Balancing ends and means in American security, a prerequisite for survival (let alone success)

Summary:  There’s more to the Center for a New American Security than pro-war propaganda.  With their lavish funding John Nagl and company have recruited some of our best geopolitical experts.  Given their pro-war bias, any recommendation they make for restraint deserves attention.  As in the paper discussed here.

Abstract and excerpts from “Recalibrating American Strategy“, Patrick M. Cronin, Center for a New American Security, June 2010


Faced with a shifting and complex global environment, America is likely to encounter heavier security burdens in the years ahead. These burdens, coupled with an ongoing financial crisis and runaway deficits, will force the United States to make tough choices about strategic priorities. Report author and CNAS Senior Advisor Patrick Cronin calls for a recalibration of American strategy, noting, “The United States can best pursue a protracted period of global order by resisting the temptation to solve all the world’s problems. The United States must pursue a strategy characterized by, in a word, restraint, as the only viable means of sustaining U.S. power.” Cronin lays out recommendations for achieving a pragmatic combination of engagement and restraint.

Opening of the Introduction

The United States needs a sustainable and strategic approach to foreign and defense policy that recognizes the deepening mismatch between ends and means. Driven by a realist impulse to be the global enforcer and a moral imperative to act as global savior, the United States remains disproportionately invested in managing international security relative to its limited resources. While the United States stands to remain the world’s preeminent power for some time, the era of boundless commitment and profligacy has passed. To ignore this reality could precipitate decline rather than perpetuate preponderance.

While the United States is right to focus on building the capacity of partners, rising power centers are unlikely to contribute much more to a liberal world order based on our democratic and free-market principles. In the absence of others to shoulder greater responsibilities, and faced with a shifting and complex global environment, America is likely to encounter heavier security burdens, not lighter ones. Yet those security investments may well yield diminishing returns.

The United States retains broad security interests and a dedication to global progress, but its strained resources should oblige a pragmatic re-examination of how the country pursues its ambitious aims. Failure to kick our hyper-power habit could generate U.S. decline and hasten the rise of unwelcome competitors. America can reverse this process, but only by confronting difficult choices at home and abroad. …

Last paragraphs of the Conclusion

When considering future policy, it is useful to stand an old policy question on its head: How little is enough? The United States must do enough to preserve global order, but often less than it can do, in order to preserve its national strength. Restraint is not a substitute for strategy. Rather, we need greater fiscal, military and diplomatic restraint in order to force us to become more strategic.

Without restraint, we risk hastening our decline by failing to recognize the growing gap between our myriad objectives and our shrinking means. On the other hand, if we live within our means, and hew to pragmatic realist principles, there is ample reason for optimism. Optimism need not be unrealistic: problems can be resolved or at least better managed. A more humble America that is more sensitive to diverse views from around the world is ready to work together with others, and for all America’s relative decline in perceived and actual influence, there is every reason to believe that the United States will remain a powerful and unique contributor to global security.

Posts about America’s geopolitical strategy

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
  2. Adopting the tools of our enemies, a path to victory, 4 September 2008
  3. How can America adapt to a new world? A conference about national security lights the way., 18 October 2008
  4. The 2 most devastating 4GW attacks on America, and the roots of FM 3-24, 19 March 2008
  5. “The Pentagon Takes Over”, 30 May 2008 — DoD’s very size militarizes our foreign affairs.
  6. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus, 11 August 2008
  7. How can America adapt to a new world? A conference about national security lights the way., 18 October 2008
  8. The State Department needs help, stat!, 22 December 2008
  9. Can we defeat our almost imaginary enemies?, 10 December 2009
  10. More Christmas Eve war advocacy – bombing while we sing, 24 December 2009
  11. Stratfor’s strategic analysis – “Jihadism in 2010: The Threat Continues”, 17 January 2010
  12. Where is the outer boundary of our military operations?, 21 January 2010 — Coast guard to the world!
  13. No matter how skilled the author, US geopolitical analysis so often looks like something from Oz, 18 June 2010

For all posts on this topic, see the FM reference page America’s national defense strategy and machinery.

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