A World on Fire
What Is America’s Role in the World?

A crisis-driven foreign policy will inevitably succumb to disorientation and exhaustion. The United States needs a serious discussion about its role in the world—one that matches objectives and means.

Published on: October 30, 2014
Ali Wyne is a contributing analyst at Wikistrat and a coauthor of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World (2013).
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  • Boritz

    “The United States needs a serious discussion about its role in the world—one that matches objectives and means.”

    Well and good, but the bigger issues are that means are going to HIAHB for the sake of domestic spending and the borrowing to support it while objectives are more and more aligned with blame America.

    • Thirdsyphon

      That’s the smaller issue, not the bigger one. Until America is clear on our strategic objectives, we can’t hope to know what means are required to achieve them. It’s not a simple matter of asserting that the U.S. should spend x% of GDP on defense, as if “defense” was a gigantic, undifferentiated bucket of money that we can simply choose to throw more money into.

  • Thirdsyphon

    I think this article has the problem exactly backwards. Grand strategies are developed by nations and coalitions of nations to respond to clear and present challenges. As a result, the form they take is always shaped by real-world conditions. The assumption of this article, by contrast, is that things should work the other way around: that is, that grand strategies can dictate the shape of the world. Except that they can’t.

    The Cold War grand strategy of containment didn’t summon the Soviet Union into existence; it was a natural and necessary response to it.

    America doesn’t have a grand strategy for dealing with China because America’s relationship with China is ambiguous. As long as that’s the reality, it’s hopeless to concoct a “grand strategy” in the hopes that reality will somehow decide to go along with it.

    The smarter course of action, by far, is to act in each case as the facts of each case demand. . . that is, to keep putting out fires. It’s not academically interesting, but interpreting the world through a false paradigm is inherently more dangerous than waiting until we have a clearer idea of what we’re actually trying to accomplish.

    • Sibir_RUS

      Today at 9:20 am Moscow time, Russian Strategic Missile Troops (SMT) conducted a test launch of the silo-based intercontinental Topol-M (RT-2PM2) nuclear ballistic missile. The warhead hit the target at the Kuru range in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Pacific region. The missile was launched from Plesetsk military cosmodrome in Mirny, in Russia’s northern Arkhangelsk region. The launch confirmed the exceptional precision and technical reliability of the missile, reported STM spokesman Col. Igor Yegorov.

  • John Stephens

    Any attempt to establish a consistent foreign policy is wasted effort, so long as the Democrat party exists. There is no ally they won’t abandon and no enemy they will not appease, in order to gain a point or two of advantage in the next election.

    • Pete

      You said it, Brother!

      Nor will America come close to her economic potential with Democrats in position of power.

  • Sibir_RUS

    The time has come for USA to seek their place in a multi-polar reality.

  • Anthony

    “While the United States may be tempted to preeempt a vacuum by playing its current role indefinitely, that course also entails considerable risks: it could enervate the U.S. economy and encourage America’s allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific to continue free-riding off of it….”

    What then is the overall strategic concept author ask ought the United States inscribe going forward (if any)? To this end, a question inferred is how important is U.S. power to liberal international (world) order and are there fundamental changes in world – India, China, Latin America, etc. – compelling U.S. formulation of grand strategy. Indeed, author intimates that current U.S. ad hoc foreign policy adumbrates gradual breakdown world order. Foreign policy is complex and post Cold War we’ve had our way but 21st century brings new vistas and shadings.

    For me, essay illuminates, from author’s point of view, importance of classical liberalism (political and economic freedom as well as doctrine of gentle commerce) to world order. On the other hand, author leaves for reader to consider if said model continues without U.S. anchor given tectonic shifts. Inevitably, whatever U.S. future role in world, the United States remains integral to global order and in that regard “what is America’s role in the world” leaves us where it started (even while current dynamics may suggest reconfiguring).

    • MikeB

      This is good, Anthony. But why are you at war with the definite article? :-)))

      • Anthony

        Thanks and for you I ceased bellicosity with definite article; added where requested despite initial informality. My 7th grade English teacher would be proud of you! Good cheers.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Thanks for asking.

    America’s role in the world is the leading merchant nation. We keep the shipping lanes free of pirates and brigands as a cost of doing business.

  • circleglider

    For the millionth time…

    The vast majority of ordinary Americans are Jacksonians. Our Ruling Class is almost exclusively something else.

  • wigwag

    “A second factor is the absence of an overarching threat” (Ali Wyne)

    Many people believe that global Islamism is an overarching threat.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The role for America is to get its high-end income taxation back to a more sensible higher level which prevents bankruptcy and sets a sustainable example for other world economies on what to do about the wealth divide. The role for America is for us to realize that we may be over-reliant on nuclear weapons which we cannot shoot for all kinds of reasons. The role for America is to advise ourselves and then the world of Islam that we cannot and are not going to try to fix Islam. We can hit back when we’re hit, but the nation building is up to them.
    The role for America is cooperation with China and Russia, because nothing else makes any sense.

  • Sibir_RUS

    A Russian Borey-class nuclear submarine has successfully test-fired a Bulava strategic missile, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ballistic missile was launched from a submerged position with all 16 rockets onboard the sub during the test.

    • Thirdsyphon

      Considering the ruinous sum that Russia spent on developing this completely unnecessary weapon, I can’t imagine how relieved you must be that it worked. . .this time.

      • Sibir_RUS

        Your old Minuteman-3, which is the basis of the nuclear triad, sometimes fly, sometimes does not fly.

        • FriendlyGoat

          When I said in a post above that America is reliant on nuclear weapons it cannot shoot for all kinds of reasons, I meant for moral reasons, political reasons, judgment reasons, world vision reasons—-not because ours don’t work. They work fine.

        • Thirdsyphon

          If you know that Russia is not going to attack US, then why do you constantly shout about the Russian threat to other countries?

          Your answer is embedded in your question. The fact that you’re unable to see it speaks volumes about the profound rift in values between our societies. Since you’ve enlightened me so much by asking this question, the least I can do is enlighten you in return by fully answering it.

          The United States “constantly shouts” about the Russian threat to other countries because Russia is constantly threatening them. We do this for the sake of the people who live in those countries, not out of any fear for our own security against Russia, which we have well in hand.

          The Minuteman III is America’s land-based ICBM. It hasn’t been updated in recent years because, quite frankly, Russia’s capabilities have not advanced enough to make an update necessary.

          In any case, the correct American parallel to the Bulava is the one deployed by our ballistic missile subs: the Trident II(5D). The 5D is carried by 14 of our Ohio Class SSBNs. Each Trident II can travel approximately 7000 nautical miles at a velocity of about Mach 24 in the terminal phase, bearing a Mark V reentry vehicle capable of dispensing up to 14 Westinghouse W88 (475kt) nuclear warheads.

          This weapon was built by Lockheed Martin and has achieved 150 consecutive successful test launches since its deployment in 1989, the most recent of which was carried out in June of this year. The reason you didn’t see any footage of this event is because (again, to be blunt) when our weapons work, it isn’t news.

          • Sibir_RUS

            Russia is not going to scare. Our nuclear triad keeps weakened the country’s “Golden billion” from attempts to unleash a Third World War. My country has veto power in the UN, as a country that won in the Second World War. This is a big responsibility.

  • RAS743

    Really? A “serious discussion” about foreign policy? When one of the political parties has proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it hasn’t been serious about foreign policy at least since, oh, 1968, and is willing, at the drop of a hat, to take partisan advantage of any reversal in that sphere when the other party occupies the executive branch? (“Bush lied! People died!” BTW, can anyone tell me on what golf course Cindy Sheehan is holding her vigil this week, six years into the body count presided over by a Democratic administration? And does her exquisite sensitivity include concern for slaughtered foreign service officers?Just asking.)

    When the chips are down, you can count on the world’s oldest political party to choose party over country, in a heartbeat. They’ve had long practice at it. (1864? Copperheads?)

    I guess, as concerned citizens, we’re to assume, political prosperity being their overriding concern, that by saving their own perfidious hides to fight another day, when that day arrives Democrats will wise up and realize it’s still a very dangerous world and act in a manner that proves they’re up to providing “for the common defense.”

    But wait: Democrats have been in charge for six years and what do we have? Afghanistan (“the good war”), sliding backward, toward Taliban control; Iraq, abandoned to chaos to assuage “the base”; Syria (where *was* that red line, anyway?); Libya, also in chaos, having been “led from behind”; Iran slow-walking to nukes; “the Asia pivot”; the Poles and the Baltic States wondering who’s next on Vlad the crocodile’s menu after he emasculated Ukraine; peeing contests with “chicken*hit” Israeli cabinet ministers.

    Yes, we need a serious discussion, don’t we?

    Now find us some serious Democrats.

    Maybe Candy Crowley can give you some names.

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