [63] Daniel W. Drezner, ed., Avoiding Trivia: The Role of Strategic Planning in American Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009); Andrew F. Krepinevich and Barry D. Watts, Regaining Strategic Competence (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2009),; Aaron L. Friedberg, “Strengthening U.S. Strategic Planning,” Washington Quarterly 31, no. 1 (Winter 2007–2008): 47–60,; Flournoy and Brimley, “Strategic Planning for US National Security: A Project Solarium for the 21st Century”; McDougall, “Can the United States Do Grand Strategy?[64] Leslie H. Gelb and Richard K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016), 365. See also: Richard K. Betts, “Is Strategy an Illusion?” International Security 25, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 5–50, [65] David M. Edelstein and Ronald R. Krebs, “Delusions of
Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs 94, no. 6 (November/December 2015), [66] Ionut Popescu, Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy: How American Presidents Succeed in Foreign Policy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 6. [67] Popescu, Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy, 19. [68] James Graham Wilson, The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). [69] Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski, The End of Grand Strategy: US Maritime Operations in the 21st Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018). [70] Hal Brands and Patrick Porter, “Why Grand Strategy Still Matters in a World of Chaos,” National Interest, Dec. 10, 2015, [71] Michael J. Green offers a good example of an evolutionary perspective on grand strategy. See his By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [72] Risa Brooks’s work provides a model for future scholarship. See: Shaping Strategy: The Civil-Military Politics of Strategic Assessment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008). [73] Although blueprints may emerge from a strategic planning process, the two are generally addressed separately in international relations literature, as those who attend to planning think that such a process should be open-ended whereas those who advocate a particular doctrine believe the “right answer” is already evident. [74] Hitchcock, Leffler, and Legro, eds., Shaper Nations. [75] Scholars on both sides of this debate agree that this is the core dimension of disagreement: Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America: The Case against Retrenchment,” International Security 37, no. 3 (2013): 10,; Barry R. Posen, “A New U.S. Grand Strategy,” Boston Review, July 1, 2014, As examples of the case for retrenchment, see: Posen, Restraint; Barry R. Posen, “Pull Back: The Case for a Less Activist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 1 (January/February 2013),; Barry R. Posen, “The Case for Restraint,” American Interest 3, no. 2 (2007): 7–32,; Stephen M. Walt, “Taming American Power,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 5 (September/October 2005): 105–20,; John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 4 (July/August 2016): 70,; Eugene Gholz, Daryl G. Press, and Harvey M. Sapolsky, “Come Home, America: The Strategy of Restraint in the Face of Temptation,” International Security 21, no. 4 (Spring 1997): 5–48,; Layne, The Peace of Illusions; Christopher Layne, “From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America’s Future Grand Strategy,” International Security 22, no. 1 (Summer 1997): 86–124,; Christopher A. Preble, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2011). [76] Brooks and Wohlforth provide a particularly nuanced parsing of these distinctions: Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) For additional examples of the variants of liberal hegemony, see: Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America”; Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Lean Forward: In Defense of American Engagement,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 1 (January/February 2013),; Robert J. Art, A Grand Strategy for America (Cornell University Press, 2003); Robert J. Lieber, Power and Willpower in the American Future: Why the United States Is Not Destined to Decline (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Robert J. Lieber, Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Eliot A. Cohen, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force (New York: Basic Books, 2017). [77] Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America,” 11. [78] Fareed Zakaria, “Trump Is Changing the International Order,” CNN, Jan. 27, 2017, [79] Hal Brands, “The Pretty Successful Superpower,” American Interest 12, no. 3 (November 2016), [80] Layne, The Peace of Illusions, 30. [81] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy.” [82] Posen, Restraint. [83] Hal Brands and Eric Edelman, “Avoiding a Strategy of Bluff: The Crisis of American Military Primacy,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2017, [84] Bruce W. Jentleson, “Strategic Recalibration: Framework for a 21st-Century National Security Strategy,” Washington Quarterly 37, no. 1 (2014): 115–36, [85] Paul B. Stares, Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [86] Richard Haass, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order (London: Penguin Press, 2017). [87] Thomas G. Weiss, Governing the World? Addressing Problems Without Passports (New York: Paradigm Publishers, 2014). [88] Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 19. [89] Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, chap. 2. [90] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy.” [91] On the influence of structural realists on the grand-strategy debate inside and outside the ivory tower, see: Hal Brands, “The Real Gap: Why Scholars and Policymakers Disagree,” American Interest 13, no. 1 (2017),; Hal Brands and Peter Feaver, “Saving Realism from the So-Called Realists,” Commentary, Aug. 14, 2017, On the debate over alignment between realist restrainers and the Trump administration, see: Stephen M. Walt, “The Foreign-Policy Establishment Reeks of Desperation,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 5, 2018,; Hal Brands, “Intellectuals Who Hate the ‘Blob’ Have a Lot in Common With Trump,” Bloomberg Opinion, Oct. 31, 2018, [92] Williamson Murray, “Thoughts on Grand Strategy,” in The Shaping of Grand Strategy: Policy, Diplomacy, and War, ed. Williamson Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich, and James Lacey (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 3–4. Emphasis added. Krasner makes a similar point: Stephen D. Krasner, “An Orienting Principle for Foreign Policy,” Policy Review, no. 163 (October/November 2010): 3, [93] Betts, “Is Strategy an Illusion?” 18. [94] On British grand strategy, see, for example: Michael Howard, “British Grand Strategy in World War I,” in Grand Strategies in War and Peace, ed. Paul Kennedy; Eliot A. Cohen, “Churchill and Coalition Strategy in World War II,” in Grand Strategies in War and Peace, ed. Paul Kennedy. On U.S. and Allied grand strategy, see footnote 44. [95] The literature on each is vast. On the Roman Empire, for example: Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979). For an alternate view: Kimberly Kagan, “Redefining Roman Grand Strategy,” Journal of Military History 70, no. 2 (2006): 333–62, On the British Empire, for example: Layne, The Peace of Illusions; Layne, “From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America’s Future Grand Strategy”; Charles P. Kindleberger, “International Public Goods without International Government,” American Economic Review 76, no. 1 (1986): 1–13; Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (Penguin, 2017). [96] For example: Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine, 24–25. [97] Silove makes a similar point in “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” 35–37. [98] On the value of an explicitly comparative approach: Balzacq, Dombrowski, and Reich, “Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay,” 28. [99] Brooks, Shaping Strategy; Popescu, Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy; Ionut C. Popescu, “Grand Strategy vs. Emergent Strategy in the Conduct of Foreign Policy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, no. 3 (2018): 438–60, [100] Hal Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump (Brookings Institution Press, 2018), chap. 4; Friedman Lissner and Rapp-Hooper, “The Day after Trump: American Strategy for a New International Order.” [101] Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “America Engaged,” Oct. 2, 2018, [102] For the introduction to a special issue of Security Studies devoted to this topic: Stacie E. Goddard and Ronald R. Krebs, “Rhetoric, Legitimation, and Grand Strategy,” Security Studies 24, no. 1 (2015): 11, [103] Ronald R. Krebs, Narrative and the Making of US National Security (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies in International Relations, 2015). [104] Ole R. Holsti, “Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Challenges to the Almond-Lippmann Consensus,” International Studies Quarterly 36, no. 4 (December 1992): 457–58, [105] Carroll Doherty, “7 Things to Know About Polarization in America,” Pew Research Center’s FactTank blog, June 12, 2014,; Shanto Iyengar, Gaurav Sood, and Yphtach Lelkes, “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization,” Public Opinion Quarterly 76, no. 3 (2012): 405–31,; Lilliana Mason, “‘I Disrespectfully Agree’: The Differential Effects of Partisan Sorting on Social and Issue Polarization,” American Journal of Political Science 59, no. 1 (January 2015): 128–45,; Alan I. Abramowitz and Steven Webster, “The Rise of Negative Partisanship and the Nationalization of U.S. Elections in the 21st Century,” Electoral Studies 41 (March 2016): 12–22, [106] Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Day After Trump,” working paper, December 2018. [107] Alexandra Guisinger and Elizabeth N. Saunders, “Mapping the Boundaries of Elite Cues: How Elites Shape Mass Opinion Across International Issues,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 2 (June 2017): 425–41,; Daniel W. Drezner, The Ideas Industry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). [108] Kenneth A. Schultz, “Perils of Polarization for U.S. Foreign Policy,” Washington Quarterly 40, no. 4 (2017): 7–28, [109] There are, of course, some notable contributions on China, for example: Alastair Iain Johnston, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Michael D. Swaine and Ashley J. Tellis, Interpreting China’s Grand Strategy: Past, Present, and Future (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2000),; Avery Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge: China’s Grand Strategy and International Security (Stanford University Press, Studies in Asian Security, 2005); M. Taylor Fravel, “Shifts in Warfare and Party Unity: Explaining China’s Changes in Military Strategy,” International Security 42, no. 3 (Winter 2017–2018): 37–83,; Sulmaan Wasif Khan, Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018). On Japan, see: Richard J. Samuels, Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, 2008); Michael J. Green, Japan’s Reluctant Realism: Foreign Policy Challenges in an Era of Uncertain Power (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Adam P. Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy: Abe the Evolutionary,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2015): 79–99, [110] Ziba Kashef, “Grand Strategy Program Celebrates 15 Years of Promoting Global Leadership,” YaleNews, Oct. 18, 2016, [111] E.g., King’s College London Centre for Grand Strategy, “About” page, n.d.,; “Introducing the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs,” Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, n.d., [112] Feaver also makes the case for grand strategy’s utility in bridging theory and practice: Peter Feaver, “What Is Grand Strategy and Why Do We Need It?” Foreign Policy, April 8, 2009, [113] Alexander L. George, Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1993); Stephen M. Walt, “Rigor or Rigor Mortis? Rational Choice and Security Studies,” International Security 23, no. 4 (Spring 1999): 5–48; Lawrence M. Mead, “Scholasticism in Political Science,” Perspectives on Politics 8, no. 2 (June 2010),; Francis J. Gavin, “Politics, History and the Ivory Tower–Policy Gap in the Nuclear Proliferation Debate,” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 4 (2012): 573–600,; Francis J. Gavin and James B. Steinberg, “Mind the Gap: Why Policymakers and Scholars Ignore Each Other, and What Should Be Done About It,” Carnegie Reporter 6, no. 4 (Spring 2012),; Daniel Byman and Matthew Kroenig, “Reaching Beyond the Ivory Tower: A How To Manual,” Security Studies 25, no. 2 (2016): 289–319,; Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch, “What Do Policymakers Want From Us? Results of a Survey of Current and Former Senior National Security Decision Makers,” International Studies Quarterly 58, no. 2 (2014),; Joseph S. Nye Jr., “Scholars on the Sidelines,” Washington Post, April 13, 2009,; Nicholas Kristof, “Professors, We Need You!” New York Times, Feb. 15, 2014, For a different view, see: Byman and Kroenig, “Reaching Beyond the Ivory Tower: A How To Manual,” 304. [114] Brands and Porter, “Why Grand Strategy Still Matters in a World of Chaos.” [115] Popescu begins to bridge the gap between corporate and state strategy by drawing on relevant business literature: Popescu, “Grand Strategy vs. Emergent Strategy in the Conduct of Foreign Policy.” [116] Thomas Wright, All Measures Short of War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017). [117] Eric Edelman and Gary Roughead, Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission (Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2018), 9, [118] Layne, The Peace of Illusions, 10–11; Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005). [119] For example: Wertheim, “Grand Strategy: An American Power Politics”; Thomas Meaney and Stephen Wertheim, “Grand Flattery: The Yale Grand Strategy Seminar,” Nation, May 28, 2012, [120] Reich and Dombrowski, The End of Grand Strategy, x–8; Popescu, Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy, chap. 1; Cohen, The Big Stick, 203–6. [121] Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 663 [post_author] => 193 [post_date] => 2018-08-14 05:00:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-14 09:00:56 [post_content] => In 2011 and 2012, Israel repeatedly indicated that it was fast approaching the point when it might take unilateral military action against Iran’s advancing nuclear program, before Iranian capabilities became resilient to an Israeli attack. In a shift from its previous policy, which characterized Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a global challenge, Israel now strongly indicated that it might be forced to take it upon itself to stop Iran’s nuclear advances — and that an attack could be imminent. Led and articulated almost exclusively by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — himself a former prime minister — this new posture created deep concern in Washington, where it was thought that an Israeli attack could ignite a regional war and jeopardize key U.S. interests. Indeed, Israel had created a war scare, which was designed to enhance its bargaining power with the United States. Israel then tried to leverage its enhanced position to get its senior ally to urgently make an explicit, credible, and binding commitment to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — by military force if necessary — beyond what President Barack Obama had already stated.[1] Israel effectively attempted to influence, and even force, the United States to realign according to Israeli interests and strategic constraints, thus producing one of the tensest periods in the history of the two countries’ relationship. Drawing on open-source material and original interviews with former senior Israeli and U.S. officials, this article seeks to explain the ultimate outcome of that strategic interaction. The overarching theme of international relations and foreign affairs pertains to actors’ efforts to shape their strategic environment and control outcomes. Alliances are one of the major tools states employ in this regard,[2] whether to accumulate power, deter adversaries,[3] pursue their quest for security in the international system,[4] or restrain others.[5] Although all alliances function “in the shadow of war,”[6] scholars distinguish between two major categories — defensive peacetime alliances and offensive wartime alliances. Whereas peacetime alliances are designed to aggregate military power to deter and prevent aggression, wartime alliances are formed to fight a common adversary. Of course, the same alliance can engage in defensive and offensive missions.[7] The 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerstone famously asserted that the United Kingdom had neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies but eternal and perpetual interests.[8] Indeed, at the core of alliance politics is the fact that no two states, including close allies, share eternal, perfectly overlapping interests.[9] Yet, alliances require some measure of commitment to use force. This means that alliance formation and management are shaped by a bargaining process animated by the willingness and ability of the actors involved to offer or extract credible commitments. Whether in the context of threats or promises, to be perceived as credible, commitments require self-enforcing obligations that visibly undercut an actor’s flexibility in a way that convinces another actor (friend or foe) that the one making the commitment is, without question, tied to a certain course of action. To appear credible, commitments require measures that decision-makers will often hesitate or refuse to take. These can include explicit public statements and inherently costly military moves, such as alerting forces, canceling leave for military personnel, and moving units closer to a potential theater of operations.[10] Classic, symmetric alliances between states of roughly equal capability are used as tools for aggregating capabilities against a threat, meaning that both partners receive security from their alliance.[11] To appear meaningful, allies engaged in symmetric alliances are required to undercut their own freedom of action through self-enforcing obligations and realignment according to their partner’s interests.[12] This renders alliances a source of concern for their members, who often fear that their allies’ preferences and interests might ultimately come at the expense of their own. A state entering into an alliance could become the victim of entrapment by an ally deliberately seeking to embroil it in war. Conversely, having trusted the ally and counted on its support, a state could be abandoned in a time of need.[13] Alliance commitments could also inadvertently embolden an otherwise risk-averse ally and result in what Glenn Snyder describes as an alliance security dilemma: This occurs when states provide an ally with too sweeping a reassurance in order to deter a third actor, only to become entrapped in war.[14] This inherent tension between allies’ interests and preferences constitutes the essence of alliance politics. These perceived problems are further exacerbated in asymmetric settings. If symmetric alliances provide their members with security, asymmetric alliances provide the weaker ally with security and the stronger partner with autonomy.[15] While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. Entrapment — or “chain-ganging” — looms large in such relationships, with both sides afraid of falling prey, albeit for different reasons. Having traded its autonomy, the weak ally fears that its partner’s military superiority provides overwhelming leverage and jeopardizes its independence.[16] By contrast, the senior ally worries that its counterpart might exploit its superior capabilities, initiate a crisis, and manipulate it into coming to its aid. This concern, however, appears greatly exaggerated given the variety of ways strong allies are capable of mobilizing their resources and exploiting their leverage to shield themselves from entrapment or rein in a weaker ally. Jeremy Pressman has found that when strong allies mobilize their superior resources to restrain a weaker ally, they prevail.[17] Also, powerful allies use their stronger bargaining power to introduce escape clauses into their alliance agreements and arm-twist their partners into compliance.[18] In this vein, Michael Beckley has found that, while the fear of entrapment may be prevalent in international relations literature, in reality, it is rare. Drawing on an extensive empirical analysis of the vast U.S. alliance network, Beckley has shown that the United States successfully dictates the terms of its security commitments.[19] This finding is congruent with Tongfi Kim’s argument that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power.[20] The historical record indicates that Israel, which greatly depends on the United States, fits into this pattern.[21] After all, as Henry Kissinger remarked, “For Israel to go to war at the known displeasure of the U.S. would be a monumental decision.”[22] [quote id="7"] This, of course, does not mean that weak allies lack ways of influencing their senior allies. As Robert Keohane has pointed out, superior capabilities do not guarantee full or automatic small-ally compliance with the interests and desires of senior allies. Weak allies are sometimes capable of exploiting mutual dependence to generate bargaining power. If the weaker ally is sufficiently important to its partner, it could deny benefits to its senior ally and even “threaten collapse if not aided sufficiently.”[23] Writing about the U.S. alliance system during the Cold War, Keohane argued that U.S. perception of its weak allies’ importance gave them “a degree of influential access to American decision-making and decision-makers far out of proportion to their size.”[24] Keohane identified three avenues through which America’s weaker allies shaped U.S. policy: formal state-to-state negotiations, bargaining with separable elements of the U.S. government, and using private interest groups to influence domestic public opinion.[25] Notably, Keohane focused on relatively limited small-power influence, and some scholars argue that entrapment has caused major wars, namely World War I, in which the European powers chain-ganged one another into disaster.[26] Israel’s relationship with the United States has attracted special scholarly attention given the power disparity between the two countries and Israel’s perceived capacity to punch above its weight. Expanding on Keohane’s work, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt attribute the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to its influence over Congress.[27] That the empirical record does not reveal unambiguous cases of entrapment is of little relevance or consolation for states fearing future entrapment. Leaders are afraid of becoming the exception to this rule. Moreover, the prevailing fear of being chain-ganged to a reckless ally can be deliberately manipulated by a weaker ally in a purposeful effort to bolster its bargaining position and improve the terms of the alliance. This effort could even have coercive attributes. Ultimately, this means tying the other ally into a stronger commitment and limiting its freedom of action. The literature on alliance politics so far has overlooked the manner in which a country might seek to deliberately exploit an ally’s fear of entrapment as an instrument of bargaining. This article tells the story of just that. The episode analyzed in this article offers an exceptional opportunity to advance an understanding of coercive bargaining in an asymmetric alliance. After all, Israel and the United States are considered extremely close, and both were opposed to Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. When it came to confronting the Iranian challenge, however, not only did their interests, constraints, and preferences not overlap, but the issue was also one in which the stakes were extremely high for both sides — potentially even existential for Israel. This led both parties — perhaps Israel more than the United States — to bring their influence to bear on the other. In this article, I offer a rigorous examination of the strategic interaction and the intense bargaining that took place between Israel and the United States in 2011 and 2012. Ultimately, neither country attacked Iran, but this result was not preordained. Nor was Tehran’s and Washington’s preparedness to engage in direct diplomacy inevitable, though this led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nonetheless, this outcome cannot be fully understood without first understanding the strategic interaction that preceded diplomacy. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this topic is of acute relevance.

Israeli and U.S. Perspectives on the Iranian Nuclear Question

Different states, including close allies, do not view threats in the same way. Interests and preferences in international politics diverge because all countries operate under disparate strategic circumstances, confront different threats, possess specific military capabilities to cope with those threats, and face unique constraints. Allies are no different. Rarely will allies feel equally threatened by the same challenge. These structural tensions were on full display over the Iran nuclear issue. Although Israel and the United States generally shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining military nuclear capability, the prospect of a nuclear Iran posed a graver threat to Israel than to the militarily preponderant and geographically distant United States. The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Importantly, they differed on what constituted the nuclear threshold. For Israel, the threshold represented the stage at which Iran — having hardened and dispersed its nuclear program to render it resilient to an Israeli strike — could, if it so chose, “break out” and produce a bomb in a short period of time. For Obama, however, the threshold represented not Iran’s potential to break out, but the act itself.[28] The United States had been imposing sanctions on Iran unilaterally since 1979 and through the U.N. Security Council since 2006. However significant and painful for Iran, these sanctions were nonetheless relatively limited in scope, focusing primarily on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.[29] Israel, however, called for the urgent imposition of far-reaching sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector. In early 2010, for example, Netanyahu demanded that “crippling sanctions” be imposed “right now.”[30] [quote id="1"] Although Obama had entered the White House determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including, he said, with military force if necessary, he was determined to achieve this outcome through diplomacy and direct engagement.[31] As part of this approach, the U.S. financial pressure campaign on Iran, begun in 2006, was put on hold in 2009 and not fully resumed until mid-2010.[32] Weeks into his presidency, having already secretly reached out to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the election campaign, Obama sent two additional letters to Khamenei. While Iran’s leader responded to Obama’s first letter, he never replied to the second letter, in which the president had proposed direct talks between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.[33] Meanwhile, quiet efforts were being exerted by Oman to establish a secret line of communication between the United States and Iran. While Oman’s efforts with the State Department reached an impasse, Sen. John Kerry used Oman to convey messages to Tehran in 2011 and the first half of 2012.[34] Israel, which had picked up on these secret contacts and found them troubling, leaked them to the Israeli press in April 2012.[35] As Barak would later tell this author, “We knew quite a bit about the informal, indirect contacts between the Americans and the Iranians. ... I was very concerned that the American tone was not sufficiently clear so as to bring the Iranians to a decision.”[36] It was not until March 2013, however, that a direct and permanent diplomatic back-channel in Oman was established between Iran and the United States.[37] All this time, Iran continued to develop its uranium enrichment capabilities. In late September 2009, Obama publicly disclosed that Tehran had been constructing a secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant near Fordow, a village northeast of the city of Qom.[38] This “constituted the final straw for the administration, which now had no choice but to go into pressure mode again,” according to former senior Treasury official Juan Zarate. In the fall of 2009, Obama sought to restart the financial pressure campaign on Iran but decided to first seek a new U.N. resolution mandating tougher sanctions — a process that lasted several months.[39] In June 2010, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which constituted the strictest round of sanctions up to that point. The resolution noted “the potential connection between Iran’s revenues derived from its energy sector and the funding of Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”[40] This language would eventually pave the way for a full EU embargo on Iranian oil.[41] It was against the backdrop of increasingly aggressive international pressure on Iran that the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. Placing significant new restrictions on Iran’s energy sector, the legislation stipulated that banks conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran could not do business in the United States.[42] Still, at this stage in 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department was pursuing a “gradualist constriction campaign” designed to avoid “blunt steps that would upset the balance of the international financial system” or cause U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, who depended heavily on Iranian oil imports, to resist cooperation with tougher sanctions.[43] As I discuss later in this article, additional pressure would be needed to influence the White House to unleash measures long referred to by the Treasury as the “final bullet” and “the nuclear weapon” in its arsenal: an oil embargo and sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.[44] At least part of this pressure and its outcome can be attributed to Israeli influence. Divergence of Interests Within the U.S.-Israel Alliance In November 2011, Israeli Defense Minister Barak began stressing that, in less than a year, “probably three-quarters,” Iran’s nuclear program would enter a “zone of immunity,” effectively rendering it resilient to an Israeli attack.[45] Unlike Israel, the United States possessed advanced munitions capable of penetrating Iran’s fortified installations, as well as the bomber jets to deliver them. Therefore, the United States would remain capable of executing a decisive military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities long after they had become invulnerable to an Israeli assault. Or, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Barak, whereas Israel could give the Iranians only “a black eye,” the United States had the military capability to “deliver the knockout punch” and “take out Fordow.”[46] The two allies were thus operating on different timetables. In March 2012, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu warned,
Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.[47]
Days later, he explained, “The biggest difference is between the American clock ... and the Israeli clock,” adding that, “America is big and far away; we aren’t as big and are more nearby. We have different capabilities — nothing to belittle — but nonetheless different.”[48] Washington’s opposition to a military strike was driven by indisputable strategic constraints. The United States was engaged militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. With two military commitments already underway, Obama — now entering an election year — was averse to risking a third war involving an oil-rich country in a particularly sensitive part of the world, with potentially ominous implications for global energy markets. As the United States was well aware, these constraints were not lost on Israel. In August 2012, the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, ran a front-page report by its two most senior columnists in which they argued that, if it were up to Netanyahu and Barak, a military strike would take place “before the November elections in the United States.”[49] Obama was therefore particularly vulnerable to Israeli manipulation and exploitation. According to former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, “The perception in Washington was that the Israeli leadership — especially Netanyahu — saw their leverage as greatest in the run-up to the 2012 elections.”[50] The United States was clearly concerned that its junior ally might simply present it with a fait accompli, a worry exacerbated by Israel’s determination to keep the United States at arm’s length. In March 2012, after a U.S. official had already warned, “We don’t have perfect visibility” into Israel’s arsenal or calculations,[51] the Washington Post cited U.S. officials as noting that “no formal agreement has been reached with Israel over how a strike would be conducted — or when Obama would be informed about it.” Other officials added that the “assumption inside the White House and the Pentagon is that Israel would not give the United States warning, allowing the administration to deny prior knowledge but also limiting its ability to defend U.S. military assets in the region.”[52] [quote id="2"] From a U.S. perspective, if Israel was indeed planning unilateral action in a deliberate attempt to entrap the United States in the ensuing conflict, the question of whether Israel possessed the military capability to achieve a substantial delay in Iran’s nuclear program was of less importance. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has noted that if Israel attacked the “disbursed and hardened” Iranian nuclear program, “there would be many of us in government thinking that the purpose of the raid wasn’t to destroy the Iranian nuclear system, but the purpose of the raid was to put us at war with Iran.”[53] Indications of U.S. fear of entrapment appeared in real time. In February 2012, a front-page New York Times article cited defense analysts in Washington as questioning “whether Israel even has the military capacity” to attack Iran. The report said, “One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America’s far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks.”[54] The following month, Panetta told U.S. troops that “if Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want.”[55] Was Israel indeed contemplating such an attack only to embroil its senior ally in a war? It seems that way. According to Barak, in the summer of 2012 he was approached by a Netanyahu confidant who sounded him out on launching a strike on Iran two weeks before the U.S. elections. Barak recalls the person explaining that, politically, Obama would feel “compelled to support Israel’s action, or at the very least to refrain from criticizing it. In other words, we would be setting a political trap for the president of the United States.”[56] From a U.S. standpoint, Israel was militarily capable of dodging its surveillance capabilities and presenting it with an established fact. Panetta, who had served as CIA director before being appointed secretary of defense, noted in this regard that, although the United States “had sources that could provide some pretty good intelligence on whether or not that kind of attack was being prepared for,” a country “as sophisticated as Israel” could have found ways to “effectively cover up that kind of possibility, because they know that we have those kinds of sources.”[57] Daniel B. Shapiro, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, added, “We were pretty certain that if they didn't give us warning we would not have advance warning. They were fully capable of surprising the U.S. and give us not more than an hour or two’s notice."[58] While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. Jerusalem was especially concerned that, as Tehran’s nuclear program became increasingly dispersed and resilient, Israel would become dependent upon others — namely the United States — for the elimination of a potentially existential threat. Yet, this was precisely what Israel’s senior ally was asking. As Panetta would later write, “Israel had to trust that we would act if the time came, that we would not flinch at the moment of truth even if the graver threat was not to the United States but to Israel. That’s a lot of trust to place in an ally, even a close and historic ally.”[59] From Israel’s perspective, even if Obama was sincere about not removing any option from the table, he was still, in a sense, bluffing. As Barak reported telling Obama in 2012,
There are no future contracts in statesmanship. There’s no way that you, or any leader, can commit yourself to what will happen in a year or two. When the moment of decision arrives, nothing will be able to free you from your responsibility to look at the situation as it is then, with American interests in mind.
Barak further told Obama that when “it comes to issues critical for the security and future of Israel, and in a way for the security of the Jewish people … we can’t afford to delegate responsibility even to our best friend and ally.” Alluding to the United States, Barak went on to stress: “Our problem, Mr. President, is that we can’t be sure our friend will show up.”[60] From Israel’s vantage point, if Israel were ever to lose its credible military option against Iran, it “would no longer be an actor” in the Iranian context.[61] In other words, having lost its military options, leverage, and bargaining power, Israel’s interests would become less of a factor, including in U.S. policy considerations. As Barak later put it, while stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was a “vital interest” for Israel, it was only “an important interest” for the United States.[62] Given the stakes for each country, this made for an impossible situation for both sides. With limited direct leverage over Iran, Israel sought to harness the militarily superior United States in the service of forcing Tehran to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and risking devastating economic sanctions and possibly even a military attack. Israel thus sought to limit Obama’s flexibility and wrest an explicit, credible U.S. commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — in other words, a commitment Iran would take seriously. Of course, given the prerequisites for credibility in international relations, Obama was essentially being asked by the United States’ junior ally to restrict his maneuverability and control. This perception was precisely why the Obama administration resisted Israel’s efforts. Israel’s leaders proceeded to present the United States with two explicit demands. First, Israel wanted Washington to lead an international effort to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran. As noted, Israel demanded broad sanctions that would go beyond those that had already been implemented. Jerusalem wanted sanctions that would cripple Iran’s energy and financial sectors. To prod its ally into action, Israel’s defense minister declared in November 2011, “We are probably facing the last opportunity for internationally coordinated deadly sanctions that will force Iran to stop.” Specifically, Barak called for “sanctions on the financial transactions, on the ability to carry out international financial deals, including the Central Bank, sanctions that stop — physically if needed — the import and export of oil and refinements.”[63] That Israel was expecting the United States to lead this effort was reflected in the words of a “senior Israeli official” cited the next day as having said, “The name of the game now is the ability of U.S. President Obama to gather the leaderships of important countries such as Germany, France, Canada, and Australia in a coalition, and rein in Russia and China to impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran.”[64] That same demand was repeated in a coercive, yet informal, fashion, which implicitly threatened to entrap the United States in a conflict with Iran: Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said Israel was communicating an “important signal” to Washington, Moscow, and Beijing: “Either you impose truly painful sanctions to block Iran’s race to a bomb, with minimum cost to all of us, or we will be forced to act and then we will all pay the price.”[65] Coming from a well-connected analyst, these words almost certainly reflected a briefing by a senior official. Second, Israel expected the United States to establish a credible military threat against Iran or, in the words of Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, to take measures that would make “the Iranian regime understand that if it does not stop its military nuclear program someone will attack it.”[66] Referring to the U.S. position toward Iran, an Israeli official asked, “There are a lot of general statements they [the United States] think we want to hear… How are the Iranians to understand that if they don’t stop then they will eventually get hit?”[67] On another occasion, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times, in reference to the Obama administration, that “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they [the Iranians] have to hear it publicly and clearly.”[68] From Israel’s standpoint, a credible U.S. military threat that Iran would take seriously required a credible Israeli military threat that the United States would take seriously.

A History of the Iran Debate Before October 2011

Israeli concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of nuclear-weapons capability dates to the 1990s. Although in subsequent years, especially during President George W. Bush’s second term, U.S. concern would emerge regarding the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, no stage was as intense and urgent as that of late 2011. Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. Nor had the United States engaged in such forceful dissuasion efforts toward Israel as it would in the period discussed in this article. Although Iran’s perceived quest for military nuclear capability had long been a topic of debate and concern, Israel deliberately presented it as a global challenge rather than a challenge for Israel alone. Israeli policy maintained that the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be led by the entire international community.[69] At the same time, however, Israel was also investing in a military option against Iran. In mid-2008, media reports began to emerge about atypically large-scale, Israeli aerial exercises. These were widely interpreted as rehearsals for a preventive strike on Iran. But if these drills were designed to create the impression that Israel might be preparing to target Iran, such intentions were undercut by statements that Israel was still giving precedence to diplomacy and economic sanctions and that it would not surprise its U.S. ally with a unilateral military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In May 2008, Bush reportedly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request for a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.[70] That same month, Israel presented the United States with several arms requests, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates saw as presaging a military attack on Iran. “I recommended saying no to all the Israelis’ requests,” Gates later recalled. “Giving them any of the items on their new list would signal U.S. support for them to attack Iran unilaterally.”[71] Gates also worried that U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s arms requests would have provided it with a dangerous degree of autonomy to act independently against Iran and thus grant it leverage over the United States. “I said we would be handing over the initiative regarding U.S. vital national interests to a foreign power,” he noted.[72] Gates believes it was “probably not coincidental” that on June 2, 2008, the Israeli Air Force conducted a major exercise that included more than a hundred fighter jets, helicopters, and refueling tankers.[73] On June 20, the New York Times reported the unusual Israeli aerial mission and cited U.S. officials as describing the exercise, in which the planes had flown from Israel to Greece and back, as a multi-pronged Israeli signal. “They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” a Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”[74] Whether the exercise was intended as an Israeli signal to its principal ally, it was perceived as such in Washington. As Gates later wrote,
The Israelis held a military exercise they knew would be monitored by many nations. … The distance the fighters flew was 862 nautical miles. The distance from the Israeli airfield to the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was 860 nautical miles. Israel wanted to signal that it was prepared for a strike and could carry it out.[75]
At the same time, however, U.S. officials ruled out an imminent Israeli attack on Iran.[76] Moreover, Israel signaled it would adhere to diplomacy,[77] confirming that military action was not in the offing.[78] Still, Israel’s efforts to establish a military option persisted. In 2009, a French weekly revealed that the Israeli Air Force carried out another large-scale military rehearsal — this time, over the Strait of Gibraltar, some 1,800 miles from Israel.[79] However, an Israeli intelligence official commenting on the matter just two weeks before the French report said that it was unlikely Israel would attack Iran without receiving at least tacit U.S. approval.[80] Moreover, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remarked that Israel would not attack Iran militarily even if sanctions failed. Saying that the most effective means to stop Iran were “severe sanctions, very severe sanctions,” he added, “We are not talking about a military attack.” Towing Israel’s official line, Lieberman stressed, “Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world's problems. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, assume responsibility for resolving the Iranian question.”[81] [quote id="3"] That Israel was honing its military option undoubtedly generated concern in Washington. But still, this was a general worry about the possibility that Israel would ultimately feel compelled to act unilaterally. At times, this broad concern led the United States into taking greater risks than it may have otherwise in order to reassure and restrain the Israelis. One such example is Operation Olympic Games (“Stuxnet”), in which the United States and Israel joined forces in a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. Although not the only reason, anxiety about the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran reportedly played an important role in persuading the United States to engage in the attack.[82] On March 31, 2009, Netanyahu returned to the office of prime minister, a post he had left a decade earlier. Unlike his predecessors, who portrayed Iran as a global challenge, Netanyahu described Iran as analogous to Nazi Germany.[83] As prime minister, Netanyahu would gradually “take ownership” of the Iranian issue. In 2009 and 2010, however, Israel remained committed to working together with the United States to deal with the perceived Iranian threat.[84] In July 2010, Obama was asked whether Israel might unilaterally attack Iran. He responded that Netanyahu was “committed” to a coordinated approach.[85] A year later, when Shapiro began his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel, he too found that the two countries’ national security establishments shared a “coordinated approach” toward Iran.[86] This would change within three months.

Israel’s Pressure Campaign: Generating a War Scare

The possibility of an Israeli military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities had long been a topic of speculation and concern.[87] This is not surprising given Israel’s history of preventing other countries in the Middle East from developing nuclear capability, as well as the sort of military exercises described above. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force conducted a surprise attack in which it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant at Osirak. In 2007, Israel carried out a similar attack, this time destroying a nuclear facility secretly being built in Syria.[88] The Iranian case is factually different — Israel never attacked. But it is also qualitatively different: Rather than attacking, Israel deliberately created the impression of an impending unilateral attack and then harnessed this perception in a deliberate effort to limit Obama’s flexibility, influence U.S. policy, and alter Iran’s strategic calculus. It was not until late 2011, however, that general concern about an Israeli attack on Iran turned into genuine alarm. As one television report in Israel put it, “After years of just threats, it seems that the ground has started to shake.”[89] U.S. intelligence agencies detected stepped-up activity by the Israeli military that appeared to presage a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.[90] On Oct. 3, 2011, Panetta arrived in Israel for what was described as an “urgent discussion” on Iran.[91] That the main impetus for his trip was U.S. alarm about a potential Israeli strike was reflected in Panetta’s public statement in Israel that “the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis.”[92] The United States and Israel, he added, must confront all challenges “together.”[93] In his private meetings, Panetta demanded — and was refused — early warning in the event that Israel decided to attack.[94] The U.S. sense of urgency manifested in numerous other ways. In early November, a U.S. military official said that Washington had enhanced its “watchfulness” of both Israel and Iran.[95] The United States then bolstered its contingency military planning in the Middle East and augmented its intelligence-gathering on Israel. Obama, Panetta, and other top officials conveyed a string of private messages to Israel, warning of the “dire consequences of a strike.”[96] In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies began to closely monitor Israel’s military bases and eavesdrop on its secret communications for indications of a forthcoming strike. The United States detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for a strike.[97] Other U.S. surveillance activities included spying on the prime minister’s office and hacking into Israeli drone and fighter-jet surveillance feeds in search of indications of preparations for a strike.[98] In December 2011, Shapiro drafted a cable in which he later recalled stressing that the United States “could not in any way rule out the possibility” of an uncoordinated Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.[99] That month, Panetta publicly warned that if Israel attacked Iran,
The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases. ... the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.[100]
In January 2012, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon informed Panetta that Obama’s twin foreign policy goals for that year were to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and “to avoid a war in the Middle East,”[101] the latter being the scenario the administration feared would result from an Israeli strike.[102] As senior New York Times correspondent David Sanger wrote, the “outbreak of a public debate in Israel over whether to strike soon clearly shook the Obama administration.”[103] In February 2012, Panetta spoke of a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike before June.[104] It was against this backdrop that the Associated Press wrote, “For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear program, world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent.”[105] This sense of urgency was confirmed in later interviews with multiple senior Obama administration officials, including Panetta,[106] Deputy Secretary of State William Burns,[107] National Security Council member and senior Obama adviser Gary Samore,[108] and Shapiro.[109] The following section analyzes the various tactics Israel employed to create the perception of an impending military strike, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and limit Obama’s room to maneuver. 

How Israel Generated and Harnessed the War Scare

This section explores the primary methods by which Israel exacerbated the Obama administration’s concerns and led its senior ally to infer that a unilateral military assault on Iran could be imminent. Military Moves Designed to Be Picked Up by U.S. Intelligence Israel’s efforts to manipulate Washington into thinking a strike could be imminent included sensitive military activities designed to be intercepted by the United States, as well as actions bearing an intelligence signature too noticeable to conceal. For example, according to one Israeli report citing multiple sources, Israel carried out a significant covert measure in early October 2011 that pertained to the “diplomatic-security” realm, and was widely perceived by the sources as a sign that preparations for an attack had “shifted up a gear.”[110] The report did not detail the exact nature of the covert measure, but, since then, it has been revealed that, in 2011, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were ordered to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days.[111] It was also in late 2011 that U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly had detected Israeli aircraft entering and exiting Iran’s airspace, supposedly probing the country’s air defenses. This appeared to be a dry run for a commando raid on a nuclear site and was sufficiently alarming to merit the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the region.[112] On another occasion, multiple U.S. intelligence sources said the United States had learned that Israel, through a series of quiet understandings, had been granted access to airbases across Iran’s northern border in Azerbaijan.[113] Barak himself would later acknowledge instances in which Israel was “on the verge” of an attack and units “had entered a state of preparedness,”[114] but a senior military analyst later revealed that some of these instances “were designed to motivate the U.S. administration and the Europeans to increase the pressure on Iran and bring the Americans to a stage in which they would wield a military option and would be ready to use it.”[115] Tamir Pardo, then-director of the Mossad, similarly raised the possibility that, when he was instructed in 2011 by the prime minister to enter a state of preparedness and stand ready for an attack on Iran within 15 days, Netanyahu was “signaling” to the United States “to do something.”[116] Given that the United States, as Panetta later noted, had “fail-safe methods of determining whether or not in fact planes and pilots and crews were all being prepared for action,”[117] Washington was likely receiving real-time indications of such activities. Barak later admitted that Israel was acting on the premise that Washington was capable of monitoring its activities and that the United States inferred from Israel’s intelligence efforts that “we were getting ready.”[118] Explaining the perception of an imminent strike, Barak said, “The atmosphere was a reflection of our actual real preparations. The Americans were following us, watching what we were doing and what the Air Force was rehearsing.”[119] Strict Secrecy to Achieve Message Discipline  A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences — namely Israel’s defense establishment, the cabinet, and the United States — at arm’s length. From Barak’s vantage point, keeping Israel’s establishment in the dark was crucial for the success of the campaign. Israel’s security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike, and, as Barak would later reveal, he and Netanyahu knew that some of them were talking to their U.S. counterparts “on a daily basis.”[120] By holding their cards extremely close, Netanyahu and Barak prevented leaks, maximized their message control, enhanced their credibility and bargaining leverage, and kept their various audiences guessing. Barak and Netanyahu made all cabinet members sign an additional protocol of secrecy prohibiting them not only from making statements on Iran but also from giving strictly-off-record briefings.[121] As National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror put it, “Nothing leaked because … the ministers knew nothing.” Although Amidror claims to have been one of a handful of Israelis who were truly in the know, his statement that “I personally believe they were serious, I truly believed they were not bluffing” implies that the national security adviser, too, was in the dark about Netanyahu and Barak’s actual intentions.[122] And he was not the only senior Israeli official to find himself in that position. Asked in January 2012 whether Netanyahu and Barak were truly serious about an attack, a “very high-ranking intelligence source,” likely the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, replied, “I don’t know, there are only two people who know the answer to this question, and they are Netanyahu and Barak.”[123] Two months later, a senior Israeli official said of the two men, “Together, they control this issue.”[124] [quote id="4"] When asked about the possibility that a unilateral attack was never truly intended to take place, then-Mossad Director Pardo retrospectively admitted, “The same doubts that you raise now — I had them all along.” Pardo hypothesized that “a deception at this level requires that no more than one or two people be in the loop,” meaning that, if the Israeli campaign was intentionally deceptive, the deception was conducted either by “the prime minister alone, or the prime minister and Barak. And all the rest, including yours truly, were among those who were being duped.”[125] Even if Pardo had his doubts and, referring to the possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack, “did not believe that this could happen,” he still admits that when the prime minister “tells me to commence the countdown, you realize that he is not playing games with you. These things [entering a state of preparedness] have enormous implications. It’s not something he is allowed to do only as a drill.”[126] Cabinet member Dan Meridor, who served as Israel’s intelligence minister at the time, and theoretically should have been in the know, admitted that he had “spent nights and days” with the intelligence chiefs “asking ourselves what was going to happen. … I could not just assume that it was all a show.”[127] Amos Gilead, then-Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense, similarly admits that “we will never be able to know” if Netanyahu and Barak “really meant it,” although “according to every parameter they acted as if they did.”[128] Beyond the message clarity gained by such tactics, this information asymmetry made it significantly more difficult for the United States to affect Israel’s decision-making. Israeli Refusal to Provide Advance Warning Diplomacy was the basic means by which Israel first indicated to the United States the shift in its approach toward the Iranian issue and its refusal to coordinate its moves with its senior ally. In November 2011, a top U.S. military official said that Israeli reassurances to Washington that it would receive early warning if Israel decided to strike Iran no longer seemed “ironclad.”[129] This implies that Israel had previously provided such an assurance to the United States.[130] Later that month, when Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if Israel would alert the United States ahead of an attack on Iran, he replied, “I don’t know.”[131] In January 2012, the United States received yet another powerful signal when Barak informed Panetta of Israel’s decision to call off a joint military exercise scheduled for May. A biography of Barak claims that this exercise was delayed ahead of a “decisive session” regarding Iran.[132] In his memoir, Panetta recalls pressing Barak “to reconsider the cancellation,” to which the Israeli defense minister replied that, although Israel had not yet made a decision about whether to strike Iran, “I can’t in good conscience hide the fact from our best ally that we are discussing it.”[133] Barak later recalled, “Panetta realized that Israel was serious, and asked for a two-week early warning. I told him, no. Not two weeks, and not even 24 hours. However, I did tell Panetta that we would give them a sufficiently long early warning so as to not jeopardize any American soldier in the Middle East.”[134] Whereas the cancellation was likely designed to alarm Washington, an entirely different signal was conveyed to the Israeli public. Domestically, the cancellation was falsely portrayed as a joint decision resulting from U.S. budgetary constraints and a mutual desire to avoid sending a bellicose signal to Iran.[135] Two days later, Barak told IDF Radio that an Israeli decision to attack Iran was “very far off.”[136] In other words, Barak tailored different signals to different target audiences. If Israel had intended to set off alarm bells in Washington and manipulate its anticipation of violence, it succeeded. Within days, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff landed in Israel for high-level discussions,[137] and Panetta told the Washington Post that there was a “strong likelihood” of an Israeli attack on Iran before spring 2012.[138] Media Campaign Israel’s public media campaign dates to Oct. 12, 2011, a day when the entire Israeli media agenda was dominated by the dramatic announcement of a prisoner-exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas. One particular analysis stands out: In a column with the headline “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot veteran military analyst Alex Fishman argued that the main impetus behind the prisoner swap was Netanyahu’s desire to “clear the desk” and “set the stage for something different, bigger, and more important.” When one looks for signs of worry in Netanyahu and Barak, Fishman continued, “it somehow always has to do with Iran. … What is happening exactly with respect to the Iranian issue? It is unclear. But it is clear that this is going to be the next hot story.”[139] Fishman’s column was the bellwether of an official effort to spark an intense public debate about Iran.[140] An especially interesting case in point is the apparent use of the daily Yisrael Hayom, known for its intimate ties to Netanyahu, as a signaling device. In March 2012, the paper published as its banner headline a lengthy opinion column by its editor-in-chief, Amos Regev, who strongly advocated for an Israeli attack. The article concluded, “With the Americans or without them, it will be hard. It will be bold. It is doable.” A photo of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz accompanied the article.[141] Alarmed by the column, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn posted a reaction piece later that morning in which he argued that Netanyahu’s signals “are indeed preparations for war and not a bluff,” adding that Regev “is writing what Netanyahu cannot say in speeches.”[142] International media outlets also played a role in Israel’s pressure campaign. In January 2012, the New York Times Sunday supplement dedicated its cover story to the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran. The article, by well-connected Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, concluded, “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”[143] The following day, Bergman’s conclusion prompted a debate in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Asked about the article, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper commented that this “is a matter that we are very, very concerned about.”[144] Clapper, who later characterized the Israeli campaign as an “attempt to pressure the United States,” suspected the article was in some way an Israeli initiative:
When you’ve got rhetoric like that, you have to wonder how did that article get planted. The Israelis know us, they play us like a fiddle. They know how our Congress works — they play to that. They know how our media works — they influence that. So, sure, every time you have rhetoric like that, you have to be concerned. I didn’t think it was appropriate to blow it off.[145]
Public Statements Israel’s public statements regarding a possible strike on Iran, made almost exclusively by Netanyahu and Barak, featured a single recurring theme: Israel was entitled, capable, and prepared to look after its vital interests. For instance, on Nov. 1, 2011, Barak remarked that “events in the Middle East over the past year” show that “there can emerge situations in which Israel will have to protect its own interests” by itself and not rely on “other powers.”[146] Although he would later claim to have been referring to the events of the Arab Spring, Barak’s statement was widely perceived as a signal that Israel might strike Iran unilaterally.[147] The following month, speaking at the annual memorial ceremony for Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu alluded to the ongoing debate over Iran. Ben-Gurion, he said, had "a very hard time gaining support" within pre-state Israel for the declaration of independence in 1948. “Huge pressure,” he said,
was exerted on Ben-Gurion, from within and from without, not to make this move. … Everyone told him: this is not the time, not now. Among those pressuring him were important statesmen and friends. … All of us are here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right time. … I want to believe that we will always act with responsibility, courage, and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security.[148]
These remarks coincided with a statement by Barak stressing that “Israel cannot exempt itself from making decisions as a sovereign [country]. If the [Iranian] program can be stopped with diplomacy, that’s great, but all options are on the table. ... Israel is responsible for its own security, future, and existence.”[149] Clearly, Israel’s goal was to signal to the United States that it had the sovereign right to safeguard its vital interests. Lobbying U.S. Congress To impact U.S. decision-making on Iran, Israel harnessed multiple Washington-based, pro-Israel organizations.[150] But Israel also worked directly with members of Congress to influence the Obama administration. Visiting Israel in November 2011, a group of U.S. lawmakers updated their interlocutors about a new initiative — legislation urging the White House to support Israel’s “right” to employ “any means necessary” to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.[151] In February 2012, Netanyahu discussed the Iranian issue with a group of U.S. senators, headed by Sen. John McCain.[152] It was reported that Netanyahu had asked senior senators and members of Congress to exert pressure on Obama regarding the Iranian issue.[153] In early 2013, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the United States to support and “stand with Israel” if Jerusalem is “compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”[154] Congress’s role in promoting tough sanctions — and essentially forcing them upon a more reluctant White House — is discussed in more detail later in the article. Israel used the above-discussed tactics to create the perception of a potentially imminent military attack on Iran, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and push the Obama administration to adopt a tougher approach toward Iran than it would have pursued otherwise. How did this play out, and how effective was Israel’s pressure campaign? Was Israel able to get its way, despite clear U.S. superiority, or did the senior ally essentially prevail? These questions are the focus of the remainder of the article. The next section analyzes the manner in which the United States, in reaction to Israel’s pressure campaign, leveraged elements of its overwhelming influence to restrain its junior ally.

U.S. Counter-Pressure: Dissuasion, Dissociation, and Reassurance

Far from being a passive receiver and perceiver of Israeli signals and pressure tactics, the United States engaged in measures of its own to dissuade its junior ally from attacking Iran. This had become a top U.S. foreign policy priority, one that Panetta would describe as his primary task as secretary of defense.[155] Going even further, Samore claimed that “Much of U.S. strategy at that time was built around ‘how do we stop the Israelis from attacking.’ In some ways, that became the more immediate objective than stopping Iran.”[156] Some of this played out in public view as the crisis unfolded, such as when a senior administration official said, “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”[157] To resist Israeli pressure and ensure compliance, the United States utilized a variety of dissuasion instruments. What follows is a discussion of the most salient ones. Publicly Questioning the Prudence of an Israeli Attack U.S. opposition to an Israeli attack was expressed by senior officials from the outset of the Israeli campaign. With time, this sentiment grew increasingly blunt. In February 2012, the New York Times ran a front-page article citing U.S. experts as casting doubt on Israel’s military capacity to successfully attack Iran.[158] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey publicly described an Israeli attack as both “destabilizing” and “not prudent,” saying Israel would fail to achieve its “long-term objectives.”[159] Seeking to undermine the credibility of Israel’s military option, Dempsey later said that an Israeli attack would "delay but probably not destroy” the Iranian program.[160] In August 2012, an Israeli daily newspaper cited a U.S. warning to Israel to the effect that Saudi Arabia would forcefully resist any Israeli attempt to use its airspace to attack Iran.[161] Signaling Potential Dissociation from Israel In reference to a unilateral Israeli strike, Dempsey alluded to the possibility of U.S. military dissociation from Israel, saying at a press conference: “I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it."[162] Days later, Yediot Aharonot reported that the United States had informed Iran that it would not back an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities — as long as Iran steered clear of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.[163] Stalling for Time For several months, Washington kept a steady flow of senior American officials traveling to Israel in part of what U.S. officials depicted as a deliberate strategy to forestall such an attack. According to Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador, “We used all the dissuasion tactics and tools of dissuasion we could think of,” including high-level visits. “You buy yourself three weeks at a time. The week or two before the visit, the week or two after the visit. That tempo was all relevant to us. There were other factors, but it was definitely part of our strategy."[164] Samore noted in this regard that the administration was “certainly watching Israel very closely. That’s part of the reason why people went every two weeks. Because they figured that Israel couldn’t launch an attack when the vice president was on his way, or Tom Donilon was on his way, or Gen. Dempsey was on his way.” Samore described this as “a very conscious, deliberate strategy to stop the Israelis from attacking.”[165] Amplification of Domestic Opposition in Israel to a Strike The United States also worked to influence Israeli public opinion by exposing the fact that Israel’s own security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike. In July 2012, the banner headline of Yediot Aharonot cited “sources in the United States” as saying that Israel’s military and security chiefs were unanimous in their opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.[166] The Obama administration also leveraged its influence with Israel’s president and elder statesman, Shimon Peres. In June 2012, Obama honored Peres at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[167] The next month, Peres began to express scathing opposition to a unilateral attack and to underline his trust in Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear bomb.[168] In mid-August, Peres said that “after having talks with” Obama he was “convinced” that Israel could trust the U.S. president on the issue of Iran. “Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. … It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”[169]

Israel’s War Scare Ends: Assessing its Strategic Impact

These measures were designed to restrain Israel while also maintaining flexibility for Obama. To the degree that an Israeli attack was genuinely being planned, U.S. pressure ultimately prevailed without the United States having to resort to far-reaching threats or taking action. Although it is difficult to identify a specific time when Israel’s military option came off the table, one can point to September 2012 as a turning point in terms of Israel’s credibility with the United States, which practically collapsed in the wake of a reassuring message that Barak privately conveyed to Obama. According to several accounts, Barak met with Obama’s confidant Rahm Emmanuel and told him, without having updated Netanyahu, that he no longer favored a strike.[170] Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Netanyahu delivered a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in which he publicly drew a red line to Iran but also pushed the critical stage of Iran’s nuclear program to “next spring” and possibly even “next summer.”[171] It was with these last words, widely interpreted as a “nod to Obama,” that Netanyahu removed the possibility of an imminent Israeli military strike on Iran.[172] By “next summer” the United States and Iran were already deeply engaged in diplomatic talks and, for all intents and purposes, the military option was off the table. Acceleration of Crippling Economic Sanctions on Iran On the core issue of preventing an Israeli strike, especially in the critical run-up to the U.S. elections, the United States clearly got its way. The United States neither greenlighted an Israeli strike nor unleashed an attack of its own. Nor did Obama severely limit his latitude by making a binding commitment to use military force against Iran. If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. In some respects, however, Washington’s counter-campaign appears not to have been entirely successful. To forestall an Israeli attack, Obama was compelled to pursue measures he otherwise probably would not have — and at a faster pace than he otherwise would have chosen. This means Israel succeeded in influencing U.S. policy. [quote id="5"] Most notably, perhaps, the United States led an unprecedented international effort to cast Iran into economic isolation — an Israeli demand that the Obama administration initially was reluctant to pursue and had tried to keep in reserve.[173] Wary of measures that could destabilize global markets, the executive branch, in the words of senior Treasury official Zarate, sought to strike a balance between increasing economic pressure and “not spooking the oil markets and spiking prices,”[174] a sentiment expressed in real time.[175] To force the Obama administration to escalate sanctions on Iran, Israel engaged in heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill. Sanctions against Iran’s oil sector and Central Bank were passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2011. So strong was its support of Israel that the entire Senate unanimously voted in favor of sanctions.[176] Against this backdrop, Obama imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and an embargo on Iran’s oil exports.[177] David Sanger of the New York Times noted that, although “few in Washington are persuaded” that the sanctions would force Iran’s supreme leader to fold, “most go along with the assumption because the more forceful alternatives are too unpleasant to contemplate.”[178] The European Union soon imposed its own economic sanctions on Iran, including an oil embargo.[179] These sanctions would result in a 60 percent drop in Iranian crude oil exports from their pre-2011 rate.[180] And, in March 2012, in an unprecedented move enabled by the U.S. and EU sanctions, Iranian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT international financial system.[181] Netanyahu would later attribute Iran’s economic isolation to Israel’s “projection of genuine resolve.”[182] It is hard to definitively say whether Israel can claim the credit for this outcome. However, the initial impetus for the toughest of U.S. sanctions came from a Congress strongly aligned with Israel. Consider the words of Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the driving forces behind the legislation. In December 2011, he said, “The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you’re going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon?”[183] Was rigorous implementation of the economic sanctions hastened as a result of Israel’s pressure and the perceived threat of a unilateral Israeli attack? Lending credence to this argument, Dennis Ross, who served as a senior director at the National Security Council and as special assistant to Obama, has written,
Israel was very much a factor in this approach. To forestall Israeli military action against what Israel perceived as an existential threat, the president understood we needed to show we could apply meaningful pressure on the Iranians that would alter their nuclear program.[184]
For his part, Deputy Secretary of State Burns said that, although Obama would have eventually imposed sanctions regardless of Israel’s actions, Israel’s campaign “accelerated” the process. “Maybe [otherwise] it would have taken another year or so.” According to Burns, Obama “moved at a faster pace because of the concern of a potential Israeli military strike and the very real political pressure that existed in Washington in part because of the depth of the Israeli Government's concern.”[185] Making a similar argument, Shapiro said the United States “was motivated to go the extra mile in part to show the Israelis that they didn't need to do something on their own, that we were serious. … It’s fair to say that Israel probably did push us to go farther, faster on sanctions.”[186] Pointing to another important effect that Israel’s threat had on U.S. policy, senior Obama administration officials said the United States, while genuinely pressured by Israel’s signals, harnessed the perception of a credible Israeli strike in the service of persuading other actors to implement the debilitating sanctions on Iran. This included China, which had long opposed such measures.[187] Burns added,
We used it [the threat of an Israeli attack] with the Russians, we used it with the Chinese, with the Europeans, we used it with the Indians and those we were trying to persuade to curb oil purchases from Iran. It was a useful tool … to maximize the economic pressure on the Iranians and to get other countries — mostly quite grudgingly — to go along with this, because it wasn't in their economic interest in the short term in any way.[188]
According to Shapiro, the perceived Israeli threat
was also in some way a useful tool for us in our discussion with other countries. ‘Hey, you know, the last thing you want is these crazy Israelis to go and do something, so let’s show them that there’s a better way. Let’s make these sanctions stick.’ I think it definitely affected the Chinese. ... There’s no question the Chinese would sit up in their chairs and listen intently if you would present this possibility of a serious Israeli strike.[189]
In sum, according to Samore, “It sure helped to have the Israeli threat out there.”[190] This could be described as an amplification effect that may result from a relatively weak ally’s ability to establish a credible threat in the eyes of a much more powerful actor and influence its behavior. Obama Toughens Rhetoric, But Stops Short of Red Line for Iran Israel’s campaign succeeded, albeit to a lesser degree than it had hoped, in wresting a public commitment to resort to military force against Iran from the U.S. president. Most notably, in March 2012, Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, stressing that "as president of the United States, I don't bluff.” Obama added, “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”[191] Addressing AIPAC two days later, Obama said, “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.” That, he said, “includes all elements of American power,” including “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”[192] This was the first time the United States publicly drew a distinction between prevention and containment of a nuclear Iran.[193] These two statements, directed more to Israel than to Iran, would remain Obama’s most explicit reference to the military option. Both statements were later described by Panetta as “carefully crafted” gestures to the Israelis, designed to “reinforce their confidence that we would not abandon them.”[194] While Barak was convinced that the United States possessed a credible and realistic military option to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, he remained unconvinced by Obama’s political reassurances. For instance, after Obama said that “as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” the Israeli defense minister privately wondered whether Obama’s statement was itself a bluff.[195] As Barak himself told this author, he remained “highly skeptical” about the U.S. commitment to ever pursue the military option against Iran.[196] Barak later explained, “Though the president intermittently declared that ‘all options’ remained on the table, I knew from senior administration members that it was extremely unlikely to happen.”[197] In September 2012, the clash between Israel’s desire for a clear U.S. commitment and Obama’s determination to secure his latitude entered a new stage, with Netanyahu openly urging the president to publicly draw a “red line” for Iran that, if violated, would be met with “consequences.” The administration rejected the demand on the grounds that “we need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,”[198] which was precisely what Netanyahu wanted Obama to have less of. The exchange took a fiercer turn when Panetta implicitly accused Israel of attempting to coerce the United States. “Red lines,” he asserted, “are used to try to put people in a corner.”[199] To this, Netanyahu responded, “I know that people value flexibility. … but I think that at this late stage of the game, Iran needs to see clarity.”[200] Israel’s efforts were designed to limit Obama’s freedom of action and pin him down to an explicit use-of-force commitment. Given this, Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. According to Burns, “There was certainly concern in Washington that the object of this Israeli effort was not so much to get a green light to launch a unilateral Israeli strike as it was to box Obama into launching a U.S. military strike, with the kind of second-best option being an even more intense effort to build sanctions.”[201] [quote id="8"] Israel’s pressure campaign had yet another important effect on the United States, which is that Washington, in an attempt to reassure Israel, accelerated its efforts to enhance the credibility of its own military option. In January 2012, U.S. officials said the Pentagon was ramping up its efforts to improve the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a weapon specifically designed to penetrate Iranian and North Korean fortifications.[202] In August, an Israeli daily newspaper disclosed in its lead story details of the U.S. military plan for an attack on Iran, as discussed in Panetta’s visit to Israel just days before. The report maintained that the United States would potentially launch its attack “in a year and a half.”[203] Shedding further light on Washington’s reassurance efforts, Panetta later remarked,
We in the United States were developing a weapon that could in fact be able to penetrate and do serious damage to their [Iran’s] capability, and it was in the effort to kind of show him [Barak] what we had developed and its capability that, I think, he recognized that we indeed did have a weapon that could, in fact, do some real damage to their enrichment capability.[204]
Lending credence to Panetta’s account, Barak recalled that, during the first two years in which Israel prepared its military option, the United States “was no more ready” than Israel. The existing U.S. military plan, Barak wrote, was “so obviously prone to lead to a wider conflict, that it would never have received the go-ahead from President Obama, or probably any president.” By 2012, however, “that had changed …an intensive research-and-development effort and enormously improved planning and testing had yielded results. The Americans now had high-precision heavy munitions we couldn’t dream of.”[205]


In late 2011, Israel deliberately led the United States to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program could be imminent — a scenario that deeply alarmed the Obama administration. The stakes involved one of the core issues animating asymmetric-alliance politics: the possibility that a junior ally — Israel — might present its senior strategic ally — the United States — with a fait accompli and entrap it in a military confrontation. With two military commitments already underway and a presidential election on the horizon, the United States strongly opposed an Israeli attack, which it deemed unnecessary, and had little interest in a confrontation with Iran. More importantly, Iran did not pose the same threat to the militarily superior United States as it did to Israel. It was for these reasons that a fierce intra-alliance bargaining episode occurred. As noted in the outset of this article, asymmetric alliances represent a trade-off: The weaker ally trades its autonomy for security. In essence, Israel attempted to retain its autonomy in a way that the United States deemed extremely detrimental to its own interests. Ultimately, neither Israel nor the United States attacked Iran. This implies that, at the most overarching level, the stronger ally prevailed. How can this outcome be understood? And what are its implications for international and alliance politics? Any attempt to discuss these questions must begin with the fact that, in the year under discussion, Israel purposefully created the perception of a potentially imminent military attack. This granted Israel more leverage than it otherwise would have wielded over the United States. Israel then harnessed this leverage in a calculated effort to force its senior ally to more closely align with Israeli constraints and interests. This meant influencing Washington into adopting measures it otherwise would not have — steps that nudged the United States closer to a confrontation with Iran. These measures included the economic isolation of Iran, a credible presidential commitment to prevent Iran’s nuclearization, and the development of a more effective and “realistic” U.S. military option. Israel employed this strategy as a form of extended coercion — that is, in an attempt to manipulate Iran’s strategic calculus via a powerful third party with considerable leverage over Tehran. Put differently, although the direct target of Israel’s campaign was its primary ally, its ultimate target was Iran, which Israel sought to prevent from further developing its nuclear program. At a minimum, Israel strived to keep Iran’s nuclear capabilities sufficiently vulnerable to its own military option, meaning that Israel would not have to rely on the United States for the removal of a potentially existential threat and that it would retain its autonomy despite its alliance with the United States. It may also be the case that Israel sought to influence the United States into tacit compliance with an Israeli attack or even to persuade it to unleash its own military option against Iran. It is also possible that Israel never genuinely intended to execute a unilateral attack against Iran. Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. Having instilled a sense of urgency in its major ally, Israel implicitly threatened the United States with a fait accompli, doing little to allay obvious U.S. fears of entrapment. And still, at the most overarching level, the fact that Israel’s perceived threat never materialized implies that the senior ally in this relationship got its way and that superior U.S. bargaining power overwhelmed Israeli decision-making. The United States proved capable of avoiding entrapment, of resisting its ally’s demand for an explicit commitment to attack Iran, and of restraining its ally. This outcome is perhaps not surprising given that the United States was, by far, the more powerful actor in the relationship. This structural reality becomes all the more pronounced given that, whereas Israel had reached the pinnacle of its bargaining power and exerted extraordinary pressure on its senior ally, Obama appeared to be in a particularly vulnerable situation. Especially because it was an election year, Obama sought to avoid a brutal clash with a close ally wielding considerable political influence. The balance of interests seemed to favor Israel, whose prime minister had consistently depicted Iran as an existential threat. Furthermore, the United States did not come close to exploiting the full range of dissuasion tactics at its disposal. Although Israel implicitly threatened its senior ally with entrapment, Washington neither reciprocated with a threat of abandonment nor threatened Israel with a “reassessment” of relations — steps that the administration may have dismissed as politically prohibitive. Ultimately, the United States prevailed in this atypically intense episode. The broader implications for coercive bargaining in an asymmetric relationship are that, even at the height of its bargaining power, a weaker ally will find it extremely difficult to entrap a superior ally or otherwise cause it to move in a direction it deems incompatible with its national security interests. This basic reality does not preclude the weaker ally from wielding surprising leverage or from exploiting its ally’s fear of entrapment for coercive purposes — something Israel appears to have done in this case. Indeed, to reassure Israel and forestall an attack, the Obama administration took measures it otherwise probably would not have, namely meeting Israel’s demand for unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran and tougher rhetoric from the U.S. president. In the final analysis, however, the United States proved capable of restraining its particularly influential ally. This conclusion squares with the findings of scholars such as Jeremy Pressman, Michael Beckley, and Tongfi Kim, cited in the outset of this article. One can, perhaps, draw even wider conclusions about patterns of power and influence in international politics. Scholars have suggested the current era is characterized by accelerated “power diffusion,” which ultimately favors the weak.[206] The outcome of this case study suggests that, even when the weak punch above their weight, the basic balance of power persists. In other words, the weak may be getting stronger, but the strong still get their way. [quote id="6"] This case study also lends itself to a more nuanced appreciation of the second-order effects that occur when an actor introduces a credible threat to use military force. For instance, while genuinely worried by Israel’s perceived threat, the United States, according to several Obama administration officials, harnessed Israel’s threat to persuade major actors like China to join the sanctions effort as an alternative to what appeared to be a credible scenario — a unilateral Israeli strike. This speaks to the way weak actors might be capable of amplifying their influence by impacting third parties — in this case the United States — and motivating them to use their leverage with other actors. By establishing the perception of a credible threat, Israel, in a sense, provided the United States not only with motivation but also with leverage it previously lacked, which the United States then used vis-à-vis other countries, like China. Attempting to achieve desirable outcomes in foreign affairs can, of course, have unintended consequences. While Israel’s pressure campaign produced several achievements — namely the economic isolation of Iran — it also helped to create the conditions for direct talks between its strategic ally and its archenemy. If Israel had hoped to influence Washington toward a more belligerent posture regarding Tehran, the opposite occurred, as the diplomatic channel culminated in a nuclear deal that Netanyahu denounced as a “historic mistake.”[207] Former Mossad director Meir Dagan claimed to be speaking from personal knowledge when he asserted that by “signaling to the entire world” that Israel was preparing to attack Iran, Netanyahu motivated the United States to “search for an alternative in the form of an agreement.”[208] Echoing Dagan’s assertion is this point from Burns, who, along with Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top policy adviser (and later national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden), initiated the secret talks between the United States and Iran in the wake of Israel’s pressure campaign:
The increased decibel level of the potential Israeli preparations for a strike accelerated the interest of the administration in pushing this diplomatic track simply because it certainly seemed as if we were getting closer and closer to the point of a real military conflict and that added a sense of urgency to this.[209]
And as Panetta noted,
There is no question that there’s nothing like a military attack to get your attention. So, I'm sure that it heightened activity both in terms of what we were trying to do militarily as well as what the administration was looking at diplomatically. … There was this effort to push on these other buttons to see if there might be a diplomatic solution to that threat.[210]
This article sheds important light on a key topic for the theory and practice of international relations, namely the question of credibility. In their statements, Barak and Netanyahu stopped short of explicit threats to attack Iran. When he was asked, at the height of Israel’s campaign, whether Jerusalem intended to attack Iran, Barak responded, “I think it should remain behind closed doors as part of a vague understanding that there is a big stick in the background.”[211] And, as he tellingly pointed out toward the end of the campaign, “The prime minister and myself have never come out and announced what it is we are interested in.”[212] Nonetheless, their various statements — and Israel’s calibrated signals and military moves — created a context that appeared less like a “vague understanding” and more like an alarmingly credible military threat. This was made possible by two elements, the first of which corresponds with Thomas Schelling’s assertion that, to appear credible, actors must “make it true.” Barak himself would retrospectively attribute the belief that Israel was serious to “the fact that it was all real, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we would have done it.”[213] The second, and less explored, element pertains to secrecy. If Israel’s campaign contained an element of deception, the strict secrecy and message discipline made it impossible to prove. Nowhere was this more evident than in the words of Pardo, the Mossad director, who noted that if Israel’s pressure campaign was a bluff, at most two people knew it. Asked about the painstaking efforts exerted by the United States to unveil Israel’s genuine intentions, Barak confided, “It is not as if there was some secret chamber that if only you could penetrate you would discover everything was a bluff. And if nobody can tell you it is a bluff, you have to assume it is real.”[214] While the potential costs and implications of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran seemed too immense to be credible, Israel’s preparations for such a strike seemed too real and costly to be dismissed as mere deception. The combination of Israel’s genuine military moves and strict message discipline made the incredible look credible, and the unbelievable, believable. As things stand, and in sharp contrast to the period discussed in this article, Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump appear to be tightly coordinated with respect to the Iranian nuclear issue. It is inescapable, however, that the challenge Iran poses to Israel is considerably graver than any threat it may pose to the militarily powerful and geographically distant United States. With the United States no longer part of the Iran nuclear deal, and in the absence of a new agreement, this challenge may present itself sooner than expected. Further down the line, this divergence of interests between Israel and the United States might yet again produce a political clash similar to the one explored in this article. Acknowledgements: For helpful comments and advice, the author wishes to thank Graham Allison, Oren Barak, Shai Feldman, Charles Freilich, Kelly Greenhill, Robert Jervis, Arie Kacowicz, Morgan Kaplan, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Steven Miller, Karen Motley, Michael Poznansky, Galia Press-Barnathan, Henry Rome, Amit Sheniak, Susan Rosenberg, Stephen Walt, Alec Worsnop, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the 2016–2017 International Security Program seminar at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Israel Institute during his appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. Daniel Sobelman is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => restraining-an-ally-israel-the-united-states-and-irans-nuclear-program-2011-2012 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 13:07:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 18:07:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In asymmetric alliances, a superior state provides security to a weaker ally, who in exchange surrenders its autonomy to its stronger protector. But what happens when the weaker state’s vital interests clash with its stronger ally’s preferences? In 2011 and 2012, as Iran continued to develop and harden its nuclear program, Israel feared becoming dependent upon the United States to defend it against this potentially existential threat. To escape this scenario, and to enhance its leverage over the United States, Israel led its principal strategic ally to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran could be imminent. Israel then attempted to force the United States to realign more closely with Israel’s strategic interests and constraints. Determined not to get “chain-ganged” into a conflict, the United States increased its pressure on Iran, but also brought restraining influence to bear on Israel, thus producing one of the tensest chapters in U.S.-Israel relations. The following article explains the outcome of this strategic interaction. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed arm’s length. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 839 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 193 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama vowed to “use all elements of American power to pressure Iran” and to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” including through keeping “the threat of military action on the table.” See “Transcript: Obama's Speech at AIPAC,” NPR, June 4, 2008, As president, however, Obama struck a more cautious tone, stating generally, and without explicitly invoking the threat of military action, that no option was off the table. For instance, in late 2011, he said, “I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table.” See “President Obama Holds a Press Conference at the APEC Summit,” White House, Nov. 13, 2011, According to former Obama adviser Dennis Ross, only in 2012 did the president state publicly that he was determined to prevent the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Until then, the United States had made do with describing Iran’s potential nuclearization as “unacceptable.” See Dennis Ross, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 369. [2] Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 12. [3] Brett Ashley Leeds, “Do Alliances Deter Aggression? The Influence of Military Alliances on the Initiation of Militarized Interstate Disputes,” American Journal of Political Science 47, no. 3 (July 2003),; Brett B. Benson, “Unpacking Alliances: Deterrent and Compellent Alliances and Their Relationship with Conflict, 1816–2000,” Journal of Politics 73, no. 4 (October 2011), [4] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 461, [5] Paul W. Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945: Weapons of the Power and Tools of Management,” in Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, ed. Klaus Knorr (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976); Jeremy Pressman, Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); Victor D. Cha, “Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia,” International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 2010), [6] James D. Morrow, “Alliances: Why Write Them Down?” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 63,; Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945,” 230. [7] Patricia A. Weitsman, Waging War: Alliances, Coalitions, and Institutions of Interstate Violence (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), chap. 2. [8] “Lord Palmerston 1784–1865 British statesman; Prime Minister, 1855–8, 1859–65,” in Oxford Essential Quotations, ed. Susan Ratcliffe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). [9] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. Stephen Walt notes that allies share only “some level of commitment.” Walt, Origins of Alliances, 1. [10] According to Thomas Schelling, “to take advantage of the usually superior credibility of the truth over a false assertion,” actors need to “make it true,” make an irrevocable, binding and “unambiguously visible” commitment. Put differently, for threats to be credible the threatener must remove all easy and cheap options from the table and visibly destroy his own escape routes. Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1981) chap. 2; and Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 99–105. Branislav L. Slantchev, Military Threats: The Costs of Coercion and the Price of Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), chap. 3. [11] James D. Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry: An Alternative to the Capability Aggregation Model of Alliances,” American Journal of Political Science 35, no. 4 (November 1991): 904, [12] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry,” 930. [13] Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multipolarity,” International Organization 44, no. 2 (Spring 1990), [14] Snyder, “Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics.” [15] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry.” [16] Galia Press-Barnathan, “Managing the Hegemon: NATO Under Unipolarity,” Security Studies 15, no. 2 (2006): 283–84, Tongfi Kim argues that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power, as “stronger states have stronger bargaining power,” in “Why Alliances Entangle but Seldom Entrap States,” Security Studies 20, no. 3 (2011): 357, [17] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121. [18] Morrow, Alliances: Why Write Them Down, 79; Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015), [19] Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances: Reassessing the Security Risks of U.S. Defense Pacts,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 11, [20] Kim, “Why Alliances Entangle,” 357. [21] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121–22. Perhaps most strikingly, on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson minced no words when warning Israel not to initiate war with Egypt, stressing that “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.” See “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, [22] “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, 588, [23] Robert O. Keohane, “The Big Influence of Small Allies,” Foreign Policy, no. 2 (Spring 1971): 162, 164–72, [24] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 162. [25] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 165–66. On this, see John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), chaps. 5 and 6. [26] Christensen and Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks”: 137–68; Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. [27] Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby, 152. [28] Asked if he would have taken military action against Iran, Obama said, “I actually would have. If I saw them break out. Now, the argument that can’t be resolved, because it’s entirely situational, was what constitutes them getting [the bomb]. This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu.” See Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” Atlantic, April 2016, [29] Gary Samore, Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables (Cambridge, Mass.: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2015), 3–11. [30] Douglas Hamilton, “Israel Urges ‘Crippling’ Sanctions Now Against Iran,” Reuters, Feb. 9, 2010, [31]Obama had indicated this explicitly throughout his campaign. See “Interview With Barack Obama,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007, [32] Juan C. Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 324.  It was not until July 2012, however, that a direct diplomatic back-channel would be established between Iran and the United States, in Oman. See Mark Landler, Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power (New York: Random House, 2016), 252; and Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals that Reshaped the Middle East (New York: Random House, 2016), 242–44. [33] Christiane Amanpour, “Obama Sent Letter to Iran Leader Before Election, Sources Say,” CNN, June 24, 2009, [34] Landler, Alter Egos, chap. 10. [35] In April 2012, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot cited a senior Israeli source as saying that Israel had found out that semi-official U.S. figures had been in contact with the Iranian government in a bid to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. The official said, “The Iranians are convinced that given the secret channel and the United States’ request that Israel does not attack Iran, Israel will not dare do it, at least for the time being. The Iranians believe they’ve achieved at least a postponement of the attack, if not more than that.” Ronen Bergman, “An All-Clear Siren for Tehran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 8, 2012. [36] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [37] Landler, Alter Egos, 253–54. [38] Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shea, “U.S., Allies Say Iran Has Secret Nuclear Facility,” Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2009, [39] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 328. [40] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted June 6, 2010, [41] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 6. [42] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 336–37. [43] Zarate, Treasury’s War. [44] Washington had regarded sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and oil sector as the “final bullet” in the U.S. arsenal. See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16. In the Treasury Department, such sanctions were referred to as the “nuclear option” and were thus held in reserve. See Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [45] “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” CNN, Nov. 20, 2011. Declaring that 2012 was “a very important year,” Barak argued, “After 2012 it will become difficult to achieve a meaningful delay in the Iranian nuclear project by any means.” Channel 2 TV, Feb. 23, 2012. [46] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace (New York: Penguin, 2015), 404. [47] “Netanyahu’s Speech at AIPAC (Full Text),” Times of Israel, March 6, 2012, [48] Channel 2, March 12, 2012. Two months later, Barak noted with respect to the Israel-U.S. debate about Iran’s nuclear program, “There are obviously differences between us — in the approach, in the speed at which our clocks are ticking. It is no secret that our clock is ticking faster.” See Institute for National Security Studies Annual Conference, Tel Aviv, May 30, 2012, [49] Dan Williams, “Israel Wants to Attack Iran Before U.S. Vote: Israeli Report,” Reuters, Aug. 10, 2012, [50] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [51] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets,” New York Times, Feb. 19, 2012, [52] Scott Wilson, “In Meeting, Obama to Warn Netanyahu Against Military Strikes on Iran,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, [53] “Zero Days,” directed by Alex Gibney (New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2016). [54] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [55] “Secretary Panetta All Hands Call USS Peleliu,” Department of Defense, March 30, 2012, [56] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 435–36. In a separate interview, Barak noted, “In 2012 Netanyahu was playing around with all sorts of ideas. I was opposed to them. I reemphasized my position: we will not endanger the life of even one American soldier.” See Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. [57] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [58] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [59] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [60] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life, 433–34. [61] Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012, [62] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [63] “Hakol Diburim,” Voice of Israel, Nov. 1, 2011, [64] Shlomo Tsezna, “Israel: The World Must Stop Tehran,” Yisrael Hayom, Nov. 10, 2011, [65] Ron Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011,,7340,L-4143344,00.html. [66] “Ha-Nivharim with David Ben-Bassat,” Hot TV, Aug. 31, 2012, [67]Barak Ravid, “The Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, [68] Jodi Rudoren, “U.S. Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran,” New York Times, May 17, 2012, [69] As Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert stressed in a 2006 interview that Israel should not stand “on the forefront of this war.” Iran, he added, was a “major threat” to “Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel.” See Romesh Ratnesar, "Israel Should Not Be on the Forefront of a War Against Iran," Time, April 9, 2006. [70] Jonathan Steele, “Israel Asked US for Green Light to Bomb Nuclear Sites in Iran,” Guardian, Sept. 25, 2008, [71] Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 190–91. [72] Gates, Duty. [73] Gates, Duty, 192; “Israeli Air Exercise Probably Message to Iran, U.S. Official Says,” CNN, June 20, 2008, [74] Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran,” New York Times, June 20, 2008, [75] Gates, Duty, 192. [76] Gordon and Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran.” [77] Commenting on the report, an Israeli official urged Tehran to “read the writing on the wall … this was a dress rehearsal. … If diplomacy does not yield results, Israel will take military steps to halt Tehran's production of bomb-grade uranium.” Sheera Frenkel, “Israeli Jets in Long-Range ‘Test Mission’ for Airstrike on Iran,” Times (London), June 21, 2008. [78] Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, stated, "We are not planning any attack against Iran." See “Top US Military Officer Heads to Israel With Iran on the Agenda,” Agence France-Presse, June 25, 2008. When Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, previously the minister of defense and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, warned that if Iran continued its plans to produce a nuclear weapon, “we will attack it,” he was promptly reprimanded by Barak, who characterized his statements as “harmful.” Mofaz, Barak said, “knows there is a decision that when it comes to the Iranian issue Israel does not stand at the forefront.” Barak Ravid, Yossi Verter, and Mazal Mualem, “Defense Minister Barak: Mofaz Statements on Attack on Iran Irresponsible,” Haaretz, June 8, 2008. [79] “L’Express: IAF Held Iran Strike Drill Above Strait of Gibraltar,” Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2009; “IDF Staged Drills Over Gibraltar, in Preparation for Iran Strike,” Haaretz, May 3, 2009. [80] Sheera Frenkel, “Israel Stands Ready to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites,” Times (London), April 18, 2009. [81] Ofer Aderet, “Lieberman: Israel Will Not Attack Iran — Even if Sanctions Fail,” Haaretz, April 26, 2009. [82] David E. Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” New York Times, June 1, 2012,; and David E. Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2012), 188–225. [83] Peter Hirschberg, “Netanyahu: It’s 1938 and Iran Is Germany; Ahmadinejad Is Preparing Another Holocaust,” Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2006; and Shmuel Rosner, “Playing the Holocaust Card,” New York Times, April 25, 2012, [84] For instance, in late July 2009, standing alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak once again reaffirmed that “at this stage, the priority should be given, still, to diplomacy and probably sanctions.” See “Defense Minister Barak meets with US Secretary of Defense Gates,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 27, 2009. Asked about a potential Israeli attack on Iran, Gates replied that, in his meetings in Israel, “I had every sense that the Israeli government is prepared to let our strategy play out in terms of trying to use a combination of diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions and other peaceful means to try to get the Iranian government to change its mind in terms of its nuclear ambitions.” See Jim Garamone, “Gates Praises U.S., Jordan Strategic Partnership,” Department of Defense, July 27, 2009,; “Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Barak,” Ministry of Defense, April 27, 2010. In the joint press conference between Gates and Barak in March 2011, the topic of Iran was overshadowed by the events of the Arab Spring. See “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel,” Department of Defense, March 24, 2011, [85] “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 8, 2010, [86] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [87]Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Point of No Return,” Atlantic (September 2010),; Emily Alpert, “Will Israel Attack Iran? It's Been Asked Before,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 2012, [88] As Panetta noted, “Everybody understood that when you look at the history here, Israel was a nation that if it thought that its existence was threatened in any way it would take action with or without the United States.” The former defense secretary cited Israel’s attacks on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 and the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 as indicative of Israeli determination to remove potential existential threats. Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [89] “Meet the Press,” Channel 2, Dec. 3, 2011. [90] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 197–98. [91] Amos Harel and Reuters, “U.S. Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel to Discuss Iran Nuclear Program,” Haaretz, Oct. 3, 2011. [92] “Israel 'Increasingly Isolated' in Middle East: US,” Agence France-Presse, Oct. 3, 2011, [93] Yaakov Katz, “International Community Needs to Cooperate on Iran,” Jerusalem Post, Oct. 4, 2011. [94] Ron Ben-Yishai, “IDF Is Already Prepared to Attack in Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011; Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu and Barak Refused to Commit to Not Attacking Iran Without Coordinating with the United States,” Haaretz, Nov. 6, 2011; and author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [95] Barbara Starr, “U.S. Concerned Israel Could Strike Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Nov. 4, 2011, [96] Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon, “U.S. Warns Israel on Strike,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14, 2012, [97] Adam Entous, “Spy vs. Spy: Inside the Fraying U.S.-Israel Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2015, [98] Adam Entous and Danny Yadron, “U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2015,; Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke, “Spies in the Skies,” Intercept, Jan. 28, 2016. [99] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. In an indication of the credibility he attributed to this scenario, Shapiro noted that he disseminated the cable to an especially broad audience so as to “protect myself” in case Israel indeed attacked Iran. [100] “Remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Saban Center,” Department of Defense, Dec. 2, 2011, [101] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [102] Thom Shanker, Helene Cooper, and Ethan Bronner, “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes,” New York Times, Feb. 29, 2012,; and Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran,” New York Times, March 19, 2012, [103]David E. Sanger, “Confronting Iran in a Year of Elections,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 2012, [104]David Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2012, Another U.S. official said later that month, “We believe that Israel has not yet decided whether to attack or not, but it is clear to us that the matter is being weighed seriously.” See Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya, “National Security Adviser Visiting Israel,” Haaretz, Feb. 18, 2012. [105] Dan Perry and Josef Federman “Just a Bluff? Fears Grow of Israeli Attack on Iran,” Associated Press, Feb. 5, 2012, [106] Panetta said, “My conclusion, and I think the conclusion of the National Security Council and the president, was that Israel was giving serious consideration to this possibility.” Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [107] Burns added, “There was a genuine concern that the Israeli government might launch such a strike.” Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [108] Author interviews with Gary Samore, Obama’s coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, and arms control, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016 and March 9, 2017. According to Samore, with the exception of Vice President Joseph Biden, “who thought it was all a big bluff,” the most senior members of the administration, including Obama and Panetta, felt “pressured” by Israel’s signals. [109] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. According to Shapiro, “We did take it seriously; Obama took it seriously.” [110] Yossi Verter, “Iran, Who Knows,” Haaretz, Nov. 4, 2011. [111] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [112] Entous, “Spy vs. Spy.” [113] Mark Perry, “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground,” Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012, [114] Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life] (Tel Aviv: Kinneret Zmora-Bitan, 2015), 330. [115] Ron Ben-Yishai, “Israel Has Understood: Only the U.S. Will Stop Iran,” Ynet, Aug. 3, 2012. [116] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. According to the program, the Mossad and the IDF were ordered in 2011 to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days. Referring to this step, Pardo said when a leader orders such a move, “It can serve one of two purposes. The first is that he really means it. The other possibility is that he is signaling so that somebody out there will know about it — maybe even that someone in the United States will find out about it in one way or another — and that someone will be motivated to do something.” [117] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [118] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [119] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [120] Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. Shedding more light on this point, Shapiro noted that the United States knew that Israel’s security chiefs opposed a military attack: “Without being disloyal to their political leadership they found ways of conveying to us that they were not advocating for it and to some degree were resisting it. This was knowable.” Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. [121] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [122] Author telephone interview with Yaakov Amidror, June 9, 2016. [123] Rachel Nolan, “Behind the Cover Story: Ronen Bergman on Whether Israel Will Attack Iran,” New York Times, Jan. 30, 2012, See also Ethan Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders Make the Iran Issue Their Own,” New York Times, March 27, 2012, [124] Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders.” [125] Author interview with Tamir Pardo, Cambridge, Mass., May 2, 2016. That the Mossad chief himself was kept at arm’s length can be inferred from his assertion that whether or not a unilateral attack was genuinely in the cards was an “irrelevant” question for him as Mossad director: “For an operational organization, it makes absolutely no difference if it is a deception or not. I have to play along to the fullest extent, because I do not know.” [126] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [127] Author telephone interview with Dan Meridor, June 7, 2016. [128] Author interview with Gen. (Ret.) Amos Gilead, Herzliya, July 29, 2018. [129] Starr, “U.S. Concerned.” [130] For instance, asked in July 2010 whether he was concerned Israel might decide to unilaterally attack Iran, Obama replied that relations were “sufficiently strong” that neither would “try to surprise each other.” He went on to say, “We try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern. And that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to.” See “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV.” [131] Phil Stewart, “U.S. Uncertain Israel Would Advise Before Iran Strike,” Reuters, Nov. 30, 2011, [132] Kfir and Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life], 319­–20. [133] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 406. [134] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [135] Attila Somfalvi and Yoav Zitun, “Israel-U.S. Aerial Defense Exercise Postponed,” Ynet, Jan. 15, 2012; Shlomo Tsezna and Lilach Shoval, “The Exercise Was Postponed So As ‘Not to Warm Up the Region,’” Yisrael Hayom, Jan. 16, 2012. [136] “Ma Bo’er With Razi Barkai,” IDF Radio, Jan. 18, 2012. [137]Isabel Kershner, “U.S. General Urges Closer Ties With Israel,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2012, [138] Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” [139] Alex Fishman, “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Oct. 12, 2011. [140] Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ben-Yishai would later note that the Israeli government itself had initiated this debate. See Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran.” Moreover, a Haaretz military affairs analyst later alluded to Barak as the source behind these messages. See Amos Harel, “Barak Reveals in the United States Considerations for Possible Israeli Strike on Iran,” Haaretz, Jan. 27, 2012. [141] Amos Regev, “Difficult, Courageous, Doable,” Yisrael Hayom, March 15, 2012. [142] Aluf Benn, “Netanyahu Issues Order 8 to Himself and the Public,” Haaretz, March 15, 2012. [143]Ronen Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012, [144] “Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States,” Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, 112th Congress, Second Session, Jan. 31, 2012. [145] Author telephone interview with James Clapper, May 12, 2017. Clapper recalls interpreting Israel’s signals as “a combination of genuine concern and an attempt to pressure the United States. ... I thought this had more to do with information warfare, if you will, information influence.” [146] Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011. [147] Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu Consolidating Majority in the Cabinet for Military Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities,” Haaretz, Nov. 2, 2011; Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011; “In Israel, Speculation Over Strike on Iran Grows,” Agence France-Presse, Nov. 2, 2011. [148] “Prime Minister’s Speech at the David Ben-Gurion Memorial Ceremony,” [YouTube], Dec. 4, 2011. [149] Shlomo Tsezna, “Netanyahu Drops Heavy Hints in Speech,” Yisrael Hayom, Dec. 5, 2011. [150] For example, see Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib, “How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill,” Nation, July 15, 2014. [151] Mati Tuchfeld and Boaz Bismuth, “Congressional Initiative: United States Will Support Israeli Attack on Iran,” Israel Hayom, Nov. 16, 2011. [152] Raphael Ahren, “John McCain says US and Israel Drifting Apart on Iran Issue,” Times of Israel, Feb. 21, 2012, [153] Barak Ravid, “Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, [154] “S. Res. 65 — A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation,” 113th Congress, May 22, 2013. [155] David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” New York Times, May 5, 2016, [156] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [157] Wilson, “In Meeting.” [158] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [159] “US' Dempsey says Premature to Attack Iran Now,” Reuters, Feb. 19, 2012, [160] Richard Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack on Iran 'Would Not Stop Nuclear Programme,’” Guardian, Aug. 30, 2012, [161] Shimon Shiffer, “The Message Israel Received via the United States — Saudi Arabia Says: We Will Intercept Israeli Aircrafts on Way to Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 9, 2012. [162] Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack.” [163] Shimon Shiffer, “'Iran Must Steer Clear of US Interests in Gulf,'” Ynetnews, Sept. 3, 2012. [164] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [165] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [166] Shimon Shiffer, “Not to Attack in Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, July 31, 2012. [167] “Remarks by President Obama and President Peres of Israel at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 13, 2012, [168]Ronen Bergman, “Shimon Peres on Obama, Iran and the Path to Peace,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2013, [169]Jeffrey Heller, “Israel’s Peres Against Any Solo Iran Attack, Trusts Obama,” Reuters, Aug. 16, 2012, [170] Attila Somfalvi, “The Crisis With the U.S.: Barak Holds Secret Meeting With Rahm Emmanuel,” Ynet, Sept. 20, 2012; and Attila Somfalvi, “Netanyahu Summons Barak to Reprimand: Demands Clarifications,” Ynet, Oct. 6, 2012. [171] “PM Netanyahu’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York,” Prime Minister’s Office, Sept. 27, 2012, Gallery/2012/9/TRANSCRIPT_UN270912.pdf. [172] Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger, “Nod to Obama by Netanyahu on Iran Bomb,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2012, [173] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16; Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [174] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314­–16. [175] In October 2011, U.S. officials expressed fear that “any crackdown on Iranian oil exports could drive up oil prices when the United States and European economies are weak.” As one senior official noted, “You don’t want to tip the U.S. into a downturn just to punish the Iranians.” See David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, “To Isolate Iran, U.S. Presses Inspectors on Nuclear Data,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2011, The following month, the New York Times reported, “No one in the administration is willing to risk a step that could send prices soaring and, in the worst case, cause a confrontation at sea over a blockade.” David E. Sanger, “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” New York Times, Nov. 5, 2011. In January 2012, Sanger noted, “Obama has stopped short of advocating a global total embargo, which could lead to confrontations at sea.” Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [176] Jennifer Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0; Obama Objects (Really),” Washington Post Right Turn Blog, Dec. 2, 2011, [177] Interestingly, a pattern recurred in which, in the words of former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, “The White House pushed back on sanctions bills, and then, once they passed, took credit for them.” See Michael B. Oren, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (New York: Random House, 2015), 274. See also Josh Rogin, “White House Opposed New Iran Sanctions,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 30, 2012, [178] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [179] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [180] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 15. [181] “Payments System SWIFT to Cut Off Iranian Banks,” Reuters, March 15, 2012, [182] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, Nov. 5, 2012. [183] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 200; Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0,” Washington Post, Dec. 2, 2011. [184] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 366–67. Zarate made the same point, noting that in early 2012, “The talk of preemptive war by Israel — which began to impact the public debate within Israeli society and in Washington, DC — made clear that more aggressive steps were necessary to avert war. … The Israeli strategy was clear — it would use saber rattling to impel greater international economic and financial pressure. The world was moving into maximalist financial pressure mode on Iran to avoid war. Financial constriction needed to move to economic strangulation.” See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 338. [185] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [186] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [187] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [188] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [189] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [190] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [191] Jeffrey Goldberg, “Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff,’” Atlantic, March 2, 2012, [192] “Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 4, 2012, [193] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 369. [194] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 405–7. [195] Goldberg, “Obama Doctrine.” [196] Author interview with Ehud Barak, Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 8, 2016. See also Barak, My Country, My Life, 432–33. [197] Barak, My Country, My Life, 429. [198] Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Setting Limits on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2012, [199] Lois Farrow Parshley, “A Whole New Era,” Foreign Policy, Sept. 17, 2012, [200]“Netanyahu Urges U.S. to Set ‘Red Line’ for Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Sept. 16, 2012, [201] Telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. This may have been the case. In August 2012, Haaretz published an extensive interview with a “senior decision-maker” whom it indirectly identified as Barak. Linking the probability of a U.S. attack to a perceived, credible Israeli military option, the senior decision-maker — that is, Barak — added, “If Israel gives up and it becomes clear that it can no longer act, the likelihood of an American operation will decrease.” See Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012. [202] Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 28, 2012, [203] Shimon Shiffer, “The Plan of Attack,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 3, 2012. [204] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [205] Barak, My Country, My Life, 433. [206] See Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008); Joseph S. Nye Jr., The Future of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011); Moises Naím, The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (New York: Basic Books, 2013). [207] Isabel Kershner, “Iran Deal Denounced by Netanyahu as ‘Historic Mistake,’” New York Times, July 14, 2015, [208] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, May 6, 2016. [209] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [210] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [211] “Amanpour,” With Christiane Amanpour, CNN, April 19, 2012. [212] “Hakol Diburim,” With Ayala Hasson, Voice of Israel, Aug. 9, 2012, [213] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [214] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 600 [post_author] => 179 [post_date] => 2018-05-29 17:38:37 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-29 21:38:37 [post_content] =>

As prime minister I intend to demonstrate my resolution to defend fully people's lives, our territory, and our beautiful ocean. Right now, at this very moment, the Japan Coast Guard and members of the Self-Defense Forces are defending Japan’s seas and skies off the coast of the Senkaku Islands. The security of Japan is not someone else's problem; it is a crisis that exists right there and now.[1]

–Shinzo Abe

With these words, part of the opening statement at his inaugural press conference after the December 2012 landslide election victory that returned him and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-Komeito ruling coalition to power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear that national security reforms would be a top priority for his administration. In the more than five years since, Abe has exercised decisive and pragmatic leadership. From a significant loosening of a decades-old ban on arms exports to a landmark Cabinet decision allowing Japan the limited exercise of collective self-defense, the Abe administration’s shifts on security policy have captured global attention.[2] They have also prompted domestic and international controversy. Internal institutional reforms that are less conspicuous but no less significant, especially the establishment of Japan’s first National Security Council, have transformed the country’s decision-making on security policy. Given the Abe government’s concrete achievements, the prime minister’s reputation as an ideological nationalist, and his repeatedly expressed desire for more ambitious changes, there is a robust debate about whether Abe — Japan’s longest-serving prime minister since 1972 — has “radically” transformed Japan’s security policy and spurred a fundamentally new trajectory for it, as some leading scholars contend.[3] Beyond important policy shifts directed by the Abe administration, experts have also judged the institutional reforms “the most ambitious reorganization of Japan’s foreign and security policy apparatus since the end of World War II.”[4] For others, Abe’s significant impact on policy suggests that scholars should pay much greater attention to the personal attributes and agency of individual leaders as a variable.[5] Wherever one stands in the debate about the particular significance of his achievements, it is clear that Abe, now in his sixth year in office, is one of Japan’s most consequential postwar prime ministers. With major geopolitical and economic shifts underway in the increasingly prosperous yet potentially volatile Asia-Pacific, a sober and comprehensive assessment of change and continuity in the Abe era, as well as its significance for Japan’s long-term strategic trajectory, is crucial. Since at least the mid-1960s, Japan’s advanced economy and technological strengths have granted it a unique status as the region’s “could-be” military great power. Yet baked into its post-1945 resurgence is the “pacifist” Article 9 of its U.S.-drafted occupation-era Constitution. This article, which has never been amended, says that Japan “forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” and pledges that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”[6] Although the practical policy implications of Article 9 have shifted significantly over 70 years of intense political contestation and in response to perceived changes in Japan’s external threat environment, significant self-imposed constraints remain on what Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), established in 1954, can and cannot do — especially concerning use of lethal force — and what capabilities it can and cannot procure.[7] In what one influential foreign policy voice once called Japan’s “grand experiment,” since 1945 the country has unilaterally eschewed “military power politics,” robust offensive capabilities, an indigenous nuclear deterrent, and a regional or global security role commensurate with its potential.[8] While gradually developing its robust self-defense forces, for security Tokyo has depended significantly on extended deterrence provided by Washington — its only formal treaty ally. Japan’s security trajectory, therefore, has direct implications for the United States and its own posture in Asia. The U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet and 50,000 personnel from across the U.S. military are based in Japan. In light of Japan’s relatively passive postwar defense posture, a “radical,” or fundamental, transformation of the sort some allege is already underway would have significant potential to transform international relations across the Asia-Pacific, especially if other regional players — including the United States — adjust their own postures in response. The region’s geopolitical terrain is already shifting. It includes an increasingly powerful and assertive China that the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy explicitly calls “revisionist”; a nuclear-armed North Korea on the cusp of fielding a credible intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser who departed the Trump administration this spring, referred to as “the most destabilizing development[…] in the post-World War II period”;[9] and deepening concerns about the long-term U.S. commitment to regional primacy, alliances, and the rules-based liberal international order upon which Japan has staked its security. This environment presents an opportune moment to assess the significance of the national security reforms Abe’s administration has enacted since 2012. This article builds on earlier studies debating the extent and pace of the “normalization” of Japan’s defense posture since the end of the Cold War.[10] It focuses on developments since Abe’s return to the prime minister’s office in 2012 and soberly engages the following core questions: With more than five years of hindsight and a landmark package of security legislation in effect since 2016, how transformative are the Abe government’s reforms in the area of national security? In light of what Japan’s leaders define as an increasingly “severe” regional security environment, how much has actually changed, and where are there continuities? How has Abe’s government been able to pursue its ambitious security agenda while avoiding the domestic political backlash that threatened previous prime ministers? After all, trying to do too much too quickly played a major role in the collapse of Abe’s first administration, from 2006 to 2007. This article is divided into three sections aimed at answering the three aforementioned questions, which, in turn, will help answer a more fundamental question: whether the Abe government represents a major turning point in the trajectory of postwar Japan.[11] The first section focuses on change. It identifies and assesses the significance of major reforms relevant to national security since 2012 in two areas: policy and domestic institutions. Although the former typically attracts most of the attention, the two are inextricably linked. Constraints imposed by domestic institutions have, for generations, impeded postwar prime ministers from seeking more transformative policy shifts. The second section focuses on continuity. It baselines Abe-era reform efforts in the trends that were present before he returned to office, and highlights persistent pillars of Japan’s security posture, several of which the Abe administration has tried, but thus far failed, to overturn. Acknowledging such oft-overlooked “dogs that didn’t bark” is crucial for a balanced understanding of Japan’s strategic trajectory, and to avoid overstating the pace and scale of the shifts that are underway, as well as the extent to which they are attributable specifically to Abe. To better understand how Abe’s government has succeeded where previous administrations (including his own a decade ago) have failed, this study’s third section aims to develop a nuanced explanation of the complex external and domestic factors at play. The interaction of these factors has effectively opened political space for the Abe government to go further and faster than its predecessors, yet it has also compelled it to significantly moderate or, in some cases, abandon key reform objectives. That said, this article’s conclusion identifies several policy areas where regional vicissitudes render major shifts more likely than ever before, though by no means inevitable. [quote id="1"] This study finds that national security reforms under Abe, in the aggregate, constitute a significant and historic shift for Japan, but also are a pragmatic and evolutionary response to Japan’s changing security environment. Important features of this reform program include the centralization of national security decision-making in the executive, the rationalization of force structure and posture to more effectively confront perceived threats, a “doubling-down” on the U.S.-Japan alliance coupled with an effort to expand Japan’s role within it, and the gradual deepening of Japan’s security ties with third parties. Though Abe’s government has achieved several of its coveted reforms, several other findings have significant implications for Japan’s trajectory in a post-Abe era. First, nearly six years into his second term, the story of security reforms since 2012 is hardly “all about Abe.” Most of the recent national security shifts build on longer-term trends that predate Abe and attracted support from moderates within and outside his own party. This strongly suggests that idiosyncratic factors such as the conservative Abe’s widely cited “ideology” and “nationalism” are acting, at most, as second-order drivers. Although Abe’s decisive leadership has been significant, his agenda also seems to have benefited from his being in the right place at the right time. Second, fundamental and long-standing — though often overlooked — constraints on Japan’s defense posture remain in place. On issues such as Article 9 revision, the ambitious agenda of Abe and his allies has been tempered by remarkably strong normative and domestic political headwinds. In short, barring major external or domestic political structural change, backsliding is unlikely and the current incremental reform trajectory is therefore likely to persist. Yet the failure of Abe’s government so far to achieve long-desired, ambitious reforms to central pillars of Japan’s security posture also demonstrates the persistent headwinds future prime ministers will continue to face.

Identifying Change: Japan’s Security Shift Under Abe

A controversial figure to many in and outside Japan, Abe returned as prime minister in 2012 as one of his generation’s most experienced political leaders and foreign policy experts. The grandson of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1957-1960), one of Japan’s most consequential postwar leaders concerning security policy, Abe began his political career in the 1980s as secretary to his father, then-Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe. Immediately before becoming prime minister the first time, Abe the younger served as deputy (2001-2003) and then chief Cabinet secretary (2005-2006) during the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who held the office from 2001 to 2006. Abe’s time in Koizumi’s Cabinet was significantly shaped by Japan’s struggle to respond to growing U.S. calls for the JSDF to do more in a post-9/11 context, both within and outside an alliance framework. Abe emerged as one of Koizumi’s key advisers on security affairs and as Koizumi’s anointed successor. During his first term as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007, Abe unabashedly championed ambitious national security reforms — in particular, revising the Article 9 “peace clause” of Japan’s Constitution or, short of that, reinterpreting it to overturn a self-imposed ban on collective self-defense; establishing a “Japanese-style national security council” (Nihon-ban NSC); and elevating Japan’s Defense Agency to ministry-level status. His first administration, however, was ephemeral, collapsing after only 365 days. Abe left office in 2007 having achieved only the last of those three goals. Five years later, voters rejected the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after a rare three-year experiment with the LDP in the opposition, and Abe returned as prime minister. As his inaugural press conference in December 2012 makes clear — especially in the context of rapidly worsening tensions with China over contested islands in the East China Sea — Abe considered the ruling coalition’s landslide victory a mandate to pursue his ambitious agenda. Yet, perhaps due to lessons learned during his first experience as prime minister, his government’s national security reform effort so far appears much more pragmatic and incremental than ideological or radical. Indeed, it has repeatedly dialed back its ambitions when confronted with strong political resistance. The longevity, stability, and moderating effect of key advisers — especially chief Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has held the position longer than anyone else in Japan’s history — also appear integral. Nevertheless, the Abe government has achieved significant national security reforms. National Security Policy Shifts A major push by the Abe government to transform Japan’s security policy and the roles and missions of its defense forces culminated in the passage of ambitious “peace and security legislation” in 2015 that formally took effect in March 2016. The legislation included revisions to 10 existing laws as well as a new International Peace Support bill.[12] Among other things, it provided the legal foundation for the controversial 2014 Cabinet decision to reinterpret the Article 9 “peace clause” to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense under specific conditions, as well as a major revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation in 2015.[13] The legislation, key aspects of which had been in the works for years, effectively accelerated the post-Cold War trend of incremental expansion of the scope of the JSDF’s missions in response to Japan’s changing regional and global security environment. The primary aims of the legislation were to bolster deterrence to avoid armed conflict, especially through strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance; to protect Japanese nationals; and to better contribute to international peace and stability under “proactive pacifism” (sekkyokuteki heiwashugi).[14] More specifically, the landmark security legislation had implications for three categories of JSDF operations:[15] “Use of Force” (buryoku koshi) The security legislation moderately expanded the conditions under which Japan’s government may opt to employ the JSDF in response to an armed attack against a third country “that is in a close relationship with Japan,” or for “limited” collective self-defense. Before this expansion, it was considered unconstitutional for the JSDF to use force unless responding to a direct armed attack on Japan itself. Although this change is significant, especially for the U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan’s right of collective self-defense may be exercised only under three relatively strict, globally unique conditions. Most importantly, the armed attack against a third party must itself pose a “threat to [Japan’s] survival” (kuni no sonritsu). As Japan’s 2017 defense white paper states, “exercise of the right of collective self-defense is not permitted for […] turning back an attack made against a foreign country.”[16] In other words, despite the Abe Cabinet’s reinterpretation of Article 9 in 2014, the expanded circumstances under which Japan may exercise the right of collective self-defense, which is afforded to all sovereign states under international law, remain limited on constitutional grounds.[17] Notwithstanding these constraints, and regardless of whether this right is ever exercised, the legislation significantly expanded opportunities for the JSDF to participate in bilateral and multilateral planning, training, and exercises. This is intended to enhance both deterrence and readiness, especially of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Peace Support Activities Recognizing that conflicts beyond areas surrounding Japan may have an “important influence on Japan’s peace and security,” the 2015 legislation also expanded the government’s ability to deploy the JSDF overseas in what it calls international peace support activities, albeit primarily in noncombat roles, such as ship inspections, search-and-rescue operations, and logistical support for U.S. forces. For example, since late 2017, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships have deployed near the Korean Peninsula to forestall attempts by North Korea to bypass international sanctions.[18] This support cannot be provided in combat zones, however, and must be temporarily suspended in the event that fighting breaks out. The legislation also allows for limited use of weapons in certain situations in which JSDF personnel, or others under their supervision, come under attack. Important limitations persist in these cases, too. For example, personnel are expected to evacuate if the area becomes a combat zone.[19] Peacetime Activities The 2015 security legislation also enables the JSDF to engage in “asset protection” missions, or to use weapons to protect foreign (presumably, mainly U.S.) military forces involved in peacetime activities that contribute to Japan’s defense, such as bilateral/multilateral exercises or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. The first such maritime escort mission occurred in May 2017, and the first aerial escort (of a U.S. B-1 strategic bomber) followed that November.[20] The legislation also enables the use of weapons in U.N. peacekeeping operations as well as in the rescue of Japanese nationals overseas under certain conditions, including with the consent of the state in which the operation takes place.[21] As with limited collective self-defense, significant restrictions unique to Japan persist. Nevertheless, these expanded authorities have created opportunities for expanded training, exercises, and contingency planning, thereby enhancing readiness and deterrence within and outside an alliance context.[22] [quote id="2"] Overall, the major components of the Abe government’s security policies are captured in Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy, released in December 2013.[23] Three major pillars of the strategy are “strengthening and expanding Japan’s capabilities and roles,” “strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance,” and actively promoting security cooperation with third countries in the Asia-Pacific and beyond,[24] each of which is intended to be mutually reinforcing. A brief overview of how these pillars manifest in terms of specific policies follows: Strengthening Territorial Defense The long-term trend of Japan’s evolving national security posture — which has accelerated under Abe — has been the gradual reconfiguration of JSDF force structure and posture to strengthen deterrence, improve situational awareness, bolster missile defense, and develop more expeditionary response capabilities. At the same time, the JSDF has sought to improve coordination and interoperability across its ground, maritime, and air services, and its ability to flexibly respond to an array of traditional security threats as well as novel challenges in the “gray zone” — contingencies that are neither a pure peacetime nor a traditional armed attack situation[25] — and in the realms of cyber and space. Shifting Southwest Since major diplomatic crises between Tokyo and Beijing in September 2010 and 2012, and as a significant expansion of the scope and frequency of China’s military and paramilitary activities in the East China Sea and western Pacific Ocean presents new and complex challenges, Japanese defense planners have come to see Japan’s remote southwestern islands, including the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, as more strategically significant yet also as increasingly vulnerable.[26] This operational challenge has prompted moving away from a Cold War-era defense orientation that emphasized a potential Soviet invasion through Hokkaido and toward China-centric challenges to the southwest. Building off landmark changes in the 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines  released under the Democratic Party of Japan,[27] the Abe government’s first — and so far, only — National Defense Program Guidelines, issued in 2013, calls for the JSDF to function as a “Dynamic Joint Defense Force” and to significantly improve its capability to deter and, if necessary, to respond effectively to “an attack on remote islands.”[28] It has sought to bolster deterrence by improving intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance as well as implementing shifts to force structure and posture of the JSDF and the Japan Coast Guard to strengthen their ability to respond with speed and flexibility.[29] In response to a surge in Chinese military and paramilitary operations near Japanese territory, a major focus of the Abe government’s reorientation has been the incremental militarization of Japan’s remote southwestern islands, including installing radar sites and anti-ship and surface-to-air missile units; procuring rapidly deployable capabilities closer to major western JSDF bases; significantly bolstering intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; doubling the number of F-15s stationed in Okinawa, the major southwestern hub for JSDF and U.S. forces in Japan; and, in the most distinct break with past practice, establishing Japan’s first amphibious forces since 1945. Japan’s new 2,100-strong Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which was formally stood up in Nagasaki in April 2018, has trained to retake remote islands occupied by foreign forces. Its establishment coincided with a major restructuring of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces, including the creation of a Ground Component Command tasked with controlling ground forces across Japan and bolstering their ability to deploy rapidly in various contingencies, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.[30] Finally, and consistent with the 2013 National Security Strategy’s call to “enhance the capabilities of the law enforcement agencies responsible for territorial patrol activities and reinforce its maritime surveillance capabilities,”[31] the Abe government has prioritized expanding the situational awareness, presence operations, and rapid-response capabilities of the front-line Coast Guard. In particular, it has built and deployed new ships to the Coast Guard’s regional headquarters in Okinawa to enable 24/7 patrols of the Senkakus, including establishing a dedicated 12-vessel Senkakus Territorial Waters Guard based in Ishigaki.[32] Spaces to Watch An update of Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines, expected later this year, may herald important additional changes. The same goes for the Mid-Term Defense Program, which was also last revised in 2013. In response to a perceived worsening of the North Korean threat in 2017, the Abe administration recently green-lighted the purchase of two Aegis Ashore batteries.[33] Other prominent and more controversial capabilities that Japan is reportedly considering include long-range cruise missiles and the remodeling of Izumo-class destroyers so that F-35Bs — not just helicopters — can land on their decks. Japan’s fiscal 2018 budget reportedly includes expenditures related to the introduction of some longer-range joint-strike missiles.[34] Although technically constitutional based on a 1950s government interpretation of Article 9, a long-range strike missile capable of hitting “enemy bases” in North Korea would be unprecedented.[35] So would landing U.S. F-35Bs on Japan’s large “helicopter-carrying destroyers.”[36] Depending on how this hypothetical policy shift is implemented, it could effectively turn Izumo-class destroyers into strike carriers — potentially an “offensive” (kogekigata) platform prohibited under a decades-old official interpretation of Article 9. It is important to emphasize, however, that these potential shifts are only under consideration. Previous governments have considered similar capabilities but ultimately decided not to pursue them. The U.S.-Japan Alliance Despite widespread assertions that Abe is pursuing a “nationalist” agenda, the second of three core features of his government’s national security strategy has been to reinforce Japan’s alliance with Washington, forged in the postwar occupation, as a foundational pillar of national security and the “cornerstone” of regional peace and stability. While bolstering U.S.-Japan defense ties is a long-term trend that predates Abe, it has accelerated since 2012. Indeed, Japan’s latest defense white paper, published in 2017, devotes more than 50 pages to the topic of “strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.”[37] Recent steps include establishing new institutional linkages, making political and legal commitments to support one another in a wider array of contingencies, and significantly expanding joint training and exercises. As captured in the 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, recent institutional changes have strengthened bilateral planning, decision-making, intelligence-sharing, and flexible crisis response across a range of traditional and nontraditional scenarios (including the space and cyber domains) in peacetime, during a gray-zone contingency, or in the event of an armed attack. Less heralded but highly significant for allied coordination are the upgraded Bilateral Planning Mechanism and the new standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism, the latter of which enables frequent, real-time communication among civilian and uniformed alliance managers.[38] In 2014, as Chinese military and paramilitary operations in the East China Sea were surging and Beijing appeared to be probing U.S. commitments, President Barack Obama reaffirmed the alliance’s applicability to an armed attack situation over the Senkakus. President Donald Trump reaffirmed this commitment in 2017. Key Japanese developments include the aforementioned expansion of authorities under the 2015 security legislation enabling the JSDF to come to the aid of foreign (especially U.S.) forces under attack, albeit conditionally, and to engage in a wider array of training and exercises. In 2017, the first major Abe-Trump alliance joint statement included a U.S. “commitment to the security of Japan through the full range of capabilities, including U.S. nuclear forces.”[39] [quote id="3"] Finally, the changes in the alliance over the past six years have occurred in the context of a continuing broader U.S. strategic commitment, across several administrations, to the Asia-Pacific, captured most conspicuously in the widely-cited Obama administration’s rhetoric of a “rebalance” of U.S. military forces to the region.[40] A series of U.S. administrations have deployed America’s most capable military assets to the Asia-Pacific and to bases in Japan in particular. For example, the first overseas deployment of F-35s was to southwestern Japan in 2017. The United States has also expanded bilateral and trilateral training and exercises involving Japan, exported some of its most advanced platforms to Japan, and continues to work closely with Japan on advanced technical cooperation such as missile defense. In addition to new JSDF peacetime maritime and air escort missions, the 2015 security legislation facilitated a significant expansion of U.S.-Japan joint exercises. They increased from 19 in 2015 to 62 in 2017.[41] Bolstering Ties with Third Parties A third focus of national security strategy under Abe has been to build on the outreach of previous administrations and significantly expand Japan’s security ties with countries other than the United States, albeit with a clear focus on U.S. security partners in the region — such as Australia, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam — as well as further abroad, e.g., the United Kingdom and France.[42] In addition to complementing U.S.-led efforts to incrementally consolidate a “web” of mutually beneficial security ties among like-minded Asia-Pacific countries, Abe’s initiative also demonstrates Japan’s increasingly “proactive” contribution to regional security, creates opportunities for cooperation on priorities such as defense technology, and helps to emphasize Japan’s support for a rules-based regional order at a moment when the United States and its allies are increasingly concerned about the challenges posed by Beijing. Especially with regard to China’s policies toward territorial disputes, the Abe administration appears to see all maritime nations as having a fundamental shared interest in standing up to coercion from Beijing.[43] As Abe emphasized in a widely cited 2013 address,
Japan must work even more closely with the U.S., Korea, Australia and other like-minded democracies throughout the region. A rules-promoter, a commons’ guardian, and an effective ally and partner to the U.S. and other democracies, are all roles that Japan MUST fulfill.[44]
The Abe administration has since continued to promote deeper Japanese and U.S. security ties with Australia, with which Japan’s links have expanded significantly over the past two decades, India, and member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), several of which also have territorial disputes with Beijing.[45] Last year also brought a major revival of Abe’s 2007 call for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” — an initiative inspired at least in part by concerns about China’s trajectory. Although the Trump administration appears to have signed on to this initiative, its concrete policy implications are as yet unclear.[46] In this spirit, the 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation emphasize “cooperation with regional and other partners, as well as international organizations,” and “the global nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”[47] Additional manifestations of Japan’s more proactive international security cooperation include enabling JSDF personnel involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations to use small arms to defend peacekeepers from other countries and to jointly protect base camps,[48] as well as expanding partner capacity building and defense technology transfers, especially with Southeast Asian nations. One example is Japan’s first-ever proposal for an ASEAN-wide defense framework.[49] Japan’s recent deployment as part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation to South Sudan marked the first time the JSDF was allowed to provide small arms ammunition transfers to foreign peacekeepers and exercise new protection authorities.[50] Most recently, U.S. allies Australia and Canada have announced that they will deploy from U.S. bases in Japan in support of military activities that aim to catch evaders of sanctions imposed on North Korea.[51] Visiting forces agreements and expanded bilateral exercises with other countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, are also reportedly under consideration and would constitute a major development.[52] Also notable is the Abe government’s move in 2014 to significantly loosen a decades-old ban on arms exports. This shift, though it has yet to bear much concrete fruit, opened up significant space for high-end defense technology cooperation with, and exports to, U.S. allies and partners. Japan’s National Security Strategy identifies defense equipment and technology cooperation as a means to strengthen indigenous defense capabilities, in particular by reinvigorating Japan’s struggling defense industrial base, as well as strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.[53] High-profile results include an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to sell Japanese submarine technology to Australia. Tokyo has also signed defense technology cooperation agreements with various countries beyond the United States, including Britain and France. Institutional Reforms: Strengthening Political Leadership of Decision-Making The unifying theme of the Abe government’s national security-relevant institutional reforms has been a concerted effort to consolidate executive (Cabinet-level) and prime ministerial control over foreign policy and national security decision-making. This focus is consistent with a general decades-old trend — also accelerated under Abe — of expanding prime ministerial power.[54] The goals for consolidating national security decision-making have been twofold: first, to ameliorate perceived institutional weaknesses, especially with regard to interagency coordination, strategic planning, and crisis management; and, second, to improve the government’s ability to expeditiously and flexibly cope with the increasingly complex security environment, which many in Japan view as uncertain — and worsening.[55] Since 2012, Abe and the prime minister’s office have played a more direct role in foreign policy decision-making than any previous administration.[56] Establishment of Japan’s National Security Council The single most significant reform to national security-relevant institutions since 2012 has been the establishment of Japan’s first National Security Council (NSC) in December 2013.[57] Announcing his plans that February, Abe said that the NSC “control tower” would be “centered on the prime minister” and tasked with “flexible and regular discussions of diplomatic and security affairs from a strategic perspective.” Its purpose would be to provide “an environment for rapid responses based on strong political leadership.”[58] Creation of the NSC was part of a much longer-term effort by previous prime ministers to more directly shape national security policy, in particular by strengthening the prime minister’s office and Cabinet relative to Japan’s bureaucracy, improving interagency coordination, and more directly involving JSDF officers in security policy discussions.[59] It also flows from an expansion of Japan’s conception of “national security” to encompass issues related to space, cyber, and the financial system as well as terrorism, nuclear counterproliferation, and gray-zone challenges. Accordingly, Abe has frequently convened the NSC to deliberate national security issues, broadly defined, and to make decisions. The council has also facilitated interagency coordination on matters of diplomacy, security, economics, and crisis management.[60] The NSC’s most important feature is its “four-minister meeting,” which brings together the prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary, minister of foreign affairs, and minister of defense for regular discussions of long- and short-term security concerns. Unlike its institutional predecessors (e.g., the 1986 Security Council), Japan’s NSC was set up to serve as an advisory committee and as a de facto decision-making body.[61] Having convened on a roughly weekly basis over its first four years — far outpacing that of any other postwar security institution — the council appears to be proving its mettle as a venue for regular and frequent top-level political deliberations on, and centralized leadership of, Japan’s national security affairs.[62] [quote id="4"] To support the NSC the Abe government created a National Security Secretariat in January 2014. Headed by a secretary-general and housed within the Cabinet secretariat, its staff averages 70 to 80 personnel. Most are civil servants seconded from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense, including some uniformed JSDF personnel. Each individual is assigned to one of six teams — three with functional and three with regional focuses. The secretary-general — widely considered Japan’s de facto national security adviser — sometimes functions as Abe’s personal emissary to foreign leaders.[63] Over the past four years, the secretariat has taken the lead on interagency coordination for major national security documents, most prominently, Japan’s comprehensive National Security Strategy. Replacing the Basic Defense Policy, written in 1957, and reflecting the NSC’s more expansive conceptualization of national security affairs, the National Security Strategy runs the gamut from territorial defense to international energy and cyberspace matters. The strategy’s existence and content reflect the “politics-led, top-down” whole-of-government approach that motivated the creation of the NSC. So, too, does the secretariat’s function as a nexus within the Cabinet for consolidating the policies of Japan’s manifold agencies into a comprehensive national strategy.[64] After nearly five years, Japan’s NSC appears to have achieved a handful of key objectives. It has done much to address long-standing issues in Japan’s policy decision-making through advancing centralization, political leadership, and whole-of-government approaches to national security. For these reasons, it is already considered one of the most significant security-relevant institutional reforms in Japan’s postwar history.[65] Politicization of Bureaucratic Posts Relevant to National Security A second defining feature of the Abe government’s effort to consolidate political control of national security decision-making — one that has received less attention outside Japan — is its more assertive political review of bureaucratic personnel decisions and its willingness to intervene.[66] This effort is part of a broader push reflected in the establishment in 2014 of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs. The bureau, which subjects high-level administrative positions (e.g., deputy vice-minister and higher) to review by the chief Cabinet secretary and prime minister, has been domestically controversial.[67] Yasuo Fukuda, a former prime minister from Abe’s party, lambasted the bureau’s politicization of administrative appointments as tantamount to the “ruination of the state” (kokka no hametsu), even calling it the Abe Cabinet’s “greatest failure.”[68] Even before establishing the bureau, however, Abe had demonstrated a willingness to take a proactive role in bureaucratic appointments. Although such decisions are a matter of course in the United States and many other countries, in Japan, critics see the growing politicization of government appointments as violating well-established norms. Some of the concerns include fears of a “spoils system” or policy inconsistency, especially in light of what some refer to as the “revolving door” prime ministership — Japan had six prime ministers between 2006 and 2012. On the other hand, advocates of the Bureau of Personnel Affairs contend that ministerial control of personnel appointments has historically exacerbated pervasive bureaucratic “turf consciousness” (nawabari no ishiki), which in turn has incentivized powerful bureaucrats to prioritize ministerial interests over the “national interest.” In short, advocates see the bureau and the NSC as necessary countermeasures to these perceived weaknesses.[69] When it comes to national security appointments specifically, the Abe government has tapped individuals whose views and experiences appear compatible with its policy objectives. During Abe’s first administration, he opted for a more indirect approach. [70]  Since 2012, however, his government has been more hands-on. In 2013, the Abe administration appointed an active-duty Coast Guard officer as commandant — the first time this had ever happened. Previous commandants had been career bureaucrats with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.[71] Not coincidentally, the officer had operational experience in the waters surrounding the contested Senkaku Islands — the object of a long-running territorial dispute with Beijing that had worsened significantly by the time Abe returned to office in December 2012.[72] Perhaps Abe’s most controversial and security-policy-significant intervention was his late-2013 appointment of a new director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau — the powerful body of legal experts that effectively determines the official interpretation of Japan’s Constitution. Abe’s decision came as he was seeking the bureau’s blessing for the Cabinet’s effort to effectively “reinterpret” Article 9 to make constitutional what the bureau had for decades deemed unconstitutional: the exercise of Japan’s right of collective self-defense under international law.[73] Sidestepping the norm that outgoing directors-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau be replaced by their deputies, Abe appointed an outsider: the former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s International Legal Affairs Bureau. Reportedly, this official shared Abe’s view that the Cabinet had the authority to fulfill the prime minister’s desire to render collective self-defense constitutional.[74] The appointment was widely criticized by opposition parties and constitutional scholars as an affront to past precedent and on constitutional grounds.[75]

Plus ça Change…? Abe’s Incrementalism Amid Persistent Constraints

Although the Abe government’s security policy and institutional reforms constitute significant shifts, it is important to also acknowledge the foundational security principles and policies that have remained unchanged, to avoid conflating Abe’s rhetoric and his stated (or imputed) desires with actual policy changes, and to assess with appropriate measure the significance of specific policy shifts. Far from constituting a radical shift, even in the instances of major and significant reforms undertaken since 2012, in most cases the Abe government’s successes build on longer-term efforts that predate his administration. That these shifts have, in key instances, attracted supra-partisan support — as reflected in associated developments during the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), from 2009 to 2012 — and have not fomented a major popular backlash at the ballot box suggests mainstream, if at times grudging, popular support. In the aggregate, these findings carry important implications for Japan’s likely trajectory after Abe leaves office. Policy: More Status Quo than Revisionist  When evaluating the cumulative significance of Abe-era national security revisions through a lens of continuity, rather than change, the durability of decades-old, fundamental pillars of Japan’s security posture emerges as strongly as the evolutionary nature of the post-2012 changes. Especially when considered against the backdrop of the transformative changes reshaping Japan’s regional security environment, the persistence of Japan’s self-imposed constraints on the development and employment of military power is striking. Appreciating these external factors and internal limits is essential to understanding Japan’s strategic trajectory, as well as the prospects for major change moving forward. On key issues where Abe’s government has sought major changes and faced domestic political resistance, it has either moderated its ambitions significantly, such as introducing globally unique limitations on exercising collective self-defense, or abandoned them, as was the case with collective security. When it comes to fundamental mainstays of Japan’s national security — such as the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance or Japan’s non-nuclear principles — continuity is the defining feature of government policy. Absent more fundamental changes to these core pillars, the idea that the Abe era thus far represents a radical inflection point in Japan’s postwar security trajectory loses significant credibility. First, and most essentially, Article 9’s original text remains untouched. Despite repeated declarations since 2012 that amending Article 9 is his government’s “historic task,” Abe has not only failed to achieve revisions, but by 2017 had dialed back his stated ambitions to such a degree that he was prominently criticized within his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for abandoning past LDP positions.[76] The Abe government’s plan, announced in May 2017, aims to leave Article 9’s existing clauses untouched and proposes adding a new clause that states merely that the “existence” of the JSDF is constitutional.[77] Since the JSDF has existed for 64 years, and an overwhelming majority of the Japanese public already believes it is constitutional, one is hard-pressed to conceive of a less ambitious revision. Furthermore, though to many contemporary observers the first revision of Japan’s 1947 Constitution seems more likely than ever before, public opinion remains, at best, ambivalent.[78] Faced with various domestic political headwinds — including the reemergence of festering, though unrelated, scandals in spring 2018 — it is unclear whether Abe’s government will be able to achieve even the modest addition it proposed last year. Article 9 is the linchpin of Japan’s national security policy, and without a more ambitious revision of its first and/or second clauses, other core aspects of national security policy are far less likely to be radically changed. The persistence of Article 9 in its current form is both a symptom and cause of Japan’s continued reluctance to employ JSDF personnel overseas, especially in operations that may require the use of lethal force. Since 1954, no JSDF personnel have died in combat. Even after six years of Abe’s leadership and changes, globally unique conditions remain on the use of force outside an unambiguous armed attack on Japan, and “exclusive defense” (senshu boei) remains Japan’s “fundamental policy.”[79] To be sure, the Cabinet’s 2014 reinterpretation of Japan’s Constitution to enable the “limited” exercise of collective self-defense represents a historic policy shift. But even under the new interpretation, the Abe government agreed to impose three strict conditions bounding the circumstances under which Japan could actually exercise its collective self-defense right under international law. Most significantly, the armed attack suffered by the other state must itself pose an existential threat to Japan (kuni no sonritsu). What’s more, in the debate leading up to the Cabinet’s decision, Abe abandoned his hand-picked advisory panel’s recommendation to enable the JSDF to use force in U.N. Security Council-authorized collective security operations (such as the 1991 Persian Gulf War).[80] [quote id="5"] Although new and historically significant legal authorities came into effect in 2016, severe restrictions remain on allowing JSDF personnel to use weapons in peacetime, and there is significant political reluctance to do so.[81] In the historic deployment as part of the U.N. peacekeeping operation to South Sudan, Abe’s government withdrew the JSDF once the security situation deteriorated, presumably to avoid casualties abroad. The JSDF were withdrawn, then, without actually utilizing the new authority to “rush to rescue” (kaketsuke-keigo) — or using lethal (small-arms) force to come to the aid of other nations’ personnel.[82] Article 9’s second clause has particular significance for Japan’s force development options. A Cold War-era self-imposed ban on the JSDF’s acquisition of “offensive” (kogekigata) platforms of the sort that major military powers such as the United States, China, and Russia procure as a matter of course (aircraft carriers, ICBMs, strategic bombers) has been sustained based on a judgment that these platforms would constitute “war potential” and exceed the “minimum necessary” for self-defense. Another fundamental pillar of Japan’s national security posture — the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance — not only remains in place but the Abe government has doubled down upon it. Relative to declarations from leaders in the 1970s, especially Yasuhiro Nakasone, who would become prime minister in the 1980s and who famously referred to the alliance earlier in his career as a “semi-permanent necessity” (haneikyuteki ni hitsuyo) and called for autonomous defense (jishu boei),[83] calls for marginally more independent capabilities are hardly radical or even unique to Abe. In fact, they are generally supported in Washington. Even so, the 2015 revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation stipulates that the allies’ basic respective obligations under the 1960 security treaty remain unchanged. Deterring and, if necessary, responding to “an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan” remains the alliance’s primary mandate.[84] Japan is still under no treaty obligation to support the U.S. militarily. This of course does not necessarily mean that it would not. And the 2015 security legislation does enable, based on a political judgment, significant expansion of JSDF logistical support for U.S. operations, involvement in bilateral planning and exercises, and use of weapons in various peacetime contingencies. The aforementioned and now explicitly authorized “asset protection” mission reflected in the 2015 legislation expands the circumstances under which Japan can use weapons to defend a U.S. vessel under attack or that of other friendly nations if two conditions are met: that it is peacetime, and that the vessel is engaged in activities contributing to Japan’s defense. Even so, the JSDF can use weapons only to the extent necessary to repel the attack or to create an opportunity for retreat.[85] As a practical matter, Japan’s defense spending is not rapidly increasing and remains a major hurdle to any ambitious expansion of JSDF capabilities, roles, or missions. Despite widespread media hype about the Abe government’s “record high” defense budgets since 2013, in nominal yen terms, Japan’s 2018 defense budget is roughly commensurate with its 1997 spending. By comparison, during the intervening two decades, China’s official defense budget surged from one-quarter of Japan’s spending to four times the size of Japan’s defense budget. Regardless of Abe and other political leaders’ stated ambitions, without significant increases in defense funding, more fundamental changes to JSDF force structure or employment will be difficult. One recent study suggested that at least 40 percent of the defense priorities delineated in the Abe government’s 2018 budget request are underfunded.[86] The loosening of a long-standing ban on arms exports, which, in part, was intended to allow greater “bang for the buck” through economies of scale, has yet to attract any purchases of major platforms.[87] Other longtime, self-imposed constraints have remained more or less in place. Perhaps most salient, in light of recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, is that Japan continues to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The Abe government has repeatedly said that Japan’s long-standing “three non-nuclear principles” (hikaku san gensoku) — non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory — remain the country’s “fundamental policy.”[88] To be sure, in technical terms, Japan has long hedged against fears of U.S. abandonment and, in recent years, discussion has been more open about the possible need to move beyond these principles.[89] But these debates are hardly unprecedented. Prime ministers since the 1950s have held that “defensive” nuclear weapons would be constitutional.[90] Japan’s policies in this regard have not changed. This list, while not exhaustive, demonstrates that, despite important policy shifts initiated by the Abe administration since 2012, central pillars of Japanese security policy basically remain in place. Although significant in practical terms and historic in a national context, the Abe government’s alterations to Japan’s defense posture — up to and including limited collective self-defense — are best understood as evolutionary steps in response to a rapidly changing strategic environment. Despite Japan’s potentially volatile region, there is, as of yet, no clear evidence that the public would support more radical changes to Japan’s fundamental security principles, such as revising Article 9’s first or second clause to enable the abandonment of “exclusive defense” (senshu boei), much less pursuing autonomous military power outside a U.S.-Japan alliance framework, significantly ramping up defense spending, or acquiring nuclear weapons. Institutional Reforms: Evolutionary and Mainstream As discussed earlier, another major focus of national security reforms under Abe has been institutional; specifically, consolidating policy decision-making in the Cabinet, and the prime minister’s office in particular. Yet this trend also has a long legacy that predates Abe and is not unique to the LDP.[91] Previous long-serving LDP prime ministers have been proactive champions of administrative reforms, including Nakasone, who was prime minister from 1982 to 1987, Ryutaro Hashimoto, who held the office from 1996 to 1998, and Koizumi, who led from 2001 to 2006. Abe has built on the legacy of these and other predecessors, including former DPJ prime ministers.[92] Most prominently, the bills to establish the National Security Council (NSC) and the Bureau of Personnel Affairs received significant support from the DPJ.[93] The founding of Japan’s NSC was an outgrowth of a reform movement dating at least to the 1970s. That movement accelerated significantly after the September 11, 2001, attacks as Japan was called on to adopt a more proactive role in international security affairs and as its regional security environment grew more complicated. In 1986, Nakasone had established a “Security Council” (now defunct) with similar objectives to those that motivated the establishment of the NSC in 2013. Subsequent administrations reformed it incrementally.[94] Koizumi’s post-9/11 efforts, in which Abe played a central role as deputy and later chief Cabinet secretary, were of particular significance in centralizing foreign policy decision-making.[95] After additional reforms during the leadership of the DPJ, the March 2011 “triple disaster” (the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history triggered the tsunami that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster) and other crises revealed the deficiencies of existing crisis management and other national security-relevant institutions. In 2013, Abe, the ruling coalition, and the DPJ joined forces to establish the NSC.[96] [quote id="6"] Note also that with several high-profile exceptions mentioned earlier, most of Abe’s appointments related to national security have been relatively conventional. Although Article 68 of the Japanese Constitution requires only a majority of Cabinet ministers to be members of the Diet, all of Abe’s Cabinet-level national security appointments have been LDP politicians. Both foreign ministers in his second administration are generally considered to be more moderate than he is. Meanwhile, Abe’s chief foreign policy adviser, the National Security Secretariat secretary-general, is a retired Ministry of Foreign Affairs career diplomat. Although Abe’s most controversial intervention in bureaucratic personnel decisions, the appointment of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau director-general in 2013, was unprecedented, this Cabinet position has not historically been immune to political pressure. As Richard Samuels notes in a seminal 2004 study, powerful prime ministers in the past had pressured the bureau to achieve desired ends in national security policy. Most significantly, in the 1950s the bureau was pressured to declare that the establishment of the JSDF and, later, the possession of nuclear weapons would be constitutional, as long as they were for purposes of “self-defense.” In the 1980s, it judged arms exports to the United States constitutional. Nor has political frustration with the bureau been rooted strictly in the LDP. Since the end of the Cold War, influential politicians, including at least three who later became presidents of the erstwhile leading-opposition DPJ — Ichiro Ozawa, Naoto Kan, and Yoshihiko Noda — have criticized what they saw as overreach by the bureau. As Japan struggled to figure out its international role after 9/11, a LDP Diet member went so far as to introduce a bill in 2003 to disband the bureau. In Diet testimony, one of his colleagues told then-Prime Minister Koizumi, also a member of the LDP, “When interpretations of a bureaucratic agency of the government dominate the legislative process on such an issue as national security, it is a violation of the separation of powers among the three branches of government.” Perhaps most telling in the context of this study is the fact that, during his leadership campaign in 2002, Noda, a member of the DPJ who would later be Abe’s immediate predecessor as prime minister in 2011-2012, reportedly advocated for collective self-defense and pledged to appoint a sympathetic director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. Noda’s predecessor as prime minister, Kan, a fellow member of the DPJ who led from 2010 to 2011, had previously argued that “the fact that the CLB serves as the highest interpretive authority on the Constitution is itself a violation of the Constitution.”[97] Abe’s government has implemented major changes and flouted some norms concerning political influence over the bureaucracy. In particular, Abe was the first to decisively assert his will so conspicuously over bureaucrats of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. But the sentiment that inspired him was neither unique to him nor limited to his party. Placed in historical context, Abe-era institutional reforms appear far less outside the mainstream than much of the contemporary discourse would indicate. This suggests that Abe may not be as exceptional as is often assumed — a finding with significant implications for the era that follows his administration.

Accounting for Change … and Continuity: Japan’s Shifting Strategic and Political Context

To properly assess the significance of security shifts under the Abe administration and their longer-term implications for Japan’s trajectory, they must be considered in their international and domestic context. Failure to do so risks excessive, or unwarranted, attribution of causality to specific individuals, like Abe, or to idiosyncratic factors, such as ideology. The available evidence suggests that any explanation of developments in the Abe era requires a nuanced assessment of the complex factors at play. A perceived worsening of Japan’s external security environment has created political space for incremental rationalization of security policy shifts and decision-making to confront these challenges, even as long-standing, if contested and weakening, normative and domestic factors continue to provide powerful incentives for ambitious leaders to moderate their policy goals. Japan’s Increasingly "Severe" External Security Environment Abe’s return to power in late 2012 occurred as major changes were developing in Japan's regional security environment, creating a strategic context distinctly different from his first stint in office. Then, from 2006 to 2007, he failed to achieve most of his proposed national security reforms. More recently, of particular salience from Tokyo’s perspective have been the worsening threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea, China’s rapidly expanding military capabilities and newly provocative rhetoric and policies in the East China Sea, the growing prominence of qualitatively novel security challenges, including in the “gray zone” and cyber and space domains, and developments affecting alliance politics. North Korea From Japan’s perspective, over the past five years North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have evolved from longer-term security concerns to clear and present dangers. To some observers, most notably Abe himself, the despotic, internationally isolated regime of Kim Jong Un poses a threat that is unprecedented in Japan’s postwar history.[98] Since 2011, Pyongyang has conducted four nuclear tests, the most recent of which had an estimated yield of more than 100 kilotons (by comparison, the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 was roughly 15 kilotons). The previous North Korean regime sparked global alarm when it tested missiles in 1998, 2006, and 2009, but the Kim Jong Un regime has tested missiles at a rate that dwarfs that of its predecessor: 19 in 2014, 15 in 2015, 24 in 2016, and 20 in 2017.[99] North Korean missiles have also become qualitatively more advanced and more mobile (making them easier to hide and more difficult to destroy). They are also longer-ranged, and capable of delivering larger — potentially nuclear — payloads. In 2017 alone, Pyongyang conducted its first thermonuclear test, provocatively launched missiles over Japanese territory and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles it claimed could hit anywhere in the world, including Washington, D.C. North Korea also made specific threats against Japanese and U.S. bases. In January 2018, Abe summarized his take on the implications by saying “the security environment surrounding Japan is its most severe since World War II.”[100] China Over the past decade, the degree to which Japanese elites and the public see China as a national security concern has increased significantly. At the time of Abe’s first term, from 2006 to 2007, few outside national security circles paid much attention to Beijing’s quiet development of the world’s most robust arsenal of conventionally-tipped ballistic missiles, or to various other “anti-access/area-denial” capabilities aimed at deterring U.S. intervention in a regional conflict. Fewer still paid attention to China’s vast sovereignty claims in the South and East China Seas — including of five islands administered by Japan. Furthermore, until a political crisis with Beijing over the contested islands in 2010, the concept of “gray-zone situations” was not a major concern of most Japanese strategists.[101] Times have changed, and concerns about the security challenge posed by China are now mainstream and less abstract. In particular, those concerns deepened among the Japanese elite and broader public from 2009 to 2012, when Abe and his party, the LDP, were part of the opposition. Coupled with China’s symbolic replacement of Japan in 2010 as the world’s second-largest national economy, years of double-digit defense spending increases provided easily digestible evidence that the military balance of power was shifting. The day Abe’s first administration collapsed in 2007, Beijing’s official defense budget — widely considered to underreport actual military spending — was 356 billion yuan (about $45 billion), roughly the same as Japan’s. By 2017, it was more than one trillion yuan (or $151 billion) — nearly quadruple Japan’s. Beyond Beijing’s long-standing nuclear arsenal, of particular concern to Japanese strategists is China’s world-leading arsenal of advanced, conventionally-tipped ballistic missiles, which are capable of hitting Japanese territory, including U.S. bases on Japan, as well as its increasingly modernized air force, navy, and marines, all of which dwarf Japan’s in quantitative terms and are, in some cases, already superior qualitatively. Beyond these broad trends, Beijing’s coercive rhetoric and policies following major political contretemps in 2010 and 2012 over the contested Senkakus presented to many Japanese observers a concrete and high-profile China-specific contingency scenario that would pose a direct potential threat to Japanese territory. Since September 2012 — just three months before Abe returned to office — Beijing’s employment of military and paranaval forces (especially its Coast Guard) to coercively challenge Japan’s effective administrative control of the islands has transformed the operational environment, introducing a major source of uncertainty and risk, and creating circumstances to facilitate a potential fait accompli.[102] In response, Japan nearly tripled the frequency with which it scrambled fighters against approaching Chinese planes between 2012 and 2017, reaching an all-time annual high of 851 by April 2017.[103] In the "gray zone," between late 2012 and December 2017 Chinese government vessels entered the Senkakus’ territorial waters more than 600 times to assert Beijing’s sovereignty claim.[104] For these reasons and others, such as concerns about Chinese military activities elsewhere in the East China Sea and Western Pacific, Japan’s 2017 defense white paper devotes 34 pages to commentary on concerns about China, including Beijing’s “attempts to change the status quo by coercion.”[105] In short, during Abe’s time out of office and since his return in 2012, the nature and scope of the perceived challenge that China poses to Japan’s national security has transformed in highly visible ways.[106] A wide array of political leaders, not just Abe, have called for countermeasures. Indeed, major shifts were adopted by the DPJ while Abe’s party was out of power from 2009 to 2012, and in the September 2012 LDP presidential election that Abe won, all five candidates campaigned on the importance of adopting a harder line against China.[107] Changing Military Technology and the Growing Prominence of Cyber and Space Technological transformations have also shaped Japanese leaders’ perceptions of the regional security environment since Abe’s first administration. In particular, the proliferation of extremely fast ballistic and cruise missiles in Northeast Asia and the growing prominence of new security domains — space and cyber, in particular — have fundamentally changed the nature of and speed at which a security contingency could manifest and a political decision would need to be made about how to respond, as well as the national security interests that are potentially at risk. Meanwhile, China’s demonstrated willingness to use paramilitary forces to assert its territorial claims has introduced other novel deterrence challenges in the “gray zone.” Although public discourse often overlooks these key trends in favor of more conspicuous metrics, such as the construction of aircraft carriers or defense budgets, these changing aspects of the regional security environment are a major driver of reforms to Japan’s security policies and institutions, most of which were designed for far more conventional military threats during the Cold War. Alliance Politics The United States, Japan’s sole treaty ally, has played an important role in shaping Japan’s recent security reforms: First, for decades, Washington has called for Japan to adopt a more proactive security posture. This long-term trend found global impetus after 9/11. More recently, however, rapid changes to the security environment in East Asia have caused U.S. policymakers to return their focus to ways Japan can “do more,” not in terms of global operations (such as in Iraq and Afghanistan) but in the Asia-Pacific. Second, the emergence of qualitatively new threats combined with the relative decline in U.S. power have deepened long-standing Japanese insecurities. Although this trend significantly predates 2016, the Trump administration’s saber-rattling toward Pyongyang and its rhetorical ambivalence regarding U.S. global security commitments, coupled with North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear and missile capabilities, have exacerbated the uncertainties. Pyongyang’s apparent ability to threaten Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. with a nuclear-armed missile in particular has raised concerns about “decoupling” and the possible undermining of U.S. extended deterrence.[108] [quote id="7"] One important consequence of this changing strategic environment can be seen in the tension inherent in Japan’s “alliance dilemma”:[109] between Japan’s longstanding concerns about possible entrapment in U.S.-led wars if it gets too close and its fears that Washington may abandon its ally if it does not. In recent years, anxiety has shifted even further toward the latter. This concern about abandonment, in turn, has incentivized Tokyo to signal its commitment to a more “balanced” alliance (collective self-defense; asset protection) and to support U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy more broadly. The Abe administration supported key components of the erstwhile Obama-era “rebalance to Asia” such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and has proactively expanded ties with U.S. security partners in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. It has also championed the concept of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” Thus, Japan’s strategic alignment decisions appear to be aimed at pulling the United States closer while Tokyo diversifies economic and security ties with other U.S. allies and partners. This stands in stark contrast to several other states in the region — the Philippines under the Duterte administration, for example — that appear to be hedging between China and the United States. After a brief flirtation with a more “independent diplomacy” by the short-lived administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama from 2009 to 2010,[110] the foreign policies of Abe and his immediate predecessors manifest little ambivalence at either the popular or elite levels concerning which way Japan should align itself strategically.[111] The Domestic Politics of National Security In light of this rapidly changing strategic environment, an emerging elite near-consensus among moderates and conservatives on the necessity of some reforms and greater public permissiveness regarding key security issues have created domestic political space for the Abe government to pursue its agenda. Nevertheless, widespread domestic political sensitivities concerning military affairs,[112] combined with the deceptive limits of Abe and his party’s political mandate, also counsel pragmatic and significant restraint. The interaction of these domestic forces helps explain why Abe has achieved more than his predecessors yet still fallen short of his most ambitious objectives. Deepening Pragmatism A major trend of post-Cold War Japanese national security politics has been the replacement of the ideological, pacifist left as the major anti-LDP political force with a moderate, pragmatic center-left. Even before Abe returned in 2012, a basic consensus on the need for some national security reforms was coalescing among mainstream parties, whereas decades before there was much less support: Japan’s domestic institutions and policies were not up to the challenge of its increasingly complicated security environment. Accordingly, though they disagree on many specifics, and while resistance exists even within the LDP to some of the more ambitious efforts at change, in recent years support has grown across the political spectrum for incrementally rationalizing Japan’s institutions and force structure and posture in response to a changing threat environment, strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, and expanding security ties with other U.S. security partners. For example, between the end of the Cold War and the Koizumi administration, Japan’s Diet passed more than a dozen pieces of security-related legislation, significantly expanding the JSDF’s roles and missions as well as Japan’s ability to participate in international security affairs. Since 2012, the intermittent “salami slicing” has accelerated.[113] The institutional and policy legacy of the left-of-center DPJ's years in power from 2009 to 2012 provides compelling evidence that political support for many of these reforms not only predates Abe but is not exclusive to his conservative party. For example, it was the Noda administration, from 2011 to 2012, that initiated the review process that ultimately resulted in the landmark 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation revision and that significantly loosened the 1976 “arms export ban” before the Abe government’s more conspicuous policy shift later. The DPJ had also been discussing establishing an institution like the NSC — something called for by the DPJ’s 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines. That 2010 document was also responsible for changing Japan’s basic defense orientation toward active deterrence and a highly mobile “dynamic defense force” able to expeditiously counter a threat anywhere in the country — including its remote southwestern islands — both shifts that the Abe government has built upon. It also mainstreamed the concept of gray-zone contingencies in Japan’s security lexicon, especially concerning a possible conflict in the East China Sea.[114] Furthermore, the NSC — widely associated with Abe and considered his administration’s most significant post-2012 institutional reform — was actually part of a supra-partisan reform movement aimed at bolstering political leadership over the bureaucracy. After its landslide defeat in 2012, the DPJ even reportedly shared a draft NSC proposal with Abe, cooperated in compiling the bill that established the council in 2013, and voted in support of it (the legislation passed the Diet 213-18).[115] Despite general support for certain incremental changes, since 2012 Japan’s domestic politics have been in disarray, with potentially significant implications for future reform efforts. On politically incendiary issues such as Article 9, major fault lines still exist between Abe and the opposition parties, and, though less appreciated, within the ruling coalition itself. Most recently, opposition party alignments have also been quite volatile, further clouding the waters. The erstwhile leading opposition left-of-center DPJ dissolved into smaller parties in 2016, a landmark event that has prompted a series of realignments across the opposition, with the dust yet to fully settle. On security affairs, key former members of the successor Democratic Party (which itself dissolved in May 2018) align more closely with the conservative LDP than with the nascent, more liberal offshoot Constitutional Democratic Party. Regardless of how opposition parties ultimately realign, however, significant backsliding on security reforms seems unlikely. The stark ideological “left-right” divide on security policy that defined Cold War-era national security politics is dying. Even the 2014 surge in voters who supported the left-wing Communist Party — which some pointed to as a resurgence of the ideological, pacifist left — appears to have been largely an artifact of formerly right-wing voters signaling opposition to the big two mainstream parties, not a backlash against Abe’s security agenda per se.[116] Public Opinion The precipitous collapse of Abe’s first administration in 2007 indicates the risks of Cabinet instability and excessive prime-ministerial ambition in a country where pacifist and anti-militarist sentiments, however amorphous, remain strong.[117] Yet the Japanese public’s views on security affairs — long a “third rail” of postwar politics — have moderated significantly over time, still more so in light of regional security developments. This has created a more permissive political environment for Abe’s agenda than was available a decade ago. Most remarkably, despite widely reported public protests and controversy, the backlash against the security reforms his administration has achieved so far has been ephemeral. Although the controversial July 2015 security legislation caused a major dip in his Cabinet’s support rating, within four months it was net positive again and remained so until unrelated political scandals emerged two years later.[118] Meanwhile, especially since 2012, public opinion data suggest four important trends related to national security: widespread identification of China and North Korea as “critical” or “important” threats to Japan’s “vital interests,” exceptional affinity toward America and confidence in U.S. economic and military strength, persistent and deepening antagonism and threat perceptions regarding China (the obvious alternative alignment partner), and increasing certainty that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the JSDF are the best ways to ensure Japan’s security. Generally speaking, Abe’s moves have been more or less consistent with these trends.[119] There was a striking drop in Japanese public confidence in the U.S. president after the 2016 election, but there is as of yet no clear indication it is translating into a major reduction of confidence in, or support for, the bilateral alliance.[120] Despite this more permissive environment, however, public concerns about external security hardly give the Abe government a blank check. On high-salience issues where public opinion is more ambivalent or actively opposed — e.g., a fundamental revision of Article 9’s first two clauses or enabling the JSDF to use force in a scenario that does not constitute a clear threat to Japan — Abe appears to have significantly dialed back. Had the 2015 security legislation reflected what had been reported in months prior as Abe’s original ambitions concerning collective self-defense or collective security, public backlash probably would have been much more severe. The Abe government’s ability to read the political winds appears to have significantly improved since 2007. Rhetoric or personal ambitions aside, the defining feature of his administration’s national security policy agenda since 2012 appears to be pragmatic incrementalism. Domestic Political Headwinds and the Paradox of Abe’s Electoral “Success” Based on the most conspicuous metrics cited by many observers — Diet seat totals and Cabinet support rates — the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition’s five consecutive national election victories since 2012 appear to have given Abe’s government a sizable mandate. Meanwhile, the enervation and fractiousness of the opposition, coupled with widespread public frustration after the three-year experiment without the LDP in power from 2009 to 2012, would suggest the elimination of an otherwise potentially potent political constraint. Yet the reality is different: The LDP’s Diet strength masks significant domestic political weakness, which itself belies the widespread and simplistic narrative of Abe and the LDP as “all-powerful” (Abe ikkyo). Paradoxically, the ruling coalition’s electoral success does not evince majority public support for the Abe administration, much less its national security agenda. In recent elections, the LDP has benefited significantly from historically low voting participation across all age groups and apparent widespread public disillusionment with the options. Turnout in the “landslide” election in 2012 that enabled Abe’s return as prime minister was the lowest of the postwar period (59 percent) — a more than ten-point drop from the 2009 election. Turnout fell a further seven points in the 2014 general election.[121] Meanwhile, between 1992 and 2012 voters who preferred the LDP over other parties shrank from a majority of the public to less than 20 percent. Voters with no party affiliation now make up the majority of the electorate.[122] And a recent public opinion poll showed that among those who support the Abe Cabinet, the primary reason is a lack of alternatives.[123] In short, while election results have granted Abe and the LDP robust backing among members of the Diet, other factors caution against making swift policy changes — especially on traditionally sensitive matters. Despite the LDP’s dominance of contemporary Japanese politics in terms of Diet seats, a significant minority of its Lower House candidates depend on Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, to get elected — a detail not widely appreciated outside Japanese journalistic and academic circles. It is no coincidence that the LDP and Komeito have cooperated in every national election since 1999 and ruled together in coalition whenever in power. Mutual stand-down agreements in single-member electoral districts are a vital source of both parties’ electoral success — and they inject a powerful codependence into the relationship. Given Komeito’s largely lay-Buddhist, pacifistic base, LDP ambitions on national security are constrained by a junior coalition partner that, despite its relatively small size, can exercise a virtual veto power.[124] As Komeito brags to its supporters, this effectively makes it, though a much smaller party, a kind of “opposition within the ruling coalition” and a powerful internal “brake” on the Abe administration’s ambitions in the security domain.[125] [quote id="8"] Although it is often overlooked outside Japan, Komeito’s role restraining the LDP’s security agenda is not new. This could be seen when Koizumi pursued a more ambitious global security agenda immediately after 9/11.[126] In the Abe era, Komeito helped water down the Abe Cabinet’s 2014 resolution formally “reinterpreting” Article 9. In particular, it pressured the administration to impose the three aforementioned conditions on the exercise of collective self-defense, and to abandon a push to enable collective security operations. The Abe government’s May 2017 proposal for a revision of Article 9, which would leave its existing clauses untouched and add a new clause asserting the constitutionality of the JSDF’s existence, surprised many commentators for its lack of ambition. Even within the LDP, Abe was criticized for abandoning the party’s far more transformative 2012 revision proposal. In stark contrast, his 2017 proposal was based not on the longtime position of his party but, rather, on a proposal tabled a decade earlier by Komeito, which has long opposed changing Article 9’s existing clauses. These two high-profile, behind-the-scenes concessions to Komeito indicate the smaller party’s influence not only because Abe has said multiple times that enabling collective self-defense and revising Article 9 rank among his administration’s highest priorities but also because they constitute core goals written into the LDP’s founding charter 63 years ago. The implication seems clear: Barring the fracturing of the ruling coalition or some kind of major structural change, the LDP’s electoral dependence on Komeito is likely to continue to hamstring Abe and future LDP leaders in the security domain.[127] Although the external security environment and Abe and his allies’ ambitions are undoubtedly major drivers of Japan’s evolving security posture, it is important to recognize the role that Komeito and other domestic political obstacles play as constraints on the administration’s agenda. It is also crucial for evaluating the prospects for major change in the years to come. With a transition to a new imperial reign in 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, the deck may be stacked against Abe achieving the more fundamental reforms he and his party have long sought — even if he is reelected in the September 2018 LDP presidential election.[128]

Conclusion: The Evolution Continues

Where one comes down in the debate about change versus continuity in Japan’s post-2012 security trajectory depends greatly on research design and definition of key terms, such as “radical” or “revolutionary.” Narrowly focusing on perceived (or imputed) policy shifts — especially without factoring in their precise content, causes, strategic context, and historical precedents — while overlooking significant continuities risks exaggerating the pace and scale of change, as well as the centrality of idiosyncratic factors such as a particular leader or ideology. A “radical” shift or a national security “revolution” in Japan would entail fundamental, transformative changes to the core pillars of its post-Cold War security policy. So far, at least, there is limited unambiguous evidence of this. What emerges from a more balanced, historically-baselined assessment of change and continuity over the past half-decade is a frustratingly nuanced picture: Abe is simultaneously the most consequential prime minister in decades in terms of national security reforms, yet one whose individual significance and degree of success in achieving his ambitions is often overstated. A defining feature of Abe’s approach during his second stint as prime minister has been a kind of evolutionary pragmatism. Abe has been remarkably decisive at crucial moments yet also cautious — pulling back when confronted with significant domestic political resistance. Security reforms in the Abe era are in large part a reaction to objectively identifiable, rapid changes to Japan’s external security environment. Baselined appropriately, those reforms embody a series of important shifts that build on a longer-term trajectory that precedes Abe’s time as prime minister, including the DPJ era. Key achievements of this reform effort include an increasingly powerful Cabinet and prime minister’s office to strengthen political control of foreign policy decision-making, the rationalization of force structure and posture to more effectively confront perceived threats, a doubling-down on the U.S.-Japan alliance, a central pillar of Japan’s security, and the gradual expansion of Japan’s security ties with third parties. These reforms facilitate an increase in the independent development and implementation of a comprehensive national strategy and create space for Japan to adopt a more active role in regional and global security, within and beyond an alliance context. As for the practical implications of arguably the most significant shift — the 2014 reinterpretation of Article 9 to allow for “limited” collective self-defense — much remains hypothetical. How Japan will respond in the event of an armed attack against an ally will inevitably hinge on the nature of the contingency and specific domestic and international political circumstances at the time.[129] At a minimum, the reinterpretation significantly expands the allies’ ability to plan bilaterally and exercise and train together in peacetime. [quote id="9"] Analytically, the empirical record thus far suggests another important takeaway: the importance of differentiating between Abe the individual and Abe the prime minister. To be sure, some of the content and speed of recent reforms appears attributable to Abe’s past experience, personal ambition, and decisiveness, as well as the exceptional stability of his Cabinets over the past six years. Whereas Japan’s “leadership deficit” and the frequent turnover of Cabinets before 2012 has been a near-constant point of contemporary political analysis,[130] the combination of assertiveness and pragmatism on display since 2012 suggests that Abe and his allies learned from political missteps during his first administration.[131] This may be one reason Abe appointed a “stabilizer,” Yoshihide Suga, as his first, and so far only, chief Cabinet secretary.[132] The “Abe era” is in its sixth year. As of this writing, a decline in public support due to several festering scandals unrelated to national security has raised questions about whether Abe will be able to continue as prime minister beyond a scheduled LDP presidential election in September 2018. Regardless, this study’s findings suggest potentially significant implications for Japan’s strategic trajectory after Abe. On the one hand, significant changes, reflected in robust new institutions (e.g., the NSC and its supporting 70-80 strong National Security Secretariat), laws, and policies, are already in place and are unlikely to be reversed. Many of these attracted supra-partisan support while domestic political backlash against key reforms, such as the controversial security legislation, has not translated into a major popular swing toward an opposition party that would seek to undo them. Barring transformative external or domestic political structural changes, backsliding is unlikely and the current trajectory of evolutionary reform is likely to persist. On the other hand, the fact that Abe’s government has not achieved more fundamental reforms despite his clear personal ambition for more radical changes, a security environment seen by the administration and public as increasingly severe, relatively high Cabinet support ratings for most of the past six years, and five major national election victories for the ruling coalition evinces the persistent political headwinds even very ambitious future prime ministers will continue to face. Particularly salient are the facts that the LDP continues to cooperate electorally and rule in coalition with Komeito, that Article 9’s first two clauses remain untouched, and that transformative increases to Japan’s defense budget appear unlikely. Including the years since 2012, the post-Cold War trajectory of Japan’s security posture seems best characterized not as a shift from “pacifism” to “militarism” — two deeply problematic terms permeating the discourse — but as an evolution from a fairly passive, isolationist Japan toward one that seeks to be more “proactive,” yet remains subject to self-imposed constraints. In 2018, Japan remains a remarkable outlier among major powers, especially in terms of restrictions on military force development and employment. Widespread claims of assertive “nationalism” and even alleged “militarism” in Japan’s foreign policy under Abe — ill-defined memes remarkably widespread within and outside Japan (especially in China and Korea) — create a lot of heat and very little light.[133] The first six years of national security reforms under the Abe administration hardly constitute a radical revolution. Yet past is not necessarily prologue. Japanese leaders’ assessments of the regional strategic environment will continue to be a fundamental variable in shaping national security debates. In particular, over the past 18 months North Korea’s testing of ICBMs it claims are capable of reaching Washington, and various aspects of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, have raised anxieties in Japan and emerged as factors with the potential to disrupt Japan’s foreign policy status quo.[134] These factors, coupled with the risk of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, heighten the ever-present possibility of more fundamental shifts to Japan’s security trajectory in the years ahead.   *For valuable feedback and input at earlier stages of this article, the author is grateful to participants in workshops held by Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Japan Chair. Particular thanks are due to Ashton Cho, Michael Green, Mari Kinoshita, Phillip Lipscy, and Satoru Mori. This research was assisted in part by a grant from the Abe Fellowship Program administered by the Social Science Research Council in cooperation with and with funds provided by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.   Adam P. Liff is Assistant Professor of East Asian International Relations in Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies. He is also an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. His research is available at He can be reached at ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => Japan’s Security Policy in the “Abe Era”: Radical Transformation or Evolutionary Shift? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => japans-security-policy-in-the-abe-era-radical-transformation-or-evolutionary-shift [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:14:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:14:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Widely considered Japan’s most powerful prime minister in decades, Shinzo Abe has responded to a changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific — including an increasingly powerful and assertive China and growing North Korean nuclear threat — by pursuing ambitious and controversial reforms. These have been aimed at strengthening executive control over foreign policy decision-making and bolstering deterrence through an expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ roles, missions, and capabilities within and beyond the U.S.-Japan alliance. Those reforms that his administration has achieved have invited claims that Abe is taking Japan on a radical path away from its postwar “pacifism.” However, a systematic analysis of both change and continuity during the Abe administration reveals that many of these reforms build on longer-term evolutionary trends that predate Abe and have attracted support from moderates within and outside his conservative Liberal Democratic Party. Just as importantly, several core pillars of Japan’s remarkably self-restrained defense posture remain in place, while Abe has pulled back from some of the more ambitious reforms he has championed in the past. Both points have important implications for Japan’s strategic trajectory, international relations in East Asia, and the U.S.-Japan alliance. Barring major external or domestic political structural change, Japan’s evolutionary reform trajectory is likely to continue. Yet the failure, so far, of Abe’s government to achieve its long-coveted, most ambitious reforms also indicates the persistent headwinds future prime ministers can expect to face. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [I]t is clear that Abe, now in his sixth year in office, is one of Japan’s most consequential postwar prime ministers. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Japan’s right of collective self-defense may be exercised only under three relatively strict, globally unique conditions. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [R]ecent institutional changes have strengthened bilateral planning, decision-making, intelligence-sharing, and flexible crisis response across a range of traditional and nontraditional scenarios. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Creation of the NSC was part of a much longer-term effort by previous prime ministers to more directly shape national security policy. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => When it comes to fundamental mainstays of Japan’s national security — such as the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance or Japan’s non-nuclear principles — continuity is the defining feature of government policy. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Placed in historical context, Abe-era institutional reforms appear far less outside the mainstream than much of the contemporary discourse would indicate. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Times have changed, and concerns about the security challenge posed by China are now mainstream and less abstract. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Despite this more permissive environment, however, public concerns about external security hardly give the Abe government a blank check. ) [8] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Security reforms in the Abe era are in large part a reaction to objectively identifiable, rapid changes to Japan’s external security environment. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 640 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 179 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Shusho Kantei, Abe naikaku sori daijin shunin kisha kaiken [Prime Minister Abe’s inaugural press conference], Dec. 26, 2012. [2] For an overview of the former, see Heigo Sato, “From the ‘Three Principles of Arms Exports’ to the ‘Three Principles of Defense Equipment Transfer,’” AJISS-Commentary, no. 197, May 14, 2014, For the latter, see Adam P. Liff, “Policy by Other Means: ‘Collective Self-Defense’ and the Politics of Japan’s Postwar Constitutional (Re-)Interpretations,” Asia Policy 24 (2017): 139-172, [3] Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s Foreign and Security Policy under the “Abe Doctrine”: New Dynamism or New Dead End? (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015); Christopher W. Hughes, “Japan’s Strategic Trajectory and Collective Self-Defense: Essential Continuity or Radical Shift?” Journal of Japanese Studies 43, no. 1 (2017): 93–126, [4] Eric Heginbotham and Richard Samuels, “Will Tokyo’s Arms Exports Help or Hurt U.S Interests in Asia?” Cipher Brief, July 14, 2017, [5] Giulio Pugliese, "Kantei Diplomacy? Japan's Hybrid Leadership in Foreign Security Policy," Pacific Review 30, no. 2 (2017): 152–168, 153, [6] The Constitution of Japan, Nov. 3, 1946, [7] Liff, “Policy by Other Means.” [8] Kei Wakaizumi, “Japan’s Role in a New World Order,” Foreign Affairs 51, no. 2 (1973), [9] The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States, December 2017,; Uri Friedman, “The World According to H.R. McMaster,” Atlantic, Jan. 9, 2018. [10] Influential studies include Thomas U. Berger, “Alliance Politics and Japan’s Postwar Culture of Antimilitarism,” in The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Past, Present, and Future, ed. Michael J. Green and Patrick M. Cronin (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1999), 190–207; Michael J. Green, Japan’s Reluctant Realism: Foreign Policy Challenges in an Era of Uncertain Power (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Jennifer M. Lind, “Pacifism or Passing the Buck?: Testing Theories of Japanese Security Policy,” International Security 29, no. 1 (2004): 92–121, - page_scan_tab_contents; Richard J. Samuels, Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007); Andrew Oros, Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008). More recently, see Michael J. Green, Japan is Back: Unbundling Abe’s Grand Strategy (Sydney: Lowy Institute, December 2013); Sheila A. Smith, Japan’s New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, July 2014); Adam P. Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy: Abe the Evolutionary,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (May 2015): 79–99,; Hughes, Japan’s Foreign and Security Policy; Andrew Oros, Japan’s Security Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [11] This question captured the major theme of a February 2018 conference on “Japan under the Abe Government” held at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, at which an earlier version of this manuscript was presented. [12] For the official overview, see “Outline of the Legislation for Peace and Security,” Defense of Japan 2017 [13] The Guidelines provide a general outline of the scope of and respective responsibilities for operational coordination between the allies. They have been revised in 2015, 1997, and 1978. Full texts are available here: [14] Atsuhiko Fujishige, “New Japan Self-Defense Force Missions under the ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’ Policy: Significance of the 2015 Legislation for Peace and Security,” Japan Chair Platform, Center for International and Strategic Studies, July 21, 2016, [15] The following breakdown is adapted from Satoru Mori, “The New Security Legislation and Japanese Public Reaction,” Tokyo Foundation, Dec. 2, 2015, [16] “Outline of the Legislation for Peace and Security.” [17] The practical implications of this reinterpretation are heavily contested, and even Abe’s own rhetoric on the issue at times appears contradictory. For a sample of the debate, see Michael J. Green and Jeffrey W. Hornung, “Ten Myths About Japan’s Collective Self-Defense Change,” Diplomat, Jul. 10, 2014,; Hughes, “Japan’s Strategic Trajectory and Collective Self-defense”; Liff, “Policy by Other Means.” [18] “In new role, MSDF patrolling waters around Koreas to foil oil smuggling,” Japan Times, Jan. 13, 2018, [19] Mori, “The New Security Legislation and Japanese Public Reaction.” [20] “Analysis: Low-risk mission aimed at inuring public to SDF’s new role,” Asahi Shimbun, May 2, 2017,; “Japan-U.S. joint operations increase amid regional uncertainty,” Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2018, [21] Mori, “The New Security Legislation and Japanese Public Reaction.” [22] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [23] Naikaku Kanbo, Kokka anzen hoshō senryaku ni tsuite [About the National Security Strategy], Dec. 17, 2013. [24] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2014, 133–38, [25] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017, 63, [26] To minimize confusion, this chapter follows U.S. Board of Geographic Names convention and refers to the contested islands as the Senkakus. [27] Japan Ministry of Defense, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and beyond, Dec. 17, 2010, (English translation is provisional). [28] Japan Ministry of Defense, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2014 and beyond, Dec. 17, 2013, (English translation is provisional). [29] For an overview of these operations and Japan’s response, see Adam P. Liff, “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations in the East China Sea and Japan’s Response,” in China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, ed. Ryan D. Martinson and Andrew S. Erickson (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, Forthcoming, 2018). [30] “GSDF to undergo biggest realignment since founding,” Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 23, 2018, [31] Cabinet Secretariat, National Security Strategy, December 2013, 16, [32] Katsuji Iwao, “Genchi rupo 11.11 Senkaku Kinpaku Kaijo Hoancho ‘Ishigaki Hoanbu’ wa ima” [“Frontline Report 11/11: Senkaku Strains, JCG’s ‘Ishigaki Security Division’ Now”], FACTA, January 2017, [33] "Japan to expand ballistic missile defense with ground-based Aegis batteries,” Reuters, Dec. 18, 2017, [34] “Having long-range missiles a matter of deterrence,” Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 31, 2018. [35] James L. Schoff and David Song, Five Things to Know About Japan’s Possible Acquisition of Strike Capability (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aug. 14, 2017), [36] “Goeikan 'Izumo', Kuboka he zenshin [Izumo Destroyer, Progressing Toward an Aircraft Carrier ],” Jiji, Apr. 27, 2018, [37] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017, [38] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, Apr. 27, 2015, For a critical overview of alliance institutions, see Jeffrey W. Hornung, Managing the U.S.-Japan Alliance: An Examination of Structural Linkages in the Security Relationship (Washington, D.C.: SPF USA, 2017), [39] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee,” Aug. 17, 2017, [40] The basic contours of the strategy and emphasis on alliances as central to regional peace and stability, however, date back at least to the Clinton administration’s “engage-and-balance” posture vis-à-vis China. Michael J. Green, By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 526. [41] “Japan-U.S. joint operations increase amid regional uncertainty,” Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 30, 2018, [42] For a non-exhaustive list of recent agreements beyond the United States, see Reference 46 “Situations Concerning the Conclusion of Agreements” in Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017. [43] Green, Japan Is Back. [44] Shinzo Abe, “Japan Is Back,” policy speech at Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb. 22, 2013, [45] Michael Heazle and Yuki Tatsumi, “Explaining Australia-Japan Security Cooperation and Its Prospects: ‘The Interests that Bind?’” Pacific Review 31, no. 1 (2018): 38–56, [46] Yuki Tatsumi, “Is Japan Ready for the Quad?” War on the Rocks, Jan. 9, 2018, [47] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [48] “GSDF to join PKO exercise of first time under new security law,” Asahi Shimbun, June 30, 2017, [49] Japan Ministry of Defense, “Vientiane Vision: Japan’s Defense Cooperation Initiative with ASEAN,” November 2016, For an overview of recent developments, see Catharin Dalpino, “Japan-Southeast Asia Relations: Both Push and Pull: Japan Steps Up in Southeast Asia,” Comparative Connections 19, no. 1 (May 2017): 123–130, [50] Michael Bosack, “What Did Japan Learn in South Sudan?” Diplomat, June 10, 2017, [51] “Australia, Canada to join surveillance on N. Korea sanctions evaders,” Mainichi Japan, Apr. 28, 2018, [52] Grant Wyeth, “Will Australia and Japan Finally Conclude a Visiting Forces Agreement?” Diplomat, Jan. 2, 2018, [53] Taisuke Hirose, “Japan’s New Arms Export Principles: Strengthening U.S.-Japan Relations,” Japan Chair Platform, Center for International and Strategic Studies, Oct. 14, 2014, [54] Harukata Takenaka, “Expansion of the Power of the Japanese Prime Minister and the Transformation of the Japanese Political System,” Working Paper, 2018. [55] Adam P. Liff and Andrew S. Erickson, “From Management Crisis to Crisis Management? Japan’s Post-2012 Institutional Reforms and Sino-Japanese Crisis Instability,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 5 (2017): 604–638, doi.10.1080/01402390.2017.1293530. [56] For a recent general overview of this trend drawing on English- and Japanese-language studies, see Aurelia George Mulgan, The Abe Administration and the Rise of the Prime Ministerial Executive (New York: Routledge, 2017), ch. 3. [57] For a focused English-language analysis of the form, function, and significance of Japan’s NSC, see Adam P. Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council: Policy Coordination and Political Power,” Japanese Studies (Forthcoming). [58] Shusho Kantei, Kokka anzen hosho kaigi no sosetsu ni kansuru yushikisha kaigi [Meeting of Experts Concerning NSC Establishment], Feb. 15, 2013, [59] On related points, see Yasuhiro Matsuda and Hideki Hosono, “Nihon: Anzen Hosho Kaigi to Naikaku Kanbo [Japan: Security Council and Cabinet Secretariat],” in NSC Kokka Anzen Hosho Kaigi, ed. Yasuhiro Matsuda (Tokyo: Sairyusha, 2009), 279–281. [60] Ken Kotani, “Nihon-ban Kokka Anzen Hosho Kaigi (NSC) no kinoteki tokucho [Japan-style National Security Council (NSC) and its Functional Features]," Kokusai Anzen Hosho, March 2015, 61–75, 61–62. [61] Masafumi Kaneko, “Iyoiyo shido Nihon-ban NSC [Finally…Japan-style NSC Activates],” PHP Kenkyujo, 2013, [62] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [63] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [64] Kotani, “Japan-style National Security Council (NSC),” 61, 70–72; Matsuda and Saitō, “What’s the Ideal for Japan’s NSC?” 57. [65] Heginbotham and Samuels, “Tokyo’s Arms Exports”; Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [66] For a focused study on related issues, see Pugliese, “Kantei Diplomacy?” [67]Naikaku jinjikyoku, 5gatsu ni secchi [Cabinet Personnel Bureau to be established in May],” Nikkei Shimbun, Apr. 11, 2014,; “Japan’s powerful government personnel body blamed amid cronyism scandals,” Japan Times, Mar. 24, 2018, [68] “Kanryo ga kantei no kaoiro mite shigoto; Fukuda moto shusho Abe seiken hihan [Bureaucrats taking cues from Kantei, former PM Fukuda criticizes Abe administration],” Tokyo Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2017, [69] “Seijika shudo de kanryo no jinji wo ugokasu ‘naikaku jinjikyoku’ tte nani? [What is this cabinet personnel bureau (enabling) politicians’ leadership of bureaucratic personnel affairs?],” Page, Apr. 16, 2014, [70] For some examples from the 2006-2007 period, see Pugliese, “Kantei Diplomacy?” esp. 158–160. [71] “Kaijo Hoanchokan ni hatsu no genba shusshin [First-ever JCG commandant from the front lines],” Nikkei Shimbun, Jul. 18, 2013. [72] Yuji Sato, “The Japan Coast Guard protects the Senkaku Islands to the last,” Discuss Japan 35, Oct. 18, 2016, [73] Though the U.N. Charter has afforded all sovereign states this right since the 1950s, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau had previously interpreted Article 9 to allow the exercise of individual self-defense only, stipulating that although Japan had the right under international law to exercise collective self-defense, doing so would be unconstitutional. [74] “Abe’s Legal Aide on Defense Reform Steps down due to Ill Health,” Kyodo, May 16, 2014. [75] For an overview of Article 9’s evolving interpretation over time, including this particular development specific to the 2014 reinterpretation, see Liff, “Policy by Other Means.” [76] Reiji Yoshida, “Former defense chief courts controversy by questioning Abe plan to revise Constitution,” Japan Times, May 24, 2017, [77] “‘9jo ni Jieitai Meiki’ ‘Kaiken 20nen shiko mezasu’ [‘Article 9 JSDF existence’ ‘Aiming for Constitutional Revision in 2020’],” Mainichi Shimbun, May 3, 2017, [78] “Kenpo kaisei, sansei 51%...Jieitai ‘goken’ 76% [51% agree with constitutional revision…76% believe JSDF constitutional],” Yomiuri Online, Apr. 30, 2018, [79] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [80] Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy,” 86–87. [81] “Gov’t Outlines SDF’s Use of Weapons in Helping Foreign Troops under Attack,” Mainichi, Apr. 15, 2015. [82] Yuki Tatsumi, “Japan Self-Defense Force Withdraws From South Sudan,” Diplomat, Mar. 13, 2017, [83] Diet testimony cited in Samuels, Securing Japan, 7. [84] Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Japan-U.S. Security Treaty,” Jan. 19, 1960, [85] Liff, “Policy by Other Means,” esp. 170. [86] “Nearly half of Japan’s defense priorities underfunded,” Nikkei Asian Review, Jan. 6, 2018, [87] Michael Hadlow and Crystal Pryor, “Japan’s Defense Exports: ‘Three Years Sitting on a Stone,’” SPF USA Forum 12, Mar. 26, 2018, [88] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [89] On the former, see Richard J. Samuels and James L. Schoff, “Japan’s Nuclear Hedge: Beyond ‘Allergy’ and Breakout,” in Strategic Asia 2013-2014: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Ashley J. Tellis, Abraham M. Denmark, and Travis Tanner (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013), 233–264. For a widely cited recent call to discuss Japan’s nuclear options by a former ambassador to Washington, see Ryozo Kato, “What’s at stake in allowing Japan a nuclear arsenal?” Japan Forward, Feb. 15, 2018, [90] For example, see Samuels and Schoff, “Japan’s Nuclear Hedge,” 237. [91] For a recent analysis incorporating a review of a much larger English- and Japanese-language literature, see Mulgan, The Abe Administration; Tomohito Shinoda, Koizumi Diplomacy: Japan's Kantei Approach to Foreign and Defense Affairs (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007). [92] Mulgan, The Abe Administration. [93] “Cabinet Personnel Bureau to be established in May,” Nikkei Shimbun; “Nihon-ban NSC Raishu Hassoku [Japan-style NSC to Launch Next Week],” Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2013. [94] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [95] Shinoda, “Koizumi Diplomacy.” [96] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” On vote total, see “Nihon-ban NSC Raishu Hassoku,” Yomiuri Shimbun. [97] Richard J. Samuels, “Politics, Security Policy, and Japan’s Cabinet Legislation Bureau: Who Elected These Guys, Anyway?” Japan Policy Research Institute, Working Paper, March 2004, [98] Shusho Kantei, “Abe Naikaku Sori Daijin nento kisha kaiken [Prime Minister Abe’s New Year Address],” Jan. 4, 2018, [99] “The CNS North Korea Missile Test Database,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, Nov. 30, 2017, [100] Shusho Kantei, “Abe Naikaku Sori Daijin nento kisha kaiken.” [101] A search for keywords “gray-zone” and “Senkaku” in the online database of the Japanese edition of Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most widely circulated newspaper, returned no results for the 1997–2009 period. The first usage occurred in 2010, with a peak of 48 occurrences in 2014. [102] Liff, “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations in the East China Sea and Japan’s Response.” [103] Joint Staff Press Release,“Heisei 28nendo no kinkyu hasshin jisshi jyokyo ni tsuite [About Circumstances Concerning Emergency Scrambles in 2016],” Japan Ministry of Defense, Apr. 13, 2017, 3, [104] “Senkaku Shoto Shuhen Kaiiki ni okeru Chugoku kosen to no doko to Wagakuni no Taisho [Activities of Chinese government vessels in the waters surrounding the Senkakus and Japan’s Response],” Japan Coast Guard, [105] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017. [106] For an overview of Japan’s complex policy concerns about China, see Sheila A. Smith, Intimate Rivals (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). [107] “LDP Candidates Take Tough Line against China,” Kyodo News, Sept. 18, 2012. [108] Mira Rapp-Hooper, “Decoupling Is Back in Asia,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 7, 2017, [109] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 461–95, doi.10.2307/2010183. [110] Leif-Eric Easley, Tetsuo Kotani, and Aki Mori, “Electing a New Japanese Security Policy? Examining Foreign Policy Visions Within the Democratic Party of Japan,” Asia Policy 9 (2010): 45–66, [111] Adam P. Liff, “Hedging to Balance: The Paradox of Japan’s China Strategy in the Abe Era,” Working Paper, 2018. [112] For seminal discussions of related normative factors, see Thomas U. Berger, “From Sword to Chrysanthemum: Japan’s Culture of Anti-Militarism,” International Security 17, no. 4 (1993): 119–50,; Oros, Normalizing Japan. [113] Generally associated with the seminal scholarship of Richard Samuels, Samuels himself credits Leonard Schoppa for introducing him to the “salami slicing” metaphor and notes its usage elsewhere. Samuels, Securing Japan, 226, endnotes 3–4. [114] Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy,”: 81–83. [115] Sunohara, Nihon-ban NSC, 124–30; “Nihon-ban NSC Raishu Hassoku,” Yomiuri Shimbun. [116] Ko Maeda, “Explaining the Surges and Declines of the Japanese Communist Party,” Asian Survey 57, no. 4 (2017), doi.10.1525/as.2017.57.4.665. [117] For example, in a 2015 Gallup poll, only 11 percent of Japanese respondents expressed a willingness to fight for their country — dead last (the average among the 64 countries surveyed was 61 percent). “WIN/Gallup International’s global survey shows three in five willing to fight for their country,” Gallup International, 2015, [118] See aggregated poll data at “Japan Political Pulse,” Sasakawa USA, [119] Poll data cited in Liff, "Hedging to Balance." [120] A summer 2017 poll showed confidence in the U.S. president to “do the right thing in world affairs” declining from 78 percent to 24 percent after Trump’s election, “U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership,” Pew Research Center, June 26, 2017, [121] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Kokusei senkyo no tohyoritsu no suii ni tsuite (Heisei 28nen 9gatsu) [Changes in national election voter turnout],” September 2016,; Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Kokusei senkyo no nendaibetsu tohyoritsu no suii ni tsuite (Heisei  28nen 9gatsu) [Changes in national election voter turnout by age group],” September 2016, [122] Aiji Tanaka, “Japan’s Independent Voters, Yesterday and Today,” Nippon, Aug. 16, 2012, [123] “NHK poll: Cabinet support rate at 46%,” NHK, Jan. 9, 2017, [124] In the 2014 election, the LDP may have lost as many as a quarter of the single-member districts it won. Adam P. Liff and Ko Maeda, “Explaining a Durable Coalition of Strange Bedfellows: Evidence from Japan,” Working Paper, 2018. [125] Quote comes from Levi McLaughlin, Axel Klein, and Steven R. Reed, “The Power of Japan’s Religious Party,” Wilson Center, Dec. 4, 2014, [126] J. Patrick Boyd and Richard J. Samuels, Nine Lives? The Politics of Constitutional Reform in Japan (Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2005), esp. 27–61. [127] Liff and Maeda, “Explaining a Durable Coalition of Strange Bedfellows.” [128] Tobias Harris, “Scandal Raises Doubts About Abe’s Ability to Win a Third Term,” Japan Political Pulse, Mar. 16, 2018, [129] For an argument that the 2014 reinterpretation entails a “genuinely radical trajectory” for Japan, see Hughes, “Japan’s Strategic Trajectory and Collective Self-Defense.” [130] Aurelia George Mulgan, “Japan’s Political Leadership Deficit,” Australian Journal of Political Science 35, no. 2 (2000): 183–202,; see also Ryo Sahashi and James Gannon, eds., Looking for Leadership: The Dilemma of Political Leadership in Japan (New York: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2015). [131] Mulgan, The Abe Administration, ch. 3. [132] On Suga, see Izuru Makihara, “Abe’s Enforcer: Suga Yoshihide’s Stabilizing Influence on the Cabinet,” Nippon, Sept. 25, 2014, [133] For a critical engagement of associated claims, see Jennifer Lind and Chikako Kawakatsu Ueki, “Is Japanese Nationalism on the Rise?” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in Atlanta, March 2016. [134] Alastair Gale, “Japan’s Abe to Meet Trump, With North Korea Testing Their Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Apr. 15, 2018, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 580 [post_author] => 61 [post_date] => 2018-05-15 04:30:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-15 08:30:40 [post_content] => In early September 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin brought artificial intelligence from the labs of Silicon Valley, academia, and the basement of the Pentagon to the forefront of international politics. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” he said. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”[1] Putin’s remarks reflect a belief, growing in sectors and regions across the world, that advances in artificial intelligence will be critical for the future — in areas as varied as work, society, and military power. Artificial intelligence is a critical element of what Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum, calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution.[2] Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, argues that artificial intelligence is so important to the future of power that the United States needs a national strategy on artificial intelligence, just as it had one for the development of space technology during the Cold War.[3] Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, has even said that growth in artificial intelligence technology, left unchecked, could risk sparking World War III.[4] These statements suggest that artificial intelligence will have a large and potentially deterministic influence on global politics and the balance of power.[5] Whether artificial intelligence has revolutionary consequences or merely incremental effects, it is critical to grasp how and why it could matter in the national security arena. Despite a wave of articles about artificial intelligence in the popular press and trade journals, there has been less in the way of systematic academic work on the national security consequences of such developments. This article attempts to fill that gap by examining the effects on national security of narrow artificial intelligence, or systems designed to do deliberately constrained tasks, such as the Jeopardy-playing version of IBM’s Watson or AlphaGo, designed to play the board game Go. Specifically, it assesses the issues AI stands to raise for the balance of power and international competition through the lens of academic research on military innovation, technological change, and international politics. Popular writing on AI tends to focus almost exclusively on technology development. Technology has played a vital role in shaping global politics throughout history.[6] Hundreds of years ago, technologies such as the printing press allowed the written word to flourish. These set the stage for new forms of political protest and activity.[7] In the 20th century, nuclear weapons significantly increased the destructive capabilities of numerous countries.[8] Yet the relative impact of technological change often depends as much or more on how people, organizations, and societies adopt and utilize technologies as it does on the raw characteristics of the technology.[9] Consider the aircraft carrier, which the British Navy invented in 1918. As the best in the world at using battleships, the Royal Navy initially imagined the utility of aircraft carriers as providing airplanes to serve as spotters for the battleship. The Japanese and U.S. navies, however, innovated by using the aircraft carrier as a mobile airfield, fundamentally transforming naval warfare in the 20th century.[10] Or, consider the printing press again: Its role in accelerating nationalist political movements depended on the incentives that originally motivated those movements and the movements’ ability to take advantage of the new technology’s capability to spread information.[11] What role will artificial intelligence play? In many ways it is too soon to tell, given uncertainty about the development of the technology. But AI seems much more akin to the internal combustion engine or electricity than a weapon. It is an enabler, a general-purpose technology with a multitude of applications. That makes AI different from, and broader than, a missile, a submarine, or a tank. Advances in narrow AI could create challenges as well as opportunities for governments and military organizations. For example, narrow AI applications such as image recognition would help those militaries that are already wealthy and powerful and that can afford to keep up. It is harder to predict how AI applications could affect the heart of military organizations, influencing planning as well as questions of recruiting, retention, and force structure. What happens as militaries increasingly need soldiers who have training in coding and who understand how algorithms work? Or if swarming, uninhabited systems make large conventional military platforms seem costly and obsolete? Leading militaries often struggle in the face of organizationally disruptive innovations because it is hard to make the bureaucratic case for change when a military perceives itself as already leading. What countries benefit from AI will depend in part on where militarily-relevant innovations come from. Non-military institutions, such as private companies and academic departments, are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of artificial intelligence. While some AI and robotics companies, such as Boston Dynamics, receive military research and development funding, others, such as DeepMind, do not, and actively reject engaging with military organizations.[12] Unlike stealth technology, which has a fundamentally military purpose, artificial intelligence has uses as varied as shopping, agriculture, and stock trading. If commercially-driven AI continues to fuel innovation, and the types of algorithms militaries might one day use are closely related to civilian applications, advances in AI are likely to diffuse more rapidly to militaries around the world. AI competition could feature actors across the globe developing AI capabilities, much like late-19th-century competition in steel and chemicals. The potential for diffusion would make it more difficult to maintain “first-mover advantages” in applications of narrow AI. This could change the balance of power, narrowing the gap in military capabilities not only between  the United States and China but between others as well. Experts disagree about the potential trajectory of the technology, however, which means that forecasts of the consequences of AI developments for the international security environment are necessarily tentative.[13] While the basic science underlying AI is applicable to both civilian and military purposes, it is plausible that the most important specific military uses of AI will not be dual use. Technological advances that are more exclusively based in military research are generally harder to mimic. It follows that military applications of AI based more exclusively in defense research will then generate larger first-mover advantages for early adopters. Moreover, if the computational power necessary to generate new, powerful algorithms prices out all but the wealthiest companies and countries, higher-end AI capabilities could help the rich get richer from a balance-of-power perspective. On the other hand, if leading militaries fail to effectively incorporate AI, the potential for disruption would also be larger. [quote id="6"] This article defines artificial intelligence and examines what kind of technology AI is. It then turns to key questions and assumptions about the trajectory of narrow AI development that will influence potential adoption requirements for military applications of AI, a factor critical to shaping AI’s influence on the balance of power. The paper then assesses how narrow artificial intelligence will affect the balance of power in a world where dual-use AI has great military relevance and diffuses rapidly as well as a scenario in which military AI developments are more “excludable,” limiting diffusion and generating more first-mover advantages. How all this will play out over the next decade or more is unclear. Already, China, Russia, and others are investing significantly in AI to increase their relative military capabilities with an eye toward reshaping the balance of power. As the field of AI matures, and more implementations become plausible in arenas such as logistics, personnel, and even deployable units, countries will need to figure out how to use AI in practical ways that improve their ability to generate military power. The risk for the United States in terms of balance of power thus lies in taking its military superiority for granted and ending up like Great Britain’s Royal Navy with the aircraft carrier in the mid-20th century — a technological innovator that is surpassed when it comes to organizational adoption and use of the technology.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

What is artificial intelligence? There is no broad consensus on the specific meanings of terms such as artificial intelligence, autonomy, and automation. For the purposes of this article, artificial intelligence refers to the use of computers to simulate the behavior of humans that requires intelligence.[14] Put another way, AI can be thought of as the ability of an artificial agent to achieve goals in a “wide range of environments.”[15] A system with artificial intelligence is distinct from a robot or robotic system, which can be remotely piloted or autonomous.[16] For example, the Boston Dynamics SpotMini, which can open a door, is remotely piloted by a human operator so would not qualify as AI.[17] Automatic systems, such as a toaster in the civilian world or, to use a military example, an explosive triggered by a tripwire, respond mechanistically to environmental inputs.[18] Automated systems, by contrast, operate based on multiple pre-programmed logic steps as opposed to the simplicity of a tripwire.[19] Autonomous systems have more latitude and are programmed, within constraints, to achieve goals, optimizing along a set of parameters.[20] There are two main approaches to AI, broadly conceived. The first is symbolic artificial intelligence — the creation of expert systems and production rules to allow a machine to deduce behavioral pathways. IBM’s Deep Blue, which defeated Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997, used a symbolic approach.[21] Computational, or connectionist, approaches to artificial intelligence, in contrast, typically attempt to allow for problem recognition and action by machines through calculations rather than symbolic representation.[22] Machine learning represents a key computational approach to artificial intelligence. Multiple computational techniques are used to create machine-learning algorithms, including Bayesian networks, decision trees, and deep learning. Deep learning, now popularly associated with artificial intelligence, is a technique that harnesses neural networks to train algorithms to do specified tasks, such as image recognition.[23] Some researchers are pursuing hybrid approaches that integrate both symbolic and computational approaches to AI. The hope behind hybrid approaches is that creating common languages will enable algorithms that can employ multiple pathways to learn how to do particular tasks, making them more effective.[24] For the purposes of this article, the specific methods of AI that generate particular capabilities are less critical than understanding the general trajectory of the technology. In many cases, it is too soon to tell which methods will generate which capabilities. AI Is an Enabler, Not a Weapon The impact of the invention of a new technology depends, in part, on its potential basic uses.[25] Some communication technologies, such as the telegraph or telephone, were designed to more rapidly connect people in different locations. Munition technologies, such as missiles and bullets, are designed to inflict damage on a target. Railroads are a transportation technology, as is a bicycle. These broad categories of technologies have subcomponents that draw on various technologies themselves. For example, more than 300,000 parts go into an F-35.[26] Another category might then be called “enabling technologies,” which are designed not specifically for a single purpose like the examples above but, instead, are general-purpose, with broad applications across many other types of technologies. Electricity is an enabling technology. So what kind of technology is artificial intelligence? While the rhetoric of the “Third Offset”[27] and other discussions in the defense community sometimes make artificial intelligence seem like a munition, AI is actually the ultimate enabler. AI can be part of many specific technologies, analogous to the internal combustion engine as well as electricity.[28] Andrew Ng of Stanford University argues that, like the invention of electricity, AI could enable specific technologies in fields as diverse as agriculture, manufacturing, and health care.[29] Artificial intelligence can operate in several dimensions. First, it can be used to direct physical objects, such as robotic systems, to act without human supervision. Whether in tanks, planes, or ships, AI can help reduce the need to use humans, even remotely, or as part of human-machine teams.[30] Swarm techniques, for example, generally involve the creation of supervised algorithms that direct platforms such as drones. Second, artificial intelligence can assist in processing and interpreting information. Image-recognition algorithms can be used for tagging vacation photos and identifying products in stores as well as in Project Maven, a U.S. military program that seeks to develop algorithms to automate the process of analyzing video feeds captured by drones.[31] While the applications in each case are different, the underlying algorithmic task — rapid image identification and tagging — is consistent. Third, overlapping narrow AI systems could be used for new forms of command and control — operational systems, including battle management, that analyze large sets of data and make forecasts to direct human action — or action by algorithms.[32] What Type of Artificial Intelligence? It is useful to think about the degree of artificial intelligence as a continuum. On one end are narrow AI applications such as AlphaGo, able to beat the best human Go players in the world. These are machine-learning algorithms designed to do one specific task, with no prospect of doing anything beyond that task. One can imagine narrow AI as relatively advanced forms of autonomous systems, or machines that, once activated, are designed to complete specific tasks or functions.[33] On the other end of the spectrum is a “super-intelligent” artificial general intelligence. This kind of AI would consist of an algorithm, or series of algorithms, that could do not only narrow tasks but also could functionally think for itself and design solutions to a broader class of problems. Describing an extreme version of this, Nick Bostrom writes about the risk of a superintelligent AI that could plausibly take over the world and perhaps even decide to eliminate humans as an inadvertent consequence of its programming.[34] In the middle of this spectrum, though perhaps leaning toward artificial general intelligence, is “transformative AI,” or AI that can go beyond a narrow task such as playing a video game but falls short of achieving superintelligence.[35] This article focuses on the potential effect that narrow applications of artificial intelligence could have on the balance of power and international competition. Among current AI technologies and advances, narrow applications are most likely to affect militaries — and with them the balance of power — over the next two decades. Moreover, even experts disagree about whether artificial general intelligence of the type that could outpace human capabilities will emerge in the short to medium term or whether it is still hundreds of years away. AI experts also disagree about the overall trajectory of advances in AI.[36] Surveys have found that only 50 percent of AI researchers believe that an AI system will be capable of writing a best-selling book by 2049. About 75 percent of AI researchers thought it could be 2090 before an AI system could write a best-selling book. That even highly trained experts disagree about these development issues illustrates a high degree of uncertainty in the field. Given these questions about which AI technologies will be developed, this article focuses on the capabilities that are most likely to emerge in the next generation.

Technology and the Balance of Power

Emerging technologies primarily shape the balance of power through military and economic means.[37] Technologies can directly influence countries’ abilities to fight and win wars. They can also indirectly affect the balance of power by impacting a country’s economic power. After all, countries cannot maintain military superiority over the medium to long term without an underlying economic basis for that power.[38] Recall the decline of the Ottoman Empire or Imperial China. However, it is not yet clear how the invention of specific AI applications will translate into military power. Despite continuing investment, efforts to integrate AI technologies into militaries have been limited.[39] Project Maven is the first activity of an “Algorithmic Warfare” initiative in the U.S. military designed to harness the potential of AI and translate it into usable military capabilities. Still, many investments in the United States and elsewhere are in early stages. As Missy L. Cummings writes:
Autonomous ground vehicles such as tanks and transport vehicles are in development worldwide, as are autonomous underwater vehicles. In almost all cases, however, the agencies developing these technologies are struggling to make the leap from development to operational implementation.[40]
[quote id="1"] It is important to distinguish these potential technological innovations from military innovations. While military innovations are often linked to changes in technology,[41] it is not always the case. Military innovations are significant changes in organizational behavior and ways that a military fights that are designed to increase its ability to effectively translate capabilities into power.[42] The use of aircraft carriers as mobile airfields by the United States and Japan is a prototypical example. While AI could potentially enable a number of military innovations, it is not a military innovation itself, and no applications of AI have been used in ways that would count as a military innovation at this point. Because AI research and technology are still in their early stages, usage of AI in warfare is not even yet analogous to the first use of the tank in World War I, let alone effective use of combined arms warfare by the Germans in World War II (the military innovation now known as blitzkrieg). This limits analyses about how narrow AI might one day affect the balance of power and international politics. Most research on technology and international politics focuses on specific, mature technologies, such as nuclear weapons, or on military innovations.[43] Since AI is at an early stage, examining it requires adapting existing theories about military technology and military innovation.[44] My adoption capacity theory provides insight into how developments in AI will affect the balance of power.[45] This theory argues that the relative financial and organizational requirements for adopting a military innovation influence the rate of diffusion of that innovation and its impact on the balance of power. Financial considerations include calculating the unit costs of the hardware involved and determining whether the underlying capability is based on commercial or militarily-exclusive technology. Other considerations include assessing the extent to which adopting the innovation requires disrupting the critical task of the military (i.e., what an organization views itself as attempting to achieve) or the status of key organizational elites (for example, fighter pilots in an air force). Given that adoption capacity theory focuses on major military innovations, however, it requires adaptation to be applied to artificial intelligence at present. To determine how technological changes will shape the balance of power, adoption capacity theory suggests that three questions must be answered. First, while technology itself is rarely, if ever, determinative, how might use of a technology influence the character of warfare? Consider the machine gun. When deployed asymmetrically, it proved useful for the offense. But in combination with barbed wire, when possessed symmetrically, this technological advance helped create the trench-warfare stalemate of World War I.[46] More broadly, the Industrial Revolution and the shift in manufacturing to factories and mass production were behind the rifle’s evolution from a niche, craft weapon possessed by a small number of forces to a widely available capability. This change influenced the relative lethality of battles as well as how militaries organized themselves and developed tactics.[47] Second, how might different actors implement a given technology or be bureaucratically constrained from implementation, and what possibilities for military innovation will that generate? This question is particularly relevant because the challenges of organizational adoption and implementation of a technological innovation are closely linked with effectiveness. Those challenges are critical to determining how an innovation will impact international politics. Decades of research demonstrates that the impact of technological change on global politics — whether it is change in economics, society at large, diplomacy, or military power — depends much more on how governments and organizations make choices about the adoption and use of new capabilities than on the technologies themselves.[48] Scholarship on military innovation by Barry Posen, Stephen P. Rosen, and others shows that technological innovation alone rarely shapes the balance of power.[49] Instead, it is how militaries use a technology that makes a difference.[50] A military’s ability to employ a technology depends in part on the complexity of the technology, how difficult it is to use, and whether it operates in predictable and explainable ways. These factors influence the trust that senior military leaders have in the technology and whether they use it.[51] Additionally, the more bureaucratically disruptive it is to adopt a technology, the more challenging it can be for older, more established organizations to do so — particularly if the organization is underinvested in research and development designed to integrate new technologies and ideas.[52] Consider that every country in Europe in the mid-19th century had access to railroads, rifles, and the telegraph around the same time. But it was the Prussian military that first figured out how to exploit these technologies, in combination, to rapidly project power. After that, other militaries adapted their organizations to take similar advantage.[53] The example of the British Navy and the aircraft carrier further illustrates how organizational processes determine the impact of technology on military power.[54] As referenced above, despite having invented the aircraft carrier, the Royal Navy’s institutional commitment to the battleship meant that it initially saw the value of this new technology almost exclusively in its ability to facilitate the use of airplanes to act as “spotters” for battleships. The United States and Japan, as rising naval powers with less invested in the importance of the battleship, thought more creatively about this innovation and realized that the aircraft carrier’s real value lay in the independent striking power it offered.[55] Since battleships — and admirals with experience and comfort operating them — dominated the navies of many countries, thinking about the aircraft carrier as a mobile airfield required a difficult conceptual shift.[56] Even after it became clear that the optimal use of aircraft carriers was as a mobile airfield, adopting carrier warfare proved challenging. The Chinese navy has been working on carrier operations for two decades and is only just starting to build real competency. The Soviet Union attempted to adopt carrier warfare for decades and failed. Simply put, the systems integration tasks required to operate the ship, launch and recover airplanes from the ship, and coordinate with other naval assets are very difficult to execute.[57] The larger the change within the organization required for a military to effectively utilize new technologies, the greater the bureaucratic challenges and, with them, the likelihood that powerful countries will not have the organizational capability to adopt. This is a key mechanism through which the balance of power can change. Third, how will a new technology spread? The answer to this question will help determine relative first-mover advantages gained from adopting the technology.[58] While Kenneth Waltz initially suggested that emulation of military technologies happens quickly, subsequent research demonstrates that it is far more complicated.[59] The rate of diffusion matters: In the case of technologies that diffuse slowly, the country that first implements will have a sustainable edge over its competitors. But when other countries can rapidly adopt a new technology, the relative advantages of being first diminish.[60] The diffusion of military technology occurs through multiple mechanisms, just like the diffusion of technologies in general.[61] Adoption capacity theory suggests a few factors that will be key in influencing the diffusion of narrow AI. The first is the unit cost of creating AI systems. The greater the hardware and compute costs associated with creating militarily-relevant algorithms, the higher the barrier to entry will be. Alternatively, once the algorithms have been created, they become software and can more easily diffuse. Moreover, technologies that have only military purposes tend to spread more slowly than technologies where commercial incentives drive their development. If a technology has only military uses — such as stealth technology — and it has a high unit cost and level of complexity, the number of actors who can emulate or mimic that technology are minimized.[62] On the other hand, technologies with commercial incentives for development generally spread much faster. In the 19th century, the railroad, used as a “military technology,” enabled rapid power projection and the massing of military forces to a greater degree than had previously been possible. Yet it was the commercial incentives for the fast shipping of goods that helped speed the construction of dense railroad networks around the world, making it difficult for countries to gain sustainable advantages in railroad capabilities.[63]

The Impact of AI on the Balance of Power

If Eric Schmidt, Vladimir Putin, Elon Musk, and others are correct that AI is a competitive battleground, what will be the character of that competition?[64] The United States and China seem to be furthest ahead in the development of AI. As the two most powerful countries in the world, the competition for global leadership in AI technology evokes, for many, 20th-century competitions such as the space race. Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen and SparkCognition CEO Amir Husain have argued that the United States therefore needs to do more to get and stay ahead.[65] Global investments in artificial intelligence for economic and national security purposes are increasingly described as an arms race.[66] China published a national strategy on artificial intelligence in 2017 that said AI represents a “major strategic opportunity” and proposed a coordinated strategy to “build China’s first mover advantage” and lead the world in AI technology.[67] Russia is investing heavily as well, especially in the military domain. Reports suggest that the Russian military is designing autonomous vehicles to guard its ballistic missile bases as well as an autonomous submarine that could carry nuclear weapons. In robotics, Russia is deploying remotely piloted tanks, such as the Uran-9 and Vehar, on the battlefield.[68] China and Russia are not the only actors outside the United States interested in national security applications of AI. The character of AI technology, like robotics, makes many countries well-positioned to design and deploy it for military purposes.[69] Commercial incentives for AI developments and the dual-use character of many AI applications mean that countries with advanced information economies are poised to be leaders in AI or at least fast followers.[70] In Southeast Asia, Singapore is on the cutting edge of AI investments (both military and non-military). Other Southeast Asian nations are making advances in AI research as well.[71] In the military domain, South Korea has developed the SGR-A1, a semi-autonomous weapon system designed to protect the demilitarized zone from attack by North Korea.[72] [quote id="2"] AI also provides opportunities for capital-rich countries, which creates incentives to develop the technology. Wealthy, advanced economies that have high levels of capital but also have high labor costs or small populations — middle powers such as Australia, Canada, and many European countries — often face challenges in military recruiting. For these countries, technologies that allow them to substitute capital for labor are highly attractive. Indeed, Gen. Mick Ryan, commander of Australia’s Defence College, argues that countries can take advantage of the intersection of AI and robotics to overcome the problems caused by a small population.[73] France’s 2017 defense strategy review points to the development and incorporation of artificial intelligence as critical to the French military’s ability to maintain “operational superiority.”[74] Israel, a classic example of an advanced economy with more capital than labor, also funds military AI investments that would predict rocket launches and analyze video footage.[75] Lt. Col. Nurit Cohen Inger, who heads the unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in charge of assessing the military relevance of AI, said in 2017 that, for the IDF, AI “can influence every step and small decision in a conflict, and the entire conflict itself.”[76] Given these investments, how might developments in AI affect military organizations and the character of war, and how might they diffuse? AI and the Character of War The “character of warfare” in a period can be defined as the dominant way to fight and win conflicts given existing technologies, organizations, and polities. The character of warfare changes in concert with the tools that become available and how they influence the ways militaries organize themselves to fight wars.[77] The shift to mass mobilization in the Napoleonic era exemplifies a non-technological development that changed the character of warfare. Applications of AI have the potential to shape how countries fight in several macro ways. On the broadest level, autonomous systems, or narrow AI systems, have the potential to increase the speed with which countries can fight, yet another similarity between AI and the combustion engine. Even if humans are still making final decisions about the use of lethal force, fighting at machine speed can dramatically increase the pace of operations.[78] There are several military applications of AI currently in development or under discussion that can be considered, though many are at early stages. For example, some research shows that the way that neural networks can utilize imagery databases and classify particular scenes (such as a mountain), allows for a more accurate assessment of specific locations.[79] Additionally, the processing power that is possible with narrow AI systems has the potential to increase the speed of data analysis, as Project Maven in the United States aims to do. Investments in image recognition offer the hope of achieving faster, more accurate results than humans can achieve today, and is a likely avenue for continued investment and application (setting aside the questions of accidents, hacking, and other ways that systems could go awry[80]). Successful implementation of AI beyond areas such as image recognition might lead to new concepts of operation that could influence force structure and force employment, or how militaries organize themselves and plan operations. One possibility is the use of large numbers of smaller platforms, known as swarms, for military operations. Algorithms and control systems designed to enable “swarming” already exist in the private sector and in academia.[81] Military-grade algorithms would require coordination with other military systems, including early-warning aircraft, inhabited aircraft, satellites, and other sensors. Deployed swarms in a combat environment would have to be capable of real-time adaptation to optimize operations if some elements of the swarm were shot down — a challenge that commercial applications would not necessarily face. Methods for developing swarming algorithms could include behavior trees or deep learning.[82] Another potential application for narrow AI that could shape the character of war is coordination through layers of algorithms that work together to help manage complex operations. These algorithms could be expert systems that generate decision trees. Or they could involve algorithms developed through generative adversarial networks. In this approach, algorithms compete against each other to teach each other how to do various tasks. Some algorithms will need to be trained to assist in coordinating multiple military assets, both human and machine. In that case, adversarial learning could help compensate for the unique character of decision-making in individual battles and the problem of learning to adapt beyond the available training data.[83] The ability to operate faster through algorithms that assist human commanders in optimizing battle plans, including real-time operations, could shift force employment and force structure, especially in the air and at sea. Since World War II, modern militaries have been engaged in a  shift from quantity to quality in military systems. The thinking is that smaller numbers of expensive, high-quality systems are more likely to lead to victory in battles. AI could accelerate trends that challenge these long-running force-structure imperatives, such as the need to defeat adversaries with advanced anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) networks with tolerable costs. If algorithms and coordination at machine speed become critical to success on the battlefield, expensive, high-quality platforms could become vulnerable to swarms of sensors and lower-cost weapons platforms that are effectively networked together. AI could thus help bring quantity back into the equation in the form of large numbers of robotic systems. In the near to mid-term, however, optimal use of AI may lie in leveraging machine learning to improve the performance of existing platforms. Incentives exist for nearly all types of political regimes to develop AI applications for military purposes. For democracies, AI can decrease the relative burden of warfare on the population and reduce the risk to soldiers, even more so than with remotely piloted systems, by reducing the use of personnel. For autocracies, which do not trust their people in the first place, the ability to outsource some elements of military decision-making to algorithms, reducing reliance on humans to fight wars, is inherently attractive.[84] Organizational Politics and Artificial Intelligence Despite uncertainty about specific military applications of AI, the examples of how AI can be used in a military context described above reveal that these capabilities have the potential to significantly disrupt organizational structures. Take the example of battle management coordination (whether in human-machine teams or not): Successfully operating even semi-autonomous battle management systems is likely to require new occupational specialties and shifts in recruiting, training, and promotion to empower individuals who understand both military operations and how particular AI systems function. Rosen shows that altering the promotion of military personnel to empower those with expertise in new areas is critical to adopting military innovations in general. AI should be no exception.[85] As described above, the use of AI systems at the operational level could generate options for how militaries organize and plan to use force, due to the potential to use larger numbers of networked systems operating at machine speed instead of relying exclusively on small numbers of high-quality inhabited aircraft. Implementing such concepts, however, could require disruptive organizational shifts that could threaten to change which military occupations provide the highest status and are gateways to leadership roles. Already, this can be seen with the Air Force, dominated by fighter pilots, which has been relatively hesitant when it comes to investments in uninhabited aerial vehicles. It would also challenge entrenched bureaucratic notions about how to weigh quantity versus quality. Adopting narrow AI in the most optimal way could prove challenging for leading militaries, which will need trained personnel who can do quality and reliability assurance for AI applications to ensure their appropriate and effective use. Other applications, such as Project Maven in the U.S. Department of Defense, are easier to implement because they are sustaining technologies from the perspective of literature on organizational innovation.[86] Autonomous systems that can rapidly and accurately process drone footage do not disrupt high-status military occupational specialties, nor do they disrupt how military services operate as a whole. It is when optimal uses of narrow AI would require large shifts to force structure that the adoption requirements, and bureaucratic anti-bodies, ramp up. One example of bureaucratic resistance preventing the production of a new technology that could have proved disruptive is the U.S. military’s failure to fund the X-47B drone, a next-generation system that could take off from and land on aircraft carriers autonomously. This illustrates the way bureaucratic politics and organizational competition can hinder the adoption of innovative technologies.[87] [quote id="3"] The strategic or organizational culture of a military or society can also indicate which will be best positioned to exploit potential advances in AI,[88] specifically, how open those cultures are to innovation. There is a risk of tautology, of course, in cultural arguments at times since it can be hard to measure whether an organization is capable of adopting a technology until it has tried to do so or done it. However, Emily Goldman’s work on the Ottoman Empire suggests the value of developing metrics of cultural openness when it comes to predicting willingness to experiment and adopt AI systems.[89] Interestingly, norms regarding force structure could also play a role in inhibiting the use of AI for certain military tasks. As Theo Farrell’s research on the Irish Army after independence shows, militaries often mimic the functional form of more powerful actors even when doing so is not in their interest. Applying his insight in the case of artificial intelligence, some militaries may be less likely to use AI in ways that are organizationally disruptive, especially if doing so would involve shifts in visible force structure, such as a move from small numbers of advanced inhabited aircraft to swarming concepts that use cheaper, more disposable aircraft.[90] Arguments about organizational and strategic culture are generally consistent with adoption capacity theory, since both focus on the challenges that innovations present when they disrupt the identity of an organization.[91] After all, militaries that already spend a lot on research and development, that are younger, and that have broad conceptions of their critical task are more likely to be culturally “open” and able to adopt new technologies or full innovations further down the development line. The Diffusion of Militarily-Relevant AI: Two Scenarios There is a fundamental question about the extent to which militarily-relevant uses of narrow AI will diffuse easily. Answering this question is necessary for predicting the first-mover advantages associated with a technological innovation, which in turn helps to determine its relative impact on the balance of power and warfare. To determine how easily a new technology will diffuse, adoption capacity theory suggests looking at the unit cost of the technology, especially the physical hardware. Designing AI capabilities requires both software and hardware. This influences how to think about the “unit cost” of AI. Military capabilities based in hardware often spread more slowly than those based in software, generating more sustainable advantage for the first adopter of a given capability, especially when the unit costs of that capability are relatively high. The high unit cost of flattop aircraft carriers, for example, means that only wealthy and powerful countries adopt them.[92] When it comes to platforms, algorithms are software rather than hardware. Take the example of the MQ-9 Reaper, a current-generation U.S. military armed drone. The MQ-9 is remotely piloted, meaning that a pilot at another location directs the airframe and makes decisions about firing weapons against potential targets. The difference between this and an autonomous version that is piloted and operated by an algorithm is software. From the outside, the platform would look the same. But, if narrow AI is software from the perspective of military technology, it is software that requires substantial hardware for its creation. The associated hardware costs — especially for advanced narrow AI applications — are potentially significant.[93] The more complex the algorithm, the more up-front computational hardware is required to “train” that algorithm.[94] Thus, corporate and academic AI research leaders have to invest in teraflops of computing power. This is a different kind of hardware than a tank or a cruise missile, but it is hardware all the same. Rapid advances in AI through deep learning and neural networks over the last decade have thus required advances in computing hardware. Joel Emer, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at MIT, states it plainly: “Many AI accomplishments were made possible because of advances in hardware.”[95] After an algorithm has been trained, however, it can be applied without access to that computing environment, and the power necessary to run completed algorithms is dramatically reduced. How rapidly AI capabilities will diffuse via simultaneous invention or mimicry will depend, in part, on the availability of computing power. If the cost of computing power continues to decline as chips become more efficient, then countries that are already home to advanced technology companies will have more access to AI capabilities faster than other countries without those kinds of technology companies. If, on the other hand, the hardware costs of developing complex algorithms remain beyond the capacity of companies in most countries, diffusion will happen only deliberately, such as through trade or bilateral agreements at the nation-state level, or via espionage (i.e., hacking). This would likely slow the diffusion of most AI advances, increasing the advantages for innovators. Determining the extent to which militarily-relevant applications of AI are based on commercial technology versus exclusively military research is also a critical question raised by adoption capacity theory. While it is hard to know the answer at present, examining both scenarios will illustrate how that answer might shape the way AI affects the balance of power and the structure of international competition. Dual-Use AI Research on the future of work suggests that strong commercial drivers are incentivizing the development of AI around the world. A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report found a midpoint estimate of 400 million people, or 15 percent of the workforce, that are likely to be disrupted by automation before 2030.[96] Widely cited research by Carl B. Frey and Michael A. Osborne estimates that 47 percent of jobs in the United States are at risk of being replaced by automation. That includes lawyers, stock traders, and accountants, not just blue-collar jobs.[97] Companies across the economy have incentives to develop and use algorithms. Commercial interest in AI is so high that some argue it — and the finite number of talented AI engineers — is holding back military developments.[98] What’s more, the higher salaries and benefits that commercial companies can offer mean that militaries may have to turn to civilian companies to develop advanced AI capabilities. Google’s decision to partner with the U.S. Defense Department on Project Maven illustrates how the same talent and knowledge that will drive commercial innovation in AI may also be necessary for military technology innovation.[99] When technology advances derive primarily from the civilian sector, rapid adoption of new technologies around the world becomes more likely. Commercial companies may spread the technology themselves, and the profit motive incentivizes rapid mimicry by related companies in different countries.[100] Companies in Brazil, Germany, Japan, and Singapore could become AI leaders or at least fast followers. A commitment to open-source development by many of the major players in AI could also increase the rate of diffusion. In 2015, for example, Google opened up TensorFlow, its artificial intelligence engine, to the public.[101] Elsewhere, researchers committed to the open development of AI to help reduce the safety risk of algorithms that “break” in high-leverage situations publish their findings in ways that advance their cause — and make it easier for their algorithms to be copied.[102] Even though advanced applications of commercial AI would require significant hardware and expertise, adoption capacity theory suggests that as the underlying basis of a technology gets more commercially oriented, it spreads relatively faster, as explained above. Companies like DeepMind have an edge today. But in such a scenario, there would be more companies around the world with relevant technological capacity. It is also easier for governments to leverage private-sector companies when those private-sector actors have non-governmental market incentives for developing or copying technology. So how would dual-use AI being critical to military applications of AI shape global power? As noted above, the period in which a technological innovator enjoys a market advantage shrinks when countries and companies can acquire or copy others’ advances relatively easily. This makes it hard to stay ahead qualitatively.[103] In the AI and robotics realms, it is possible that this will create yet another incentive for countries to focus on quantity in military systems. If leads in AI development prove difficult to sustain, advanced militaries are likely to have systems of approximately the same quality level, presuming they all reach the same conclusion about the general potential of integrating AI into military operations. In that case, countries may be more likely to try to gain advantage by emphasizing quantity again — this is in addition to the inherent incentives for mass that narrow AI might create. If dual-use AI is critical to military applications of AI, the ability to design forces, training, and operational plans to take advantage of those dual-use applications will be a differentiating factor for leadership in AI among the great powers. The 1940 Battle of France illustrates what could ultimately be at stake in the most extreme case. Both the Germans on one side and the British and French on the other had tanks, trucks, radios, and airplanes that they could, in theory, have used for close air support. What gave the Germans such a large edge was blitzkrieg — a new concept of operations that could overwhelm even another advanced adversary.[104] Let’s return to the comparison between AI and the space race. If AI technology diffuses more rapidly because it has both commercial and military purposes, making first-mover advantages more difficult to sustain, comparisons to the space race may be limited. The space race was a bilateral challenge between the United States and the Soviet Union designed to put a person on the moon, which included both developments in rockets and technologies designed to keep humans alive in space, land on the moon, and return safely. The rocket development itself was also part of the creation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). And critical economic spillovers from the space race included development of the satellites that led to GPS and other key enablers of the Information Age. Yet overall, the race to the moon was run by two governments for national purposes — not primarily for dual-use economic gain. The commercial drivers of AI technology, and the speed with which new algorithms diffuse, would make competition much broader than it was during the bilateral space race. Competition is much more likely to be multilateral, featuring countries and companies around the world. A better analogy might be to the competition surrounding the development of Second Industrial Revolution technologies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. France, Germany, Britain, Japan, the United States, and others vied for supremacy in steel production, chemicals, petroleum, electricity, and other areas. For military applications of AI where the underlying technology is driven by commercial developments, the impact of a country getting ahead in AI technology, over time, would have unclear implications for relative power if a rival country was close enough to be a fast follower. Advances in commercially driven AI technology are about building new industries, changing the character of existing industries, and ensuring that the leading corporations in the global economy that emerges are based in one’s own country. Militarily-Exclusive AI The alternative to military applications of AI that are based in commercial developments is a world where military applications of AI are driven instead by research that is applicable only to militaries. Copying technological innovations of “excludable” technologies — those not based on widely available commercial technology — requires espionage to steal the technology (as the Soviets did with the atomic bomb) or mimicry based on observable principles of the technology.[105] There are several reasons, however, to think that many military applications of narrow AI will be unique in ways that will make them more difficult to copy. First, the complexity of advanced military systems can make emulation costly and difficult. This is especially true when a number of components are not available on the commercial market and the ability to build them depends, in part, on classified information.[106] The same can also be said for some advanced commercial technology, of course, but this is not the norm. The inability to adapt commercial algorithms for some military purposes could limit the capacity of most states to produce relevant AI-based military capabilities, even if they have advanced commercial AI sectors. It could also mean that systems integration challenges for using militarily-relevant algorithms are large enough to deter many militaries from investing heavily.[107] [quote id="4"] Whatever the uncertainty about how specific AI advances will translate into military capabilities, some of the most important military applications of narrow AI — those with a potentially substantial impact on larger-scale military operations — may not have obvious civilian counterparts. Battle management algorithms that coordinate a military operation at machine speed do not necessarily have commercial analogues — even if supervised by a human with command authority — excluding the development of a narrow AI designed, say, to run a factory or operational system from top to bottom. In these arenas, military-grade algorithms may require conceptual breakthroughs that other countries may find hard to rapidly mimic. Second, some military AI applications, such as image recognition, do have obvious commercial counterparts. Even in those cases, however, the cybersecurity concerns and reliability associated with military-grade technology can differ from those for civilian applications. Military AI systems deployed in the field may require hardening for electronic warfare and extra protections from spoofing and hacking that would be of relatively less concern in the civilian world. In military environments, adversaries’ efforts to hack and spoof increase the need for security. The potential for countries to have strong commercial AI research sectors may mean that even narrow AI developments with applications geared toward military use may be easier to mimic than, say, stealth technology has been over the last generation. But stealth is an outlier: It has proven uniquely difficult to copy relative to other military technologies over the past few hundred years. For AI developments that do not have clear commercial analogues, there could be substantial first-mover advantages for militaries that swiftly adopt AI technologies, particularly if they can achieve compute-driven breakthroughs that are difficult to copy. What would this mean for AI competition? As described above, China’s AI strategy highlights the way many countries increasingly view AI as a global competition that involves nation-states, rather than as a market in which companies can invest.[108] As Elsa Kania writes, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
is funding a wide range of projects involving AI, and the Chinese defense industry and PLA research institutes are pursuing extensive research and development, in some cases partnering with private enterprises.[109]
Adopting militarily-exclusive AI technologies could also generate significant organizational pressure on militaries. Even if it would be hard for most countries to be fast followers, or mimic the advances of other militaries, great-power competition in AI would generate risk for those powers that are unable to adapt in order to organizationally exploit advances in AI, even if they are able to make technical advances. Traditionally, this risk is highest for the world’s leading military power, in this case the United States. Leading military powers often struggle to envision how to use new technologies in ways that are organizationally disruptive. They can also be blind to that fact, believing they are in the lead right up to the point when their failure of creativity matters.[110] From a balance-of-power perspective, this scenario would be more likely to feature disruption among emerging and great powers but not a broader leveling of the military playing field. The ability to exclude many countries from advances in AI would concentrate military competition among current leading militaries, such as the United States, China, and Russia. There could be significant disruption within those categories, though. A Chinese military that more rapidly developed critical algorithms for broader battle management, or that was more willing to use them than the United States, might gain advantages that shifted power in the Asia-Pacific. This assumes that these algorithms operate as they are designed to operate. All militarily-useful AI will have to be hardened against hacking and spoofing. Operators will use narrow AI applications only if they are as or more effective or reliable as existing inhabited or remotely-piloted options.[111] While this discussion has focused on narrow AI applications, the notion of bilateral competition in AI may be most pressing when thinking about artificial general intelligence.[112] Although artificial general intelligence is beyond the scope of this paper, it would matter as a discrete competitive point only if there is a clear reward to being first, as opposed to being a fast follower. For example, developing artificial general intelligence first could lock in economic or military leadership. Then others would not have the ability to adopt it themselves, or their adoptions would be somehow less relevant, and that could be a discrete “end point” to competition. It seems unlikely, however, that such development would be that discrete or that one country would get a lead in this technology that is so large that it can consolidate the impact of being a first mover before others catch up.


Technological innovations, whether the machine gun, the railroad, or the longbow, can influence the balance of power and international conflict. Yet their impact is generally determined by how people and organizations use the technology rather than by the technology itself.[113] It is too early to tell what the impact of narrow AI will be, but technology development suggests it will have at least some effect. As an “enabling” technology that is more like electricity or the combustion engine than a weapon system, narrow AI is likely to have an impact that extends beyond specific questions of military superiority to influence economic power and societies around the world. This article demonstrates that technological innovation in AI could have large-scale consequences for the global balance of power. Whatever the mix of dual-use AI or militarily-exclusive AI that ends up shaping modern militaries over the next few decades, the organizational adoption requirements are likely to be significant. Militaries around the world will have to grapple with how to change recruiting and promotion policies to empower soldiers who understand algorithms and coding, as well as potential shifts in force structure to take advantage of AI-based coordination on the battlefield. Military and economic history suggests that the effect of narrow AI could be quite large, even if suggestions of AI triggering a new industrial revolution are overstated. Adoption capacity theory shows that changes in relative military power become more likely in cases of military innovations that require large organizational changes and the adoption of new operational concepts. Even if the United States, China, and Russia were to end up with similar levels of basic AI capacity over the next decade, the history of military innovations from the phalanx to blitzkrieg suggests it is how they and others use AI that will matter most for the future of military power. Whether AI capabilities diffuse relatively slowly or quickly, major military powers will likely face security dilemmas having to do with AI development and deployment. In a slow diffusion scenario, if countries fear that adversaries could get ahead in ways that are hard to rapidly mimic — and small differences in capabilities will matter on the battlefield — that will foster incentives for quick development and deployment. In a rapid diffusion scenario, competitive incentives will also exist, as countries feel like they have to race just to keep up.[114] Moreover, it will be inherently difficult to measure competitors’ progress with AI (unlike, say, observing the construction of an aircraft carrier), causing countries to assume the worst of their potential rivals. Competition in developing AI is underway. Countries around the world are investing heavily in AI, though the United States and China seem to be ahead. Yet even if the space-race analogy is not precise, understanding AI as a competition can still be useful. Such frameworks help people and organizations understand the world around them, from how to evaluate international threats to the potential trajectory of wars.[115] If likening competition in AI to the space race clarifies the stakes in ways that generate incentives for bureaucratic action at the government level, and raises corporate and public awareness, the analogy stands to have utility for the United States. From a research perspective, one limitation of this article is its focus on the balance of power and international competition, as opposed to specific uses of AI. Future research could investigate particular implementations of AI for military purposes or other critical questions. Specific implementations could include the use of autonomous weapon systems able to select and engage targets on their own. These systems could raise ethical and moral questions about human control,[116] as well as practical issues surrounding war that is fought at “machine speed.”[117] The integration of AI into early-warning systems and its ability to aid in rapid targeting could also affect crisis stability and nuclear weapons.[118] In the broader security realm, AI will affect human security missions.[119] By laying out an initial framework for how military applications of narrow AI could structure international competition and the balance of power, this article lays the groundwork for thinking through these questions in the future. [quote id="5"] This article also raises a series of policy questions. When thinking about AI as an arena for international competition, one question is whether, in response to China’s AI strategy, the United States should launch its own comprehensive AI strategy. In 2016, the Obama White House released an AI policy road map. It acknowledged the importance of U.S. leadership in AI but focused mostly on regulatory policy questions.[120] The transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump led to a pause in these efforts, though the White House recently announced the creation of a new committee of AI experts to advise it on policy choices.[121] Some might argue that it is necessary for the United States to develop and announce a formal AI strategy similar to China’s.[122] While there are plenty of private-sector incentives for the development of AI technology, only the government can coordinate AI investments and ensure the development of particular implementations that it considers critical for AI leadership.[123] On the other hand, it is the free market in the United States, and its connections to the global economy, that have made the United States an engine of global innovation. More centrally planned economies have often struggled with innovation. During the Cold War, the Soviet defense industrial base and military proved effective at perfecting existing technologies or adopting technologies. The centralized Soviet system, however, made true innovation more difficult.[124] China is spending much more than the United States on AI research, and Chinese AI researchers are producing more papers on topics such as deep learning than U.S. researchers.[125] How that translates into tangible advances in AI technology is unclear. From a balance-of-power perspective, one could argue that the optimal approach would involve a mixed strategy between market and government development of AI. In the economic arena, central planning can stifle innovation, meaning the role of government should be to fund basic research and then let market incentives do the rest. The defense sector may be different, however. For the United States, it will be up to the Department of Defense to clearly outline what types of AI technologies are most useful and to seed research and development to turn those technologies into a reality. For any strategy, for both the United States and China, a principal challenge will be translating basic research in programs of record into actual capabilities. As Cummings writes about government agencies working on AI systems around the world, “[T]he agencies developing these technologies are struggling to make the leap from development to operational implementation.”[126] More broadly, if investing in and appropriately utilizing AI is critical to military power in the 21st century, the U.S. approach is a mixed bag. Optimists can point to investments in connecting cutting-edge research to U.S. military forces through institutions such as the Defense Innovation Unit – Experimental (DIUx), the Strategic Capabilities Office, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). From discussions of the “Third Offset” to “Multi-Domain Battle,” senior military and civilian leaders are also taking the challenge of AI seriously.[127] Meanwhile, a great deal of bottom-up innovation is happening in the U.S. military, both in terms of developing technologies and experimenting with novel concepts of operation. It is possible that the research and smaller, experimental programs that the United States is funding will become part of mainstream U.S. military programs, enabling the United States to stay ahead and sustain its military superiority. If narrow AI continues to develop, adopting the technology will require sustained attention by senior leaders. Pessimists, however, can point to a gap between rhetoric and unit-level experimentation on the one hand and budgetary realities on the other.[128] There is a lot of discussion about the importance of artificial intelligence and robotics, as well as a clear desire among senior uniformed leadership to make the U.S. military more networked, distributed, and lethal by taking advantage of AI, among other technologies.[129] This rhetoric has not yet caught up to reality in terms of U.S. military spending on AI. When faced with a choice of investing in a next-generation drone, for example, the U.S. Navy used its available programmatic dollars for the MQ-25 air-to-air refueling platform, which will support inhabited aircraft such as the F-35. The MQ-25 program was chosen over an advanced armed system — based on the X-47B demonstrator — with stealthy potential that could operate in dangerous conflict environments.[130] The MQ-25 decision may be seen as the canary in the coal mine if the U.S. military falls behind in the coming decades — especially if a failure to appropriately adopt advances in AI and robotics turns out to be a key reason for that relative military decline. At the end of the day, however, AI’s effect on international politics will depend on much more than choices about one particular military program. The challenge for the United States will be in calibrating, based on trends in AI developments, how fast to move in incorporating narrow AI applications. This will be true whether those applications are dual-use or based in exclusively-military research. And that challenge to leadership in AI in general, as well as in military power, is complicated by the movements of China and other competitors, all of which seem interested in leveraging AI to challenge U.S. military superiority. Michael C. Horowitz is professor of political science and associate director of Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter: @mchorowitz. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => Artificial Intelligence, International Competition, and the Balance of Power [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => artificial-intelligence-international-competition-and-the-balance-of-power [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:13:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:13:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => World leaders, CEOs, and academics have suggested that a revolution in artificial intelligence is upon us. Are they right, and what will advances in artificial intelligence mean for international competition and the balance of power? This article evaluates how developments in artificial intelligence (AI) — advanced, narrow applications in particular — are poised to influence military power and international politics. It describes how AI more closely resembles “enabling” technologies such as the combustion engine or electricity than a specific weapon. AI’s still-emerging developments make it harder to assess than many technological changes, especially since many of the organizational decisions about the adoption and uses of new technology that generally shape the impact of that technology are in their infancy. The article then explores the possibility that key drivers of AI development in the private sector could cause the rapid diffusion of military applications of AI, limiting first-mover advantages for innovators. Alternatively, given uncertainty about the technological trajectory of AI, it is also possible that military uses of AI will be harder to develop based on private-sector AI technologies than many expect, generating more potential first-mover advantages for existing powers such as China and the United States, as well as larger consequences for relative power if a country fails to adapt. Finally, the article discusses the extent to which U.S. military rhetoric about the importance of AI matches the reality of U.S. investments. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Emerging technologies primarily shape the balance of power through military and economic means. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The character of AI technology, like robotics, makes many countries well-positioned to design and deploy it for military purposes. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Incentives exist for nearly all types of political regimes to develop AI applications for military purposes. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => When technology advances derive primarily from the civilian sector, rapid adoption of new technologies around the world becomes more likely. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => China is spending much more than the United States on AI research, and Chinese AI researchers are producing more papers on topics such as deep learning than U.S. researchers. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => AI seems much more akin to the internal combustion engine or electricity than a weapon. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 642 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 61 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] James Vincent, "Putin Says the Nation That Leads in AI ‘Will Be the Ruler of the World,’" Verge, Sept. 4, 2017, [2] Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution (New York: Crown Business, 2017). [3] Colin Clark, "Our Artificial Intelligence ‘Sputnik Moment’ Is Now: Eric Schmidt & Bob Work," Breaking Defense, Nov. 1, 2017, [4] Seth Fiegerman, "Elon Musk Predicts World War III," CNN, Sept. 4, 2017, [5] On technological determinism, see Merritt R. Smith and Leo Marx, Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994). [6] William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since A.D. 1000 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982). [7] Jeremiah E. Dittmar, "Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press," Quarterly Journal of Economics 126, no. 3 (August 2011): 1133-1172, [8] Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989). [9] In the military dimension, see Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). For a critique of technology-focused thinking about the future of war, see Paul K. Van Riper and Frank G. Hoffman, "Pursuing the Real Revolution in Military Affairs: Exploiting Knowledge-Based Warfare," National Security Studies Quarterly 4, no. 3 (1998): 4; H.R. McMaster, "Continuity and Change: The Army Operating Concept and Clear Thinking About Future War," Military Review (2015), Speakers/Continuity and Change by LTG McMaster.pdf. [10] Clark G. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers; The Forging of an Air Navy, 1st ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968); Mark R. Peattie, Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001). [11] Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962). [12] Clemency Burton-Hill, "The Superhero of Artificial Intelligence: Can This Genius Keep It in Check?" Guardian, Feb. 16, 2016, [13] Katja Grace et al., "When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts," arXiv (May 2017), [14] This is based on the Russell and Norvig definition that artificial intelligence is about the construction of artificial rational agents that can perceive and act. See Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009). Also see Calum McClelland, "The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning,", Dec. 4, 2017, [15] Shane Legg and Marcus Hutter, "Universal Intelligence: A Definition of Machine Intelligence," arXiv (December 2007): 12, [16] Michael C. Horowitz, "Military Robotics, Autonomous Systems, and the Future of Military Effectiveness," in The Sword's Other Edge: Tradeoffs in the Pursuit of Military Effectiveness, ed. Dan Reiter (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [17] Matt Simon, "Watch Boston Dynamics' SpotMini Robot Open a Door," Wired, Feb. 12, 2018, [18] This is based on the discussion in Paul Scharre and Michael C. Horowitz, "An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems," Center for a New American Security working paper (February 2015): 5, [19] Michael C. Horowitz, Paul Scharre, and Alex Velez-Green, "A Stable Nuclear Future? The Impact of Automation, Autonomy, and Artificial Intelligence" (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2017). [20] Scharre and Horowitz, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” 6. [21] Murray Campbell, A. Joseph Hoane Jr., and Feng-hsiung Hsu, “Deep Blue,” Artificial Intelligence 134, no. 1-2 (2002): 57-83, [22] Ryszard S. Michalski, Jaime G. Carbonell, and Tom M. Mitchell, eds., Machine Learning: An Artificial Intelligence Approach (New York: Springer, 2013); Allen Newell and Herbert Alexander Simon, Human Problem Solving (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972). [23] Robert D. Hof, "Deep Learning," MIT Technology Review (2013),; Anh Nguyen, Jason Yosinski, and Jeff Clune, "Deep Neural Networks Are Easily Fooled: High Confidence Predictions for Unrecognizable Images" (Paper presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference on computer vision and pattern recognition, 2015), [24] Antonio Lieto, Antonio Chella, and Marcello Frixione, "Conceptual Spaces for Cognitive Architectures: A Lingua Franca for Different Levels of Representation," Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures 19 (January 2017), [25] Calestous Juma, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). [26] Lockheed Martin, "Building the F-35: Combining Teamwork and Technology," accessed May 8, 2018, [27] The “Third Offset” was a Department of Defense initiative led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work that was designed to preserve U.S. military superiority through exploiting a generation of emerging technologies. Robert O. Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense Remarks to the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Convention, Oct. 4, 2016, [28] Walter Frick, "Why AI Can't Write This Article (Yet)," Harvard Business Review, July 24, 2017, [29] Andrew Ng, "Artificial Intelligence Is the New Electricity," Medium, April 28, 2017, [30] Mick Ryan, "Building a Future: Integrated Human-Machine Military Organization," Strategy Bridge, Dec. 11, 2017,; Paul Scharre, Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018). [31] Gregory C. Allen, "Project Maven Brings AI to the Fight Against ISIS," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dec. 21, 2017, [32] Note that this illustrates the importance of data in training algorithms. While there is some promise to synthetic data for training algorithms, there is not currently a substitute for data based on real-world experience. Thus, access to large quantities of useful data will be critical to designing successful algorithms in particular arenas. For an example of basic defense research on using AI to increase situational awareness, see Heather Roff, “COMPASS: A new AI-driven situational awareness tool for the Pentagon?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 10, 2018, [33] Scharre and Horowitz, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” 5. [34] Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). [35] Allan Dafoe, "Governing the AI Revolution: The Research Landscape" (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2018), [36] Grace et al., “When Will AI Exceed Human Performance?” [37] McNeill, The Pursuit of Power. [38] David A. Baldwin, "Power Analysis and World Politics: New Trends versus Old Tendencies," World Politics 31, no. 2 (January 1979): 161-194,; Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981). [39] Scharre and Horowitz, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems.” [40] Missy L. Cummings, "Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Warfare," Chatham House, January 2017, [41] Napoleonic warfare, or levée en masse, is an example of a military innovation not considered tied to technological innovations. [42] On military innovation in general, see Adam Grissom, "The Future of Military Innovation Studies," Journal of Strategic Studies 29, no. 5 (2006): 905-934, [43] Bernard Brodie et al., eds., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1946); Stephen P. Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984). [44] Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine; Rosen, Winning the Next War; Dima Adamsky, The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the U.S., and Israel (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); Theo Farrell, "World Culture and Military Power," Security Studies 14, no. 3 (2005): 448-488,; Emily O. Goldman and Leslie C. Eliason, eds., The Diffusion of Military Technology and Ideas (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). [45] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power, 10-11. [46] This relates to questions about the offense/defense implications of technology, though technology itself is rarely predictive. See Keir A. Lieber, War and the Engineers: The Primacy of Politics Over Technology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005). [47] Stephen D. Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004). [48] This is not meant to endorse or reject the notion of technology as a social construction. On that point, see Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker, "The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other," Social Studies of Science 14, no. 3 (1984): 399-441, What is key is that it is in the context of organizational behavior that the impact of technological change becomes clearest. [49] Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine; Rosen, Winning the Next War; Adamsky, The Culture of Military Innovation. [50] Nuclear weapons are arguably an exception to this pattern, given their unique destructive power. But they may be the exception that proves the rule. [51] Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli, "Military-Technological Superiority: Systems Integration and the Challenges of Imitation, Reverse Engineering, and Cyber-Espionage," International Security (forthcoming). [52] Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982); Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [53] Dennis E. Showalter, Railroads and Rifles: Soldiers, Technology, and the Unification of Germany (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1975); Geoffrey L. Herrera and Thomas G. Mahnken, "Military Diffusion in Nineteenth-Century Europe: The Napoleonic and Prussian Military Systems," in The Diffusion of Military Technology and Ideas, ed. Emily O. Goldman and Leslie C. Eliason (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). [54] Another example is the tank. Applied to AI and drones, see Ulrike E. Franke, "A European Approach to Military Drones and Artificial Intelligence," European Council on Foreign Relations, June 23, 2017, In general, see David E. Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 19171945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998). [55] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [56] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [57] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [58] See Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics; Daniel R. Headrick, The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [59] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979). [60] Marvin B. Lieberman and David B. Montgomery, "First-Mover Advantages," Strategic Management Journal 9, no. 1 (1988): 41-58,; Marvin B. Lieberman and David B. Montgomery, "First-Mover (Dis)Advantages: Retrospective and Link with the Resource-Based View," Strategic Management Journal 19, no. 12 (1998): 1111-1125,<1111::AID-SMJ21>3.0.CO;2-W; Gerard J. Tellis and Peter N. Golder, Will and Vision: How Latecomers Grow to Dominate Markets (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002). [61] Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed. (New York: Free Press, 2003). [62] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. For a recent argument about the complexity of stealth and the challenges of adoption, see Gilli and Gilli, “Military-Technological Superiority.” [63] Showalter, Railroads and Rifles; Geoffrey L. Herrera, Technology and International Transformation: The Railroad, the Atom Bomb, and the Politics of Technological Change (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006). [64] Eric Schmidt, "Keynote Address at the Center for a New American Security Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit," Center for a New American Security, Nov. 13, 2017, [65] John R. Allen and Amir Husain, "The Next Space Race Is Artificial Intelligence," Foreign Policy, Nov. 3, 2017, [66] Tom Simonite, "For Superpowers, Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race," Wired, Sept. 8, 2017,; Zachary Cohen, "US Risks Losing Artificial Intelligence Arms Race to China and Russia," CNN, Nov. 29, 2017,; Julian E. Barnes and Josh Chin, "The New Arms Race in AI," Wall Street Journal, Mar. 2, 2018, [67] Graham Webster et al., "China’s Plan to ‘Lead’ in AI: Purpose, Prospects, and Problems," New America Foundation, Aug. 1, 2017, [68] Samuel Bendett, "Russia Is Poised to Surprise the US in Battlefield Robotics," Defense One, Jan. 25 2018,; Barnes and Chin, “The New Arms Race in AI”; Samuel Bendett, “Red Robots Rising,” Strategy Bridge, Dec. 12, 2017,; Valerie Insinna, “Russia’s nuclear underwater drone is real and in the Nuclear Posture Review,” Defense News, Jan. 12, 2018, [69] For an overview of AI and national security, see Daniel S. Hoadley and Nathan J. Lucas, “Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” Congressional Research Service, Apr. 26, 2018, Also see Benjamin Jensen, Chris Whyte, and Scott Cuomo, Algorithms at War: The Promise, Peril, and Limits of Artificial Intelligence, Working Paper (2018). [70] This is similar to what is going on in robotics. See Horowitz, "Military Robotics, Autonomous Systems, and the Future of Military Effectiveness." [71] Sachin Chitturu et al., "Artificial Intelligence and Southeast Asia's Future," McKinsey Global Institute, September 2017, 1, Themes/Artificial Intelligence/Artificial-intelligence-and-Southeast-Asias-future.ashx; Ng Eng Hen, “Speech at Committee of Supply Debate,” Ministry of Defense, Singapore, Mar. 7, 2014,!ut/p/z0/fY07D4IwFIV_iwNjcy-IMKMOalQWNNjFVLxKFcqjDei_t8hq3M53ch7AIQWuRCfvwshKicLyiQfnMF4uVuh7-3iWuBgdk2Q7m-_XhzCADfD_Abs. [72] Mark Prigg, "Who Goes There? Samsung Unveils Robot Sentry That Can Kill From Two Miles Away," Daily Mail (UK), Sept. 15, 2014, [73] Ryan, “Building a Future: Integrated Human-Machine Military Organization.” [74] "Strategic Review of Defence and National Security: 2017," French Ministry of Defense, Dec. 22, 2017, 3, On the European approach to drones and AI, also see Franke, “A European Approach to Military Drones and Artificial Intelligence.” [75] Eliran Rubin, "Tiny IDF Unit Is Brains Behind Israeli Army Artificial Intelligence," Haaretz, Aug. 15, 2017,; Yaakov Lappin, "Artificial Intelligence Shapes the IDF in Ways Never Imagined," Aglemeiner, Oct. 16, 2017, [76] Lappin, “Artificial Intelligence Shapes the IDF in Ways Never Imagined.” [77] One could also argue AI has the potential to go beyond shaping the character of war and change the nature of war itself. From a Clausewitzian perspective, that war is human fundamentally defines its nature. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989). Thus, the nature of war is unchanging. In theory, could AI alter the nature of war itself because wars will be fought by robotic systems, not people, and because of AI’s potential to engage in planning and decision-making that were previously human endeavors? U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis speculated in February 2018 that AI is “fundamentally different” in ways that raise questions about the nature of war. See "Press Gaggle by Secretary Mattis En Route to Washington, D.C.," Department of Defense, Feb. 17, 2018, This is an important debate but one beyond the scope of this paper. For elements of this debate, see Kareem Ayoub and Kenneth Payne, "Strategy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence," Journal of Strategic Studies 39, no. 5-6 (2016): 793-819,; Frank G. Hoffman, "Will War’s Nature Change in the Seventh Military Revolution?" Parameters 47, no. 4, (2018): 19-31, Also see Kenneth Payne, Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2018). [78] Robert O. Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense Speech at Center for a New American Security Defense Forum, Dec. 14, 2015,; John R. Allen and Amir Husain, "On Hyperwar," Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 143, no. 7 (July 2017), [79] Bolei Zhou et al., "Places: A 10 Million Image Database for Scene Recognition," IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (July 2017), [80] Miles Brundage et al., "The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation," Working Paper (2018),; Stephanie Carvin, “Normal Autonomous Accidents”, Social Science Research Network (2018), [81] For example, see Vijay Kumar, Aleksandr Kushleyev, and Daniel Mellinger, "Three-Dimensional Manipulation of Teams of Quadrotors," Google Patents, 2017, [82] Simon Jones et al., "Evolving Behaviour Trees for Swarm Robotics," in Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems, ed. Roderich Grob, et al. (Boulder, CO: Springer, 2018). [83] Tero Karras et al., "Progressive Growing of GANs for Improved Quality, Stability, and Variation," published as a conference paper at International Conference on Learning Representations 2018 (2018), [84] Michael C. Horowitz, "The promise and peril of military applications of artificial intelligence,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Apr. 23, 2018, [85] Rosen, Winning the Next War. [86] Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1997). This also relates to strategies for innovating within militaries. See Peter Dombrowski and Eugene Gholz, Buying Military Transformation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). [87] Cummings, "Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Warfare," 9. Also see Lawrence Spinetta and Missy L. Cummings, "Unloved Aerial Vehicles: Gutting Its UAV Plan, the Air Force Sets a Course for Irrelevance," Armed Forces Journal (November 2012): 8-12, [88] Adamsky, Culture of Military Innovation. [89] Emily O. Goldman, "Cultural Foundations of Military Diffusion," Review of International Studies 32, no. 1 (2006): 69-91, [90] Farrell, "World Culture and Military Power." [91] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [92] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [93] Tim Hwang, "Computational Power and the Social Impact of Artificial Intelligence," Mar. 23, 2018, [94] Hof, “Deep Learning.” [95] Meg Murphy, "Building the Hardware for the Next Generation of Artificial Intelligence," MIT News, Nov. 30 2017, [96] James Manyika et al., "What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills, and Wages," McKinsey Global Institute report, November 2017, [97] Carl B. Frey and Michael A. Osborne, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?" Technological Forecasting and Social Change 114 (January 2017): 254-280, [98] Cummings, “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Warfare”: 10. [99] Kate Conger and Dell Cameron, "Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones," Gizmodo, Mar. 6, 2018, [100] Horowitz, Diffusion of Military Power. [101] Cade Metz, "Google Just Open Sourced TensorFlow, Its Artificial Intelligence Engine," Wired, Nov. 9, 2015, [102] Dario Amodei et al., "Concrete Problems in AI Safety," arXiv, July 25, 2016, This commitment to openness has limits. Google has many proprietary algorithms, and Microsoft’s Watson (which first came to fame when it defeated Ken Jennings, the greatest living human Jeopardy player) is also proprietary. [103] In extreme examples where first-mover advantages are difficult to generate, there can be advantages for rapid followers that do not have to pay initial R&D costs. Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). [104] The Germans did not call it blitzkrieg, explicitly. Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000); Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine. [105] The issue of algorithm theft raises questions of cybersecurity. This differs from more common questions about whether cyberweapons are autonomous weapons. On cyber in general, see Thomas Rid, Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2016); Rebecca Slayton, "What Is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance? Conceptions, Causes, and Assessment," International Security 41, no. 3 (2017): 72-109,; Ben Buchanan, The Cybersecurity Dilemma: Hacking, Trust, and Fear Between Nations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017); Nina Kollars, “The Rise of Smart Machines,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Security, Risk, and Intelligence, ed. Robert Dover, Huw Dylan, and Michael Goodmans (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 195-211. [106] Stephen G. Brooks, Producing Security: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculus of Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli, "The Diffusion of Drone Warfare? Industrial, Organizational and Infrastructural Constraints," Security Studies 25, no. 1 (2016): 50-84, [107] Gilli and Gilli, “Military-Technological Superiority.” Note this extends the argument to AI. [108] Elsa B. Kania, "Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power," Center for a New American Security, Nov. 28, 2017, [109] Kania, “Battlefield Singularity”: 4. [110] Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics. [111] Paul Scharre, "Autonomous Weapons and Operational Risk," Center for a New American Security, working paper, (February 2016), [112] Thanks to Heather Roff for making this point clear. [113] H.R. McMaster, "Continuity and Change: The Army Operating Concept and Clear Thinking About Future War." [114] On the security dilemma, see Robert Jervis, "Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma," World Politics 30, no. 2 (1978): 167-214, This would also make arms control more difficult. [115] Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992). [116] Michael C. Horowitz, "The Ethics and Morality of Robotic Warfare: Assessing The Debate Over Autonomous Weapons," Daedalus 145, no. 4 (2016): 25-36, [117] On warfare at machine speed, see Robert O. Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense Remarks to the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Convention, Oct. 4, 2016, On AI and the speed of war, see Allen and Husain, "On Hyperwar." [118] Horowitz, Scharre, and Velez-Green, “A Stable Nuclear Future?” [119] Heather Roff, "Advancing Human Security Through Artificial Intelligence," Chatham House, May 2017, [120] Ed Felten and Terah Lyons, "The Administration’s Report on the Future of Artificial Intelligence," White House, Oct. 12, 2016, [121] Aaron Boyd, “White House Announces Select Committee of Federal AI Experts,” Nextgov, May 10, 2018, [122] For a recent example, see William A. Carter, Emma Kinnucan, and Josh Elliot, "A National Machine Intelligence Strategy for the United States," Center for Strategic and International Studies and Booz Allen Hamilton, March 2018, [123] Allen and Husain, "The Next Space Race Is Artificial Intelligence." [124] Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and the Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988). [125] Cade Metz, "As China Marches Forward on A.I., the White House Is Silent," New York Times, Feb. 12, 2018, [126] Cummings, 9. [127] Tom Simonite, "Defense Secretary James Mattis Envies Silicon Valley's AI Ascent," Wired, Aug. 11, 2017,; Gopal Ratnam, "DARPA Chief Touts Artificial Intelligence Efforts," Roll Call, Mar. 1, 2018, [128] On bottom-up innovation, see Grissom, “The Future of Military Innovation Studies.” On innovation inhibitors, see Adam M. Jungdahl and Julia M. Macdonald, "Innovation Inhibitors in War: Overcoming Obstacles in the Pursuit of Military Effectiveness," Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 4 (2015): 467-499, [129] Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. et al., "The Integrated Joint Force: A Lethal Solution for Ensuring Military Preeminence," Strategy Bridge, March 2, 2018, [130] Sam LaGrone, "Navy Releases Final MQ-25 Stingray RFP; General Atomics Bid Revealed," USNI News, Oct. 10, 2017, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 573 [post_author] => 56 [post_date] => 2018-05-08 05:00:11 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-08 09:00:11 [post_content] => Insurgencies are famously difficult to defeat, yet the Afghan Taliban have proven especially so. Accounts of Taliban resilience have focused on both the deficiencies of Western efforts and the Afghan state and on Pakistani support for the Taliban. These accounts fail, however, to reveal the full picture of how the Taliban have been able to survive. Drawing on original field research, this article explores how the Taliban’s success has been shaped by factors internal to the insurgency, namely, the social resources that sustain it and the group’s ability to adapt militarily. The fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was swift and brutal. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States went to war against al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Taliban forces were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by American special operations forces and their Afghan allies, supported by an armada of warplanes. U.S. air forces did most of the killing. The U.S. Air Force and Navy dropped 18,000 bombs in the air campaign, 10,000 of which were precision munitions. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed is unknown, but according to one estimate the death toll was 8,000 to 12,000.[1] By early 2002, the Taliban emirate had ceased to exist as a physical entity, and its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. In the decade that followed, the new Afghan state and its Western backers were unable to stop a Taliban insurgency from steadily gaining more ground across the country. In 2016, the Taliban seized Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan for a second time, having done so the year before as well.[2] The Taliban had also come close to capturing the provincial capitals of Helmand and Uruzgan in the south and Farah in the west. In May 2016, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan command reported that only 65 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under government control.[3] This highlights the question of how the Taliban were able to come back so successfully from utter defeat. Between 2001 and 2016, the United States spent around $800 billion on war in Afghanistan. The international community spent an additional £240 billion building up Afghan security forces. In 2010, at the height of the international military effort in Afghanistan, just over 100,000 U.S. troops and around 40,000 troops from 50 other nations were deployed there. Despite all this military might and international largesse, the Taliban were not defeated. How can this be explained? To date, studies on the war have mostly focused on deficiencies in the international military effort and problems with the Afghan state. Lack of success in defeating the Taliban has been blamed on the failings of Western leadership and strategy, on the hubris and incoherence of the international effort, and on flaws in counterinsurgency tactics and operations.[4] Equally important has been the scale of corruption in Afghanistan, fueled by the massive influx of international aid, which has undermined both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the Afghan government and security forces.[5] In explaining the persistence and success of the Afghan Taliban, many commentators have highlighted the support the group received from Pakistan. The long, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (across which men, material, and money move with relative ease), the use of refugee camps in Pakistan as secure rear bases, and significant military assistance from the Pakistani Army have unquestionably been important to sustaining the insurgency in Afghanistan.[6] The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of the Pakistani Army has been central in this. The ISI has largely succeeded in hiding its involvement in the Afghan conflict, working through undercover agents, civilian sympathizers, contractors, and retired officers. Taliban interviewees are also cautious about commenting on Pakistan’s role in their struggle. Thus, outside the world of secret intelligence, it is possible to get only glimpses of the ISI’s assistance to the Taliban. While the group receives significant financial support from Gulf Cooperation Council states (and from various sources within GCC states), and some military assistance from Iran and possibly Russia, Pakistan has been the Taliban’s most important source of funds, training, and military supplies.[7] According to the journalist Steve Coll, by 2008 it had become apparent to the U.S. military that the Pakistan Army was supporting the whole deployment cycle of Taliban forces, from their training in Pakistan to their deployment in Afghanistan to their return to Pakistan for rest and recuperation. Coll even notes that “Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps troops along the Pakistan border were firing on American border posts to provide covering fire for the Taliban to infiltrate into Afghanistan and return.”[8] Less studied, however, is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. To be sure, the literature on the Taliban is sizable and includes important books on the group’s origins, politics, culture, and war making before 2002.[9] Antonio Giustozzi has produced a number of studies on the organization, governance, and fighting tactics of the post-2002 Taliban insurgency.[10] Still missing, though, is a comprehensive explanation for the Afghan Taliban’s remarkable resilience. How is it that the Taliban managed to survive an onslaught by the most powerful military alliance in the world? In this article, I draw on two bodies of theory from the field of security studies, one on the roots of insurgency and the other on military adaptation. The former identifies the critical nature of social resources that give resilience to insurgencies — in particular, the strength of horizontal networks within the insurgency and vertical links into host communities. The latter identifies those factors that make it more likely for militaries to adapt to evolving challenges in war. When applied to the Afghan Taliban, what’s revealed is an insurgency that has a deep well of social resources and that has, over time, improved its ability to innovate and adapt. Taken together, these factors point to an insurgency that is highly resilient and one that is unbeatable by military means alone. This finding has vital implications for the Trump administration’s strategy, which revolves around intensifying the military effort against the Taliban. In addition to presenting new insights informed by theory-driven inquiry, this article draws on a large number of original interviews with Afghan Taliban leaders, officials, and field commanders. Careful protocols were followed to ensure the fidelity of the interview data.[11] Of course, the reliability of what Taliban members say is inevitably open to question. On some matters, Taliban interviewees were inclined to exaggerate (e.g., the level of public support the group enjoys) or to be less than forthcoming (e.g., the role that Pakistani intelligence plays in providing support for the group). To minimize the risk of corrupt data undermining the analysis, the main findings are developed from multiple interviews and, where appropriate, are related to published scholarship on the Taliban. This article proceeds with a review of the literature on the social roots of insurgency, applying those insights to the Afghan Taliban, as well as a review of the literature on adaptation in war, likewise applying insights to the Taliban case. It concludes with a look at the implications of these findings for the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.

Social Sources and Insurgency

Even in situations that are ripe for rebellion, organizing an insurgency is far from easy. As political scientist Jeremy Weinstein notes, insurgent leaders face multiple challenges, chief among them maintaining control, especially as the insurgency grows, and extracting resources (e.g., funds, supplies, and recruits) without alienating local populations.[12] Some insurgent groups rely on terror to impose discipline within their ranks and to keep local populations subdued. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a prominent practitioner of this tactic.[13] Even more savage was the Revolutionary United Front, whose atrocities in Sierra Leone in the 1990s included abducting children and turning them into sadistic killers, and hacking off the limbs of countless thousands of civilians.[14] One problem with wielding terror as a tactic is that it “can stifle opposition but cannot engender loyalty and support from the civilian population.” For insurgent groups seeking to hold territory, this creates the ever-present risk of civilian defection to the opposing side.[15] For many insurgencies, consent is as important as coercion in maintaining both internal control and external local support. Weinstein points to the importance of “social endowments” in mobilizing people to join or support an insurgent movement. Social endowments include preexisting networks, common identities, shared beliefs, and norms of reciprocity, all of which facilitate cooperation and collective action, especially in situations with short-term costs and only the promise of long-term gains.[16] In his major study on the cohesion of insurgent organizations, Paul Staniland also highlights the role of prewar social networks, noting that insurgent leaders often “‘socially appropriate’ existing structures of collective action for new functions.” Staniland distinguishes between two types of structures: horizontal networks and vertical ties.[17] Horizontal networks link people who may be dispersed geographically through common ideological beliefs or professional identities. Political parties are a prime example. Insurgent movements often originate from or incorporate political parties. One example is the peasant insurgency in Nepal from 1996 to 2006, which sprang from the Maoist wing of the Communist Party of Nepal.[18] Vertical ties, on the other hand, are preexisting linkages between insurgent groups and local people, often based on common ethnic, tribal, or familial networks. These make it possible for insurgent groups to bind local communities to their cause and to extract resources from and exert control over them. Thus, “bonds of family and kinship” were crucial to the success of the Naxalites in mobilizing peasant support for their Maoist insurgency in eastern India.[19] Staniland argues that variance in the cohesion and resilience of insurgencies may be explained by the degree to which they are founded on, and are able to exploit, both horizontal networks and vertical ties. Over time, many insurgencies develop governance processes and structures to provide services for civilians in the territory they control. This requires insurgent groups to divert resources that could otherwise be devoted to their armed struggle. It may also require insurgent groups to take civilian preferences into account, even when they differ from the interests and preferences of the insurgency.[20] In the case of secessionist insurgencies, the impulse to govern is obvious since the struggle is focused on achieving independent statehood. In other cases (especially with Maoist insurgencies), insurgent groups are ideologically predisposed to govern the areas and populations over which they have control.[21] For most insurgent governments, establishing the means to police the population and regulate disputes is the first order of business. The provision of other public services, such as education and health care, is usually a secondary concern.[22] Nonetheless, providing some governance is important in the long term for insurgencies to sustain public support. This can, in turn, lead to the moderation of ideologically driven insurgent governments, if only for pragmatic reasons.[23] Regardless of the extent and effectiveness of their governance, insurgencies will often take on the symbolic trappings of statehood, and “perform” like a state. As Zachariah Mampilly notes, "[b]y mimicking the behavior of the modern state, rebels seek to discursively construct a political authority imbued with a comparable legitimacy enjoyed by national governments."[24] Such behavior can be important in sustaining the political claims of an insurgency group. When it comes to the Taliban, this discussion raises two questions. First, what role did horizontal networks and vertical ties play in the development of the post-2002 insurgency? Second, how successful have the Taliban been in creating state-like structures and public services since 2002?

The Social Roots of Taliban Resurgence

At the core of the Taliban movement is a horizontal network, based on common religious schooling and shared military experience, that endows the group with a powerful, unifying ideology and worldview. The Taliban movement was founded on a network of Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan within which the group’s leadership and cadre were educated. Thousands of young men were mobilized from these madrassas to fight against the Soviets in the mujahedeen war in the 1980s. Mujahedeen fighting groups organized themselves into larger networks, called “fronts,” or mahaz, each led by a great leader who was able to disburse military supplies from foreign donors across his front to field commanders.[25] According to one major study on the origins of the Taliban, “In greater Kandahar, there were literally hundreds of Taliban commanders and dozens of Taliban fronts. … The Taliban sought to distinguish themselves from other mujahedeen groups by offering a more ostentatiously religious jihad to those who fought with them.”[26] Young Taliban fighters formed strong bonds with the movement and with each other through the rigors and hardships of the mujahedeen war.[27] The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, and the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul three years later, removed the common cause that had held different mujahedeen parties together, and civil war promptly ensued. In southern Afghanistan, local warlords had free rein to prey on civilians, imposing arbitrary fines, stealing land, and kidnapping people for ransom and sexual abuse. In Kandahar, the Taliban returned to arms in 1994, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, to bring security and justice to the Pashtun population. Within four years, Taliban fighters had swept across the country, defeating or buying off rivals who stood in their path. By 1998, only a few pockets of resistance remained, most notably the Tajik Northern Alliance, which was holed up in its mountain retreats in the northeast. Upon seizing control of the country, the Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Chronically underfunded (with an annual budget of around $80 million) and untrained in public administration, the Taliban were unable to reestablish basic public services across the country. Moreover, the group imposed myriad fundamentalist strictures on the population, most notably preventing women from going to work and girls from going to school.[28] Accordingly, the downfall of the Taliban in late 2001 and early 2002 was welcomed by a great many Afghans. [quote id="1"] The major challenge for the interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai in 2002 was asserting government rule beyond Kabul and preventing a return to civil war. Karzai did this primarily by coopting various warlords into the new Afghan government. In this way, the corrupt warlords who had been pushed out of power by the Taliban in the 1990s returned as local governors and police chiefs. Under the guise of officialdom, these reincarnated figures once again stole from and abused the population. This, in turn, provided fertile ground for the gradual return of the Taliban into southern and eastern Afghanistan beginning in 2004. As one local elder from Helmand province noted, “day by day people got fed up with this Afghan government and welcomed the Taliban back into their districts.”[29] The United States ruled out peace talks with the Taliban in 2001 and 2002, and Karzai did not respond to a number of Taliban overtures during this period. Instead, U.S. special operations forces hunted down Taliban “terrorists,” who were rendered to detention facilities in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Many “common people,” as the Taliban call non-Taliban locals, also were caught up in the net thrown by U.S. special operations. As Mike Martin notes, the Americans “failed to understand how offering a bounty would cause people to denounce anyone they were having a feud with, or even innocent people, in order to collect the money.”[30] The injustice of U.S. counterterrorism operations, combined with the return of abusive warlords, drove the Taliban to remobilize. Echoing the views of several Taliban interviewees, one noted: “When Karzai became president, Taliban were not fighting, they were in their houses. … But when the Americans and Afghan governments were disturbing and attacking on the families of all those Taliban … this is the reason that Taliban started fighting again.”[31] In late 2002 and 2003, groups of Taliban began to operate in the southern provinces of Uruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar and the eastern provinces of Paktia and Khost. Senior Taliban figures also began to remobilize in Pakistan, leading in March 2003 to the formation of a Taliban leadership council in the city of Quetta. Called the Rahbari Shura by the Taliban, it is more commonly known in the West as the Quetta Shura. In the years that followed, the Taliban effectively reestablished a government in exile. Mullah Omar remained in hiding so his deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, chaired the Quetta Shura. Provincial and district governors were appointed, starting in Kandahar and Helmand in 2003 and 2004 with other provinces in southern and eastern Afghanistan following in 2005. Twelve national commissions were established in Pakistan (military, politics, finance, culture, health, etc.) that effectively operated as shadow Taliban government departments.[32] From 2004 on, the Taliban returned in a more concerted way to southern Afghanistan. Taliban infiltration of rural districts followed a pattern. In most cases, it began with small groups of Taliban visiting villages to make contact with sympathizers, foment rebellion, and intimidate or kill pro-government elders and clerics. As they became more confident, these Taliban emissaries held open meetings to call on people to wage jihad on the “cruel government” and “foreign invaders.” Taliban mullahs were also dispatched to preach jihad to villages. As leading expert on the Taliban, Antonio Giustozzi, notes, “The strategic task of these ‘vanguard’ teams was to prepare the ground for a later escalation in the insurgency.”[33] In Musa Qala district in northern Helmand in 2004, the Taliban “secretly entered the district and talked to some villages and elders … they told the people that they were coming back to the district to fight against the government.”[34] In 2005, the Taliban returned in force to Musa Qala and “within two to three months they had captured all the villages,” leaving only the district center under government control.[35] In eastern Afghanistan, significant Taliban mobilization predated the formation of the Quetta Shura. In mid-2002, the former Taliban minister of tribal affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani, began to remobilize his front, and later that year Haqqani fighting groups were operating in Paktia and Khost.[36] Indicative of a powerful horizontal network, mobilizing Taliban fronts in southern Afghanistan reunited under the Quetta Shura. Invariably, rivalries emerged between some senior Taliban figures and the fronts they led. The rivalry between Mullah Baradar and Mullah Dadullah was especially pronounced. The eastern Taliban also resented the dominance of the Kandahari clique within the movement, and in time this led to the emergence of two additional leadership shuras that rivaled the Quetta Shura. The first was Miran Shah Shura, based on the Haqqani network, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in August 2007.[37] The second was the Peshawar Shura, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in 2009.[38] Both shuras took direct control of the fronts and fighting groups in their networks. Yet neither openly challenged the primacy of the Quetta Shura. This was both symbolically important and consistent with Taliban ideology, which emphasizes the centrality of obedience to the emir. It also ensured that most Taliban members, regardless of what front they were in, retained and evoked a residual loyalty to Mullah Omar.[39] Vertical links were equally important to the establishment of the Taliban insurgency. A closed political system developed under Karzai whereby government resources flowed primarily to the familial and patronage networks of the warlords appointed to office.[40] Many disenfranchised communities ended up siding with the Taliban out of disgust at the inequitable distribution of those resources and the corruption of the new warlord-officials.[41] Downtrodden communities also aligned with the Taliban to gain protection from abusive pro-government militias. In some cases, the Taliban expertly exploited local dissatisfaction by supporting local elders and mullahs who called for rebellion and silencing those who were opposed.[42] The Taliban also stoked popular opposition to the presence of armed foreigners. This was not difficult given the growing Afghan anger toward U.S. night raids on homes as well as civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes. Expressing a view typical of many interviewees, one local elder in Ghanzi noted that he “was happy for return of Taliban in our district because of the cruelties of the Americans.”[43] Clumsily executed British operations in Helmand — and the widespread perception that these were targeting the poppy crop, the main livelihood for most locals — caused a popular revolt in the province in 2007.[44] One group of local elders later recalled, “We thought the British were trying to kill us with hunger — they destroyed our opium but didn’t give us one Afghani [the Afghan currency]. That is why people decided to join the Taliban; they needed someone to defend them.”[45] In fact, the British did provide compensation for the destruction of poppy crops, but farmers got nothing as this scheme was administered by corrupt local officials.[46] In many places, rebellion mapped onto existing tribal rivalries. A noted example is the Ishaqzai community within Sangin district in Helmand. For generations, the Alizais and Alikozais of northern Helmand had been in competition with the Ishaqzai. Under the Taliban state, Ishaqzais held a number of key government posts in the province, including the governorship. The tables turned when Karzai appointed an Alizai warlord as provincial governor and an Alikozai warlord as head of the provincial secret police. As Martin notes, warlords in both positions “used the cover of their government positions to tax, harass and steal from the Ishaqzai.”[47] One Alikozai admitted in 2007 that “The Ishaqzai had no choice but to fight back.”[48] As they gained control of sizable portions of territory, the Taliban set about trying to reestablish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan. To achieve this goal, Taliban provincial governors were provided with a modest budget.[49] The Taliban lacked the resources and expertise, however, to replicate the state. For many Afghan locals and Taliban commanders in Helmand, establishing a shadow government was not seen as a major part of the Taliban war effort.[50] The only area in which the Taliban were able to provide alternative government services was in the administration of justice. There was high demand for Taliban services given the frequency of rural disputes over land, trade, and family matters. Initially, the Quetta Shura sought to replicate the court system of the Islamic emirate of the 1990s, with standing lower and higher courts. In Helmand, the Taliban were able to reestablish the emirate court system for a time. But in most places, justice was administered by shadow governors, Taliban mullahs, and military commanders. According to Thomas Johnson and Matthew DuPee, “The Taliban shadow justice system is easily one of the most popular and respected elements of the Taliban insurgency by local communities, especially in southern Afghanistan.”[51] Under growing pressure from operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Taliban switched in 2009 from standing to mobile courts in Helmand. As one elder noted, “Judges are hiding; sometimes they meet in people’s houses, sometimes in the mountains, sometimes in the mosques.”[52] Nonetheless, Taliban courts remained widely used because, compared with the official Afghan courts, they offered accessible, quick, and corruption-free justice. As one elder observed, “In two or three hours, [the Taliban] could solve disputes with someone over one jerib of land. Now in Lashkar Gah, if you have a dispute with someone over one jerib of land, you have to sell twenty jeribs to pay the courts.”[53] In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. The 2010 edition of the Taliban rulebook (the layeha) specifies the structure of the Taliban shadow government at provincial and district levels and even provides for the appointment of suitably skilled non-Taliban officials. In reality, in many cases the local Taliban commander de facto acted as the shadow governor.[54] As one local elder from Musa Qala noted, “There was a [Taliban] district chief, but he didn’t have much influence. Most of the power was with commanders who had lots of fighters in the district.”[55] U.S. and international forces intensified their campaign targeting Taliban leadership, which led many shadow governors to flee to Pakistan, where they would issue instructions by mobile phone.[56] This gave local commanders even more authority in matters of governance. A local elder from central Helmand described the status quo this way in 2011: “When people have an issue, they will approach the local [Taliban] commander. They don’t know who the district chief is.”[57] The Taliban focus on the military campaign meant that, with the exception of administering justice, the Taliban were not able to provide public services to people in areas under their control. This, combined with the conflict’s growing intensity, led support for the Taliban to decline over time in many parts of Afghanistan. Aside from those villages and sub-tribal groups that had allied with the Taliban, many farmers just wanted to get on with their lives in peace. In eastern Afghanistan, Taliban restrictions on the movement of civilians, and interrogation of locals suspected of spying, became further sources of friction.[58] The Quetta Shura did regulate the shadow governors to ensure that they took measures to win over communities, such as banning arbitrary executions and limiting attacks on teachers and health officials. The 2007 and 2010 editions of the layeha outlined processes for communities to complain to the Quetta Shura if a provincial or district governor was too repressive or corrupt. Two district governors were replaced in Sangin in 2009, one for allowing Taliban fighters to attack local farmers who had received government agricultural aid and the other for his overly draconian administration of justice.[59] The Taliban also took measures to strengthen the military chain of command to improve adherence by field commanders to directives from Quetta (This is discussed further in the next section). While attacks on schools and extrajudicial killings declined in 2010 and 2011, they did not disappear altogether.[60] [quote id="2"] The Taliban benefited from extensive social resources in establishing the post-2002 insurgency. Shared education, ideology, and military experience all endowed a powerful horizontal network that helped the Taliban mobilize its fighting groups and maintain the coherence of a movement that contained many rival fronts and shuras. The Taliban were also able to develop and exploit vertical links with disgruntled villages and disenfranchised sub-tribal communities, which helped the group to seize control of rural areas from pro-government warlords. The situation is more mixed with regard to the Taliban’s success in developing legitimacy by establishing state-like structures and services. The Taliban sought to reestablish the Islamic emirate in the areas they controlled and took care to listen to the concerns of locals. But the group’s ability to govern was severely hampered by the conflict. Only in the administration of justice were the Taliban able to provide a public service that was valued by local Afghans. Shoring up insurgent morale and public support was an extensive Taliban propaganda campaign that utilized many forms of media — including jihadi magazines, radio, night letters, and sophisticated uses of social media — and contained narratives tailored for local Afghans and Pakistanis as well as global audiences.[61]

Military Adaptation in War

War involves a dynamic struggle between two or more armed parties, each tryi