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Sharing power? Prospects for a U.S. concert-balance strategy

Porter, P., (2013) Sharing power? Prospects for a U.S. concert-balance strategy. Report. U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA. pp82. ISBN 1584875666

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The Pax Americana and the grand strategy of hegemony (or “Primacy”) that underpins it may be becoming unsustainable. Particularly in the wake of exhausting wars, the Global Financial Crisis, and the shift of wealth from West to East, it may no longer be possible or prudent for the United States to act as the unipolar sheriff or guardian of a world order. But how viable are the alternatives, and what difficulties will these alternatives entail in their design and execution? This analysis offers a sympathetic but critical analysis of alternative U.S. National Security Strategies of “retrenchment” that critics of American diplomacy offer. In these strategies, the United States would anticipate the coming of a more multipolar world and organize its behavior around the dual principles of “concert” and “balance,” seeking a collaborative relationship with other great powers, while being prepared to counterbalance any hostile aggressor that threatens world order. The proponents of such strategies argue that by scaling back its global military presence and its commitments, the United States can trade prestige for security, shift burdens, and attain a more free hand. To support this theory, they often look to the 19th-century concert of Europe as a model of a successful security regime and to general theories about the natural balancing behavior of states. This monograph examines this precedent and measures its usefulness for contemporary statecraft to identify how great power concerts are sustained and how they break down. The project also applies competing theories to how states might behave if world politics are in transition: Will they balance, bandwagon, or hedge? This demonstrates the multiple possible futures that could shape and be shaped by a new strategy. viii A new strategy based on an acceptance of multipolarity and the limits of power is prudent. There is scope for such a shift. The convergence of several trends—including transnational problems needing collaborative efforts, the military advantages of defenders, the reluctance of states to engage in unbridled competition, and hegemony fatigue among the American people—means that an opportunity exists internationally and at home for a shift to a new strategy. But a Concert-Balance strategy will still need to deal with several potential dilemmas. These include the difficulty of reconciling competitive balancing with cooperative concerts, the limits of balancing without a forward-reaching onshore military capability, possible unanticipated consequences such as a rise in regional power competition or the emergence of blocs (such as a Chinese East Asia or an Iranian Gulf), and the challenge of sustaining domestic political support for a strategy that voluntarily abdicates world leadership. These difficulties can be mitigated, but they must be met with pragmatic and gradual implementation as well as elegant theorizing and the need to avoid swapping one ironclad, doctrinaire grand strategy for another.

Item Type:Report (Report)
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:32352
Publisher:U.S. Army War College


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