Security Studies Program Seminar
American Grand Strategy for the New Era
Stephen Van Evera
Ford International Professor of Political Science, MIT
September 12, 2007
America needs a new grand strategy: this talk comes from a Leffler and Legro (eds.) book project on Grand Strategy; Goal to find a new X article or a new NSC 68.
Overview: the modern era is like 1815. All great powers face a threat from below from social forces, rather than other states. The age of geopolitics is over. The gravest threat is WMD terrorism. The solution is a new concert of Europe, securing global cooperation against this menace. The threat will only increase over the coming decades.
- There is no longer any threat to Europe , historically the most vulnerable of the centers of industrial power.
- China most plausible geopolitical threat
- Still, the political division of industrial Eurasia (the goal of geopolitics) is guaranteed. There are no industrial targets within reach of even an aggressive China—and China does not have the means to cross the Sea of Japan.
- Moreover, industrial might no longer be cumulative—you can't just conquer and exploit the economies of captured states anymore. Instead, we have knowledge based economies, and you can't coerce production from knowledge workers. This is the brick wall the Soviets hit in the 1970's-80s.
- We now live in the age of mass determination and identity politics. Nationalism makes for huge resistance to empire. Very hard to hold conquered territory; e.g. Iraq.
- Nukes are super defensive, and advantage status quo powers. Put a dramatic limit on conquest.
- In short—no one has the means to conquer centers of power any longer; it wouldn't be useful to them if they did; they couldn't hold them if they did; and nuclear weapons change the ballgame. So much for geopolitics.
- Biggest threat out there. Is only getting worse over time.
- We face a democratization of knowledge. The spread of nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and the tactics and training to undertake mass attack (on, say, chemical facilities) is proceeding at a ferocious pace. States are proliferating which gives new opportunities to bad actors.
- Worse, there are new undeterrable actors bent on apocalypse and murder. The rise of millenarian religion in all five of the world's major religions has created people who think it would be good to bring about Armageddon. They are motivated by religious ideas, and do not respond to rationale incentives.
- As the spread of weapons and knowledge continues, and the proliferation of millenarian religion continues, eventually the two trends will come together in a mass terror attack with WMD. This grand strategy's primary goal is to prevent such an attack.
III. Other threats to the commons
- We also face a series of other threats to the global commons, which could have devastating consequences, and for which global cooperation is essential.
- Climate Change—we are heating up the globe and this could have terrible consequences for the environment and human life. Need to cooperate on some sort of carbon regime.
- Pandemics—these come with regularity, and we are due for a big one. Fortunately, we now know how to contain them, and we have the public health systems to do it. But we must tie them together with other states' in order to prevent the quick spread of diseases.
- We need a new global concert—this is feasible because there is no security competition. We live in a defensive world, and the security dilemma is gone. Thank god for nukes. The threat from below is thus much larger than the threat from other states.
- Ironically—nukes also create the threat from below. Need to make sure states keep a firm grip on them. This, and other strategies to address the threat from below will require broad cooperation.
- Solution: remember World War II. We built an extremely broad and ideologically diverse coalition to defeat the Nazis. Our coalition partners did our dying for us, and they included distasteful regimes like the Soviet Union. We should take these benefits and sacrifices as lessons.
- Goal number one is to prevent future Al Qaida havens. Have to get them down to zero—even one could be deadly. Need wall to wall cooperation of all the major states in the world.
- Three big policies will sustain a global concert:
- Avoid conflict with other states, treat China like the British treated us. Reach and sustain a modus vivendi with China.
- Rebuild global legitimacy—avoid the use of preventive war, avoid counter-insurgency like the plague. Use other tools of statecraft, such as sanctions, persuasion, covert action, and proxies. Rebuild diplomatic relationships, stop sneering at people.
- Build U.S. capacity to fight and win a war of ideas: public diplomacy, etc.
- Six main missions for applying the power of the concert against the terrorists:
- Offensive counter-terror—kill them where you can see them.
- Defensive homeland security—secure our ports, borders, transportation hubs, and major chemical and nuclear facilities.
- Securing WMD, non-proliferation—lock down Russian nukes, keep a robust NPT, encourage others not to proliferate.
- WAR OF IDEAS: convince muslims to play nice with the rest of the world, if not become good liberals.
- End inflammatory conflicts—Solve Kasmir. Solve Israel-Palestine. These conflicts are ripe for solution, we just need to get past spoilers and get everyone to sign on to what they know they need to sign on to. They are also big big problems for us.
- Address failed states.
- Foreign lobbies—they penetrate our political system and bias our policies in awful ways.
- Defense industry—it is self-interested and wants to threat inflate to justify high budgets and sweet airplanes, etc.
- American xenophobia—we are a bunch of culturally insular rubes, and will have to become more cosmopolitan and understanding in order to engineer global politics.
- American ignorance—we don't know that the allies won WWII for us, and don't understand that it (and the Cold War) was fought for geopolitical reasons. Thus, they don't understand that a similar war against China is folly, and that cooperation is extremely beneficial for us.
- Neo-conservatives—neo-conservatism cuts against a concert strategy. Too much emphasis on force, unilateralism, preventive war, and a distaste for diplomacy.
Rapporteur: Brendan Green
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2007