In the spring of 2014, before Donald Trump’s presidency was even a rumor, I began an article about the sources of U.S. grand strategy. By “grand strategy,” I mean a state’s way of orchestrating means and ends to achieve security over the long haul. I argued that the habitual ideas and pervasive influence of the U.S. foreign policy establishment make the fundamentals of American statecraft hard to change. What former advisor Ben Rhodes called the “Blob” and what former National Security Council official Michael Anton called the “priesthood” defines and dominates the ecosystem in which foreign policy is made. It exerts its influence through its expertise and its advantageous structural position as a “revolving door” between government, academia, think tanks, foundations, and corporations, reinforced by the feedback loop of allies’ demands for American patronage. In turn, the establishment successfully advances the view that the only prudent and legitimate grand strategy for the United States is “primacy,” the pursuit and sustainment of unrivalled dominance.
This graphic outlines the US national defense and international affairs budget from 1990-2019. To find out more, click here to read Jack Thompson’s Strategic Trends 2018 chapter on how the US is struggling to manage external challenges as well as domestic constraints, such as the underfunding and mismanagement of the military and diplomatic corps. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on defense policy, click here.
This article was originally published by the German Instiitute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in April 2018.
European attitudes towards China and its Belt and Road Initiative are changing. While the People’s Republic under Xi Jinping is the only country in the world pursuing a global vision, distrust of China’s expanding influence is growing. As a consequence, the European debate about China is becoming increasingly emotional with interpretations fluctuating between alarmism and reassurance. Ideas about the ‘essence of China’ and expectations that the country should fit into the liberal order according to Western standards, however, threaten to limit Europe’s scope of action in dealing with the People’s Republic. In order to develop strategies for a confident German and European policy, China’s current global political approach should be considered systematically. Based on the features of China’s ‘connectivity politics’ (Konnektivitätspolitik), Germany and the EU could formulate policy options that go far beyond the realm of infrastructure.
The Iran-Russia-Turkey nexus could be potent, but suffers from clashing strategic goals and internal contradictions
Western media are preoccupied by limited airstrikes from the United States, Britain and France in the Damascus area, in response to a chemical attack, as well as Russia’s “hybrid warfare” strategy against the West. Amidst many distractions, Vladimir Putin’s own fixation with his country’s emergence as a major player in the Middle East and its implications for regional stability do not receive ample attention. Russia is striving to increase its strategic visibility and sphere of influence in the Middle East, and US President Donald Trump, by pursuing his transactional foreign policy, is unwittingly presiding over the demise of traditional US strategic dominance in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
This graphic depicts attitudes of the American public (broken down by political affiliation) toward the US’ international engagement. For more on the contemporary geopolitical landscape, see Jack Thompson’s chapter for Strategic Trends 2018 here. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on defense policy, click here.