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Orbis - Beyond Primacy

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    Beyond Primacy? Hegemony and Security Addiction in US Grand Strategy

    David S. McDonough*Published in Beyond Primacy? Hegemony and Security Addiction in US Grand

    Strategy, Orbis 53, 1 (Winter 2009), 6-22. Available online at www.sciencedirect.com.

    *David S. McDonough ([email protected]) is a doctoral student in Political Scienceand a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. He is aSSHRC Canadian Graduate Scholarship holder, an Honourary Killam Scholar for 2008/2009 andthe author ofNuclear Superiority: The New Triad and the Evolution of Nuclear Strategy,Adelphi Paper 383 (2006).

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    The Bush administration has embraced a particularly expansive and ambitious approach

    to strategic affairs. Unprecedented financial and military resources were allocated to all areas of

    national security. An aggressive counter-terrorist and counter-proliferation campaign was

    initiated to eliminate global terrorist organizations, cowl rogue states and impose democracy in

    the Middle East. Countries like Russia and China (and implicitly even trusted allies like Japan

    and Germany) would be dissuaded from strategic competition. American decision-makers have

    rarely felt such acute vulnerability, nor devoted so much attention to issues of strategy and

    doctrine in this Long War.

    President George W. Bush came into office initially dismissive of his predecessors

    cautious, reticent, and ultimately undisciplined strategy. Ambitious neo-conservative strategists

    like Paul Wolfowitz were restrained by more pragmatic officials who advocated a mixture of

    unilateralism and selectivity. In the post-9/11 period, however, the vision of unrestrained

    strategic dominance would no longer be dismissed as infeasible. Strategic vulnerability

    necessitated an expansive definition of national interest, a dramatic infusion of resources into the

    national security apparatus and an ambitious international security policy to pacify the strategic

    landscape and transform the unipolar moment into an indefinite era.

    Yet the two costly interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have stretched the countrys

    resources and raised the possibility of imperial overstretch. Many critics expect that the

    growing quagmire in Iraq has made the current approach unsustainable. Primacy appears

    destined to be remembered as a temporary grand strategy aberration. However, these critics will

    be disappointed. The 9/11 attacks reinforced the long-standing American concern over its

    societal vulnerability and created a political support base for both major parties to adopt

    primacist strategies. A bi-partisan consensus has emerged on the overall direction, if not the

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    particular modalities, of grand strategy. The unpopularity of the current administration and recent

    expenditures in blood and treasure are unlikely to lead to American retrenchment or strategic


    Debating American Grand Strategy

    The United States emerged from the Cold War with its formidable military capabilities

    and globe-spanning network of allies largely intact. Strategic thinkers had an unprecedented

    opportunity to reassess the American role in the world. Yet decision-makers found it difficult to

    maintain discipline on the many different interests, priorities and goals that competed for scarce

    resources. There was little consensus on the contours of grand strategy: What are vital US

    interests in the post-Cold War period? What are the challenges to these interests? What means

    should be used to respond to these threats and to secure these goals?

    Grand strategy is fundamentally about finding answers to these questions. It involves a

    theoretically informed relationship of ends and means that identifies and prioritizes national

    interests, potential threats and resources and/or means to meet these threats. The goal is to

    develop a conceptual road map and set of policy prescriptions on issues of national security.1

    Containment was one such road map and it proved to be a remarkably resilient one at that. The

    post-Cold War period, while marked by a vigorous debate over grand strategy, has proven to be a

    far more difficult terrain to chart an agreed upon course

    Barry Posen and Andrew Ross, in perhaps the most insightful overview of this debate,

    summarize four alternative grand strategies.2 Neo-isolationism advocates a significant reduction

    1 Colin Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy (Princeton andOxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 10-11.2 Barry Posen and Andrew Ross, Competing Visions for US Grand Strategy,International Security, Winter1996/97, pp. 5-53.

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    humanitarianism and environmental activism, illustrates the potential temptation of an expansive

    definition of selectivity.5

    Neo-isolationism may complement the historic American proclivity for limited liability

    and prudence in its international commitments. Selective engagement is meanwhile rooted in

    the present unipolar environment, particularly the need to conserve scarce resources and preserve

    the countrys remaining strategic advantage. But neither approach meets the structural and

    cultural conditions that are necessary for any stable strategic adjustment.6 American

    preponderance makes any return to a neo-isolationist posture highly unlikely, while its liberal

    impulses has always made explicitly realist strategies inherently suspect and ultimately short-


    The two remaining grand strategies, cooperative security and primacy, provide the most

    ambitious blueprints for an American global role. Cooperative security differs from the other

    approaches by being founded on unadulterated liberal principles; humanitarianism is to be

    prescribed and armed aggression prohibited. Supporters of this strategy have an optimistic view

    on the potential for institutions like the United Nations or NATO to coordinate the deterrence

    and defeat of aggression 7, and for arms control and confidence-building measures to minimize

    security dilemmas and buttress strategic nuclear stability. Yet cooperative security also posits a

    high level of strategic independence that connects US national security to any number of

    disputes abroad. With the pressing need to build credibility, the United States and its allies must

    be willing to undertake humanitarian interventions and proactive counterproliferation of weapons

    of mass destruction (WMD).

    5 Robert J. Art, Geopolitics Updated: The Strategy of Selective Engagement,International Security, Winter1998/1999, pp. 79-1136 Dueck,Reluctant Crusaders, Chp. 5.7 Posen and Ross, Competing Visions of US Grand Strategy, p. 25.

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    Many US allies, wedded to notions of human security and multilateralism, will likely

    embrace an American shift towards cooperative security. It is, however, unlikely that allies will

    be able to resist the free-riding temptation and adequately reinvest in military assets. The

    United States will have to bear the primary burden for any such project. It is also uncertain

    whether the US has the appetite to sustain the imperial policing role needed to regulate regional

    peace, discipline violators of civilized norms, and promote democracy and world order.8

    Primacists, on the other hand, have placed their trust in the overwhelming American

    strategic preponderance that underpins international institutions. The ultimate objective is the

    preservation of US supremacy and the prevention of any serious challenger to this hegemonic

    order. Allies and more amicable regional powers are to be discouraged from developing an

    independent global role, through a mixture of implicit coercion and robust security guarantees.

    More aggressive near-peer competitors are to be latently contained. While eschewing the

    multilateralism of its more cooperative cousin, a grand strategy of primacy does envision a

    vigorous (and likely unilateral) effort to stem WMD proliferation, which could otherwise curtail

    US freedom of action and facilitate the rearming of potential competitors.

    Primacy is firmly rooted in key realist assumptions. Primacists are hawkish and hard-

    line, with a keen appreciation for the role of power, force, conflict, and national self-interest in

    international relations.9 But this controversial choice is also unfairly optimistic on the potential

    for both indefinite US preponderance and the successful suppression of strategic rivals and

    WMD-armed regional powers. Primacy supporters either underestimate or simply ignore the

    possibility that other countries may resent such imperial hubris. This stems partly from the US

    8 Richard Betts, A Disciplined Defense: How to Regain Strategic Solvency,Foreign Affairs, Nov./Dec. 2007, pp.67-80.9 Dueck,Reluctant Crusaders, p. 121.

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    liberal exceptionalism that posits a benign and more acceptable sort of hegemony, and partly

    from the difficulty of balancing against a superpower.

    The Bush Sr. administration showed a strong inclination to adopt primacy after the Soviet

    Unions collapse. The draft Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for 1994-1999 featured explicit

    calls for indefinite military preponderance and the prevention of a new strategic rival. The DPG

    was publically disavowed by the administration after it was leaked to the press in 1992. But a

    redrafted version, authored by I. Scooter Libby under Dick Cheneys guidance, would contain

    even more ambitious calls to shape the future security environment and dissuade rivals from

    contemplating military competition with the United States. This documents statement on overall

    strategy was subsequently released in 1993 as theDefense Strategy for the 1990s. 10

    The Clinton administration came into office eager to adopt a grand strategy more attuned

    to notions of cooperative security. Multilateral institutions like the United Nations were given

    significant responsibilities for peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, while the United

    States recommitted itself to a number of multilateral economic arrangements. Yet more astute

    observers of the United States also detected a growing disillusionment over the efficacy of

    international institutions. With the exception of the NATO, multilateral organizations were

    shown to be disastrously unprepared to manage the civil conflicts and stabilization operations in

    Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda. The sincere desire for an institutional order conducive to

    achieving true cooperative security was balanced by the recognition that American leadership

    and strategic power were essential to fulfill this vision. With multilateral organizations often

    dithering over such crises as Yugoslavias dissolution, the United States rediscovered the burden

    of being the indispensible nation.

    10 The original DPG document was written by Zalmay Khalizad under the guidance of then Secretary of DefenseDick Cheney and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. See Michael Mann,Rise of the Vulcans:The History of Bushs War Cabinet(New York: Penguin Books, 2004), Chp. 13.

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    Colin Dueck has noted that the Clinton administrations liberal internationalist

    assumptions were balanced by a strong dose of primacy, as demonstrated by the explicit

    rejection of dovish prescriptions to abandon Americas forward strategic presence.11 Indeed,

    President Clinton had frequently resorted to an assertive multilateralism that relies on cajoling

    allies towards military action, and thereby acquiring at least a semblance of multilateral

    legitimacy for these operations. Posen and Ross have also detected an additional emphasis on

    selectivity and concluded that this mismatched approach should be termed selective (but

    cooperative) primacy.12 This grand strategic amalgamation may not satisfy the more hardline

    adherents of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), but there should be little doubt

    that the Clinton foreign policy teams lofty multilateral rhetoric was often used to soften

    otherwise tough primacist policies.

    Posen and Ross four-fold typology of strategic choices has done an admirable job in

    clarifying the key positions of an otherwise esoteric debate. Yet the reification of these options

    carries the danger that similarities can be overlooked. Christopher Layne, for example, argues

    that American grand strategy has essentially been concerned with maintaining US strategic

    preponderance. Selective engagement still envisions a forward strategic presence to balance

    potential competitors and preserve American hegemony, and cooperative security would only

    further reify anAmerican-centred institutional order. The grand strategy of offshore balancing,

    which incorporates neo-isolationist prescriptions with a more active role as the balancer of last

    resort, is advocated as an antidote to visions of hegemonic grandeur. Laynes vision is

    11 Dueck,Reluctant Crusaders, p. 132.12 Posen and Ross, Competing Visions for US Grand Strategy, pp. 44-50.

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    decidedly optimistic on the potential benefits of an eventual multipolar environment, even as it

    prescribes a smaller, maritime-oriented military and the dismantlement of entangling alliances.13

    It is difficult to deny that both primacy and selective engagement take the preservation of

    American strategic preponderance as a conceptual starting point. Primacists are simply more

    optimistic on the continued vitality of American power, and are therefore not so keen to rely on

    other countries to provide regional counterweights to any challenger. Even supporters of

    cooperative security have grown to share this appreciation for American hegemony. In this light,

    the Clinton administrations willingness to embrace elements of these different approaches,

    rather than an aberration from an undisciplined presidency, seems to be a more natural condition

    arising from the conflation of American unipolarity and its liberal strategic culture.

    It would be imprudent, however, to simply dismiss the post-Cold War grand strategy

    debate. All three of these strategic options began with important points of disagreement on the

    necessary means to achieve American security primacists rely on US supremacy, cooperative

    security advocates rely on multilateral institutions, and selective engagers rely on extra-regional

    balancing. These differences lessened during the Clinton administration, as cooperative security

    and selective engagement slowly blended into a more multilateral version of primacy. The 9/11

    attacks later crystallized a primacist approach that was both aggressively unilateral and, with its

    democratization campaign in the Middle East, also virulently liberal.

    The debate over American strategic options has narrowed considerably in the post-9/11

    period. The new debate on US grand strategy is essentially about which variant of a hegemonic

    strategy the United States should pursue.14 Posen labeled these two variants of primacy

    13 Christopher Layne, From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: Americas Future Grand Strategy,International Security, Summer 1997, pp. 86-124.14 Barry Posen, Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of US Hegemony,International Security,Summer 2003, p. 6.

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    national liberalism and liberal internationalism. 15 The former is essentially the current

    administrations unilateral approach, while the latter has been embraced by a Democratic Party

    eager to demonstrate its competence in national security affairs. President Bushs strategy does

    not represent a revolutionary change when compared to its predecessor, but it does represent the

    culmination of a strategic adjustment process that has effectively settled on primacy in one

    form or another for the post-9/11 period.

    The vagaries of US domestic politics and the shock of the 9/11 attacks had given neo-

    conservative strategists an opportunity to implement their aggressive primacist vision. Primacy

    is, however, a more stable strategic choice than many critics of the current administration are

    likely to admit. It will continue to guide US strategy long after the Republican neo-conservatives

    have left the executive branch. Any calls for strategic restraint are unlikely to be heeded by either

    major party in the current strategic climate.

    9/11, the Bush Doctrine and Security Addiction

    The Bush administration had initially sought to implement a realist grand strategy that

    eschewed nation-building and liberal humanitarianism in favour of great power politics and

    national interests. President Bushs foreign policy team (the Vulcans), composed of

    experienced members of the national security establishment, were adamant on the centrality and

    the efficacy of American military power.16 The United States was expected to develop clearly

    specified national interests and to be more judicious in its application of military force. However,

    the primacist strategy that gradually coalesced under the Clinton presidency would remain

    15 Barry Posen, Stability and Change in US Grand Strategy, Orbis, Fall 2007, pp. 561-567.16 Mann,Rise of the Vulcans, p. 362. Neo-conservatives may have been the most vocal and controversial of thesefigures. Yet this group also included committed unilateral nationalists like Vice President Dick Cheney andSecretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as well as more moderate figures such as Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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    largely untouched. To be sure, this did not entail significant increases in military expenditure,

    nor did it result in an aggressive rollback strategy against rogue states. Primacy was still

    balanced by considerations of selectivity and political feasibility that curtailed its more ambitious

    and idealistic formulations. Instead, this modest strain of primacy was limited to maintaining and

    cultivating the strategic preponderance inherited from the Cold War.17

    The 9/11 attacks changed the contours of the American grand strategy debate. Selectivity

    and restraint were replaced with a newfound faith in the efficacy of military interventionism.

    Military operations in Afghanistan demonstrated not only US retaliatory capabilities, but also its

    willingness to target and eliminate regimes that provide support or sanctuary to terrorist

    organizations. As President Bush stated to a special joint session of Congress in the immediate

    aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be

    regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.18

    These pronouncements were followed by statements that explicitly linked terrorism with

    WMD-armed rogue states. President Bush made this abundantly clear in the 2002 State of the

    Union address, where he promised that the United States will not permit the world's most

    dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.19 With the

    possibility that terrorist groups could be supplied with WMD capabilities, and therefore capable

    ofstrategic surprise attacks, American decision-makers were no longer sanguine on the

    traditional pillars of deterrence and containment. As noted in the 2002National Security Strategy

    (NSS), there is a need to adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives

    of todays adversaries. This resulted in the promulgation of a doctrine of preemptive and

    17 Dueck,Reluctant Crusders, pp. 148-151.18 Cited in Ibid., p. 154.19 George W. Bush, President Delivers State of the Union Address, Office of the Press Secretary, The WhiteHouse, Jan. 29, 2002.

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    preventive war: To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States

    will, if necessary, act preemptively.20 Iraq was the first and only case in which this doctrine was

    actually implemented, and it is unlikely that the United States has the appetite to undertake

    another preventive campaign against more formidable adversaries. But the United States remains

    keen on developing a more limited pre-emptive Global Strike capability, involving both

    conventional and nuclear weapons, that could be implemented in any number of contingencies.

    As the recent 2006 NSS makes clear, The place of preemption in our national security strategy

    remains the same.21

    The Bush administration has been extraordinarily confident in its ability to shape the

    global security environment. On one hand, this concerns the traditional primacist emphasis on

    preventing the rise of a strategic challenger to the unipolar order. Early hints of this goal can be

    found in the 1992 DPG, and these prescriptions would appear even more forcefully in the 2002

    NSS. This strategy argued that the United States must be strong enough to dissuade potential

    adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of

    the United States.22 To do so, the United States is particularly keen to consolidate its already

    overwhelming command of the commons over the air, sea and space environments and

    expand this strategic dominance into more contested zones.23 Recent nuclear weapon

    developments, which have increasingly focused on specialized counterforce and hard-target

    kill capabilities, provide a good example of this effort to cultivate nuclear superiority.24

    20National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington DC: The White House,September 2002), p. 15.21National Security Strategy (March 2006), p. 23.22National Security Strategy (2002), p. 30.23 The contested zones include airspace under 15,000 feet, urban areas and littoral zones. See Posen, Command ofthe Commons, pp. 5-46.24 See David S. McDonough,Nuclear Superiority: The New Triad and the Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, AdelphiPaper 383 (London, New York: IISS/Routledge 2006).

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    The goal of maintaining military strength beyond challenge, thereby making the

    destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless,25 promises to be an ambitious undertaking. Not

    surprisingly, the United States has embarked on an unprecedented level of defence spending in

    the post-9/11 period. President Bush, for example, has requested $483 billion as a base budget

    for the Department of Defense and $141.7 billion in operations funding for Afghanistan and Iraq

    in 2008. As a point of comparison, the requested base budget is larger than the average levels of

    the 1980s, when the Reagan administration funded an impressive rearmament programme to

    counter the perceived Soviet strategic advantage. If one includes the funding requests for the

    Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security, which total $22.5 billion and

    $46.4 billion respectively, American spending on national security will nearly reach a staggering

    $700 billion for the 2008 fiscal year.26

    On the other hand, the Bush administration has been equally keen to use this

    preponderance for the liberal goal of democratization. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have seen

    ambitious nation-building and reconstruction projects to implant democracies in the Greater

    Middle East. It may be easy to dismiss the Freedom Agenda as window dressing to justify

    the Iraq War. But many informed observers have placed this virulent strain of liberalism at the

    heart of the Bush Doctrine.27 The development of such a national liberal variant of primacy

    should not come as a surprise. The American Mission to spread democracy, whether through

    modest exemplarist leadership or interventionary vindictionistcrusades, has a long history in

    25 George W. Bush, President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point, Office of the Press Secretary, TheWhite House, June 1, 2002.26 Steven Kosiak, Executive Summary: Analysis of the FY 2008 Defense Budget Request (Centre for Strategicand Budgetary Assessments, 2007).27 See Edward Rhodes, The Imperial Logic of Bushs Liberal Agenda, Survival, Spring 2003, pp. 131-154 andRobert Jervis, Understanding the Bush Doctrine,Political Science Quarterly, Fall 2003, pp. 365-388.

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    military dissuasion of potential strategic challengers can be justified on counter-terrorism

    grounds alone.

    A more convincing and sophisticated explanation is offered by neo-classical realists

    who combine structural factors with domestic political and cultural factors to explain foreign

    policy outcomes. The 9/11 attacks may have necessitated robust counter-terrorism effort,

    including the dismantlement of Al-Qaedas infrastructure in Afghanistan, but these attacks did

    not fundamentally alter the reality of American strategy preponderance. Instead, scholars such as

    Colin Dueck argue that the 9/11 attacks opened up a window of opportunity for advocates of

    alternative grand strategies to come forward and make their case.


    Neo-conservatives simply

    proved to be the most successful in selling their particular strategic vision to receptive American

    decision-makers, who were far less concerned with issues of cost and feasibility in the immediate

    aftermath of 9/11.30 US strategic preponderance may have prevented a significant global

    disengagement, but it was the domestic actors who were primarily responsibly for transmitting

    this grand strategic vision.

    The neo-classical realist explanation does an admirable job in both rebutting the Bush

    administrations claim that its policies are inextricably linked to the 9/11 attacks and illustrating

    the key roles played by neo-conservative advocates and less idealistic but no less hawkish

    personalities such as Cheney and Rumsfeld in formulating the Bush Doctrine. Yet the narrowing

    of this debate towards increasingly primacist strategic choices did gradually take place in the

    1990s, as the United States found its military hegemony both more stable and more

    advantageous than many had initially expected. The role of American unipolarity as an

    29 Dueck,Reluctant Crusaders, p. 153.30 This is particularly ironic given that many of these neo-conservatives had admitted that a catalyzing event like anew Pearl Harbour was needed to justify genuine primacy. SeeRebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forcesand Resources for a New Century, A Report of The Project for the New American Century (September 2000), p. 51.

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    underlying condition that facilitates ever more expansive and ambitious primacist policies should

    therefore not be casually dismissed. As Robert Jervis aptly summarizes, The very fact that the

    United States has interests throughout the world leads to the fear that undesired changes in one

    area could undermine its interests elsewhere.31

    But perhaps more importantly, Duecks explanation seems to underestimate the role of

    the 9/11 attacks in settling the post-Cold War grand strategy debate. After 9/11, both major

    parties would seek to attack the national security credentials of each other and, in doing so, offer

    increasingly expansive and ambitious measures to eliminate the global jihadist threat. Of course,

    the liberal internationist variant of primacy is far more keen to include assertive

    multilateralism in its strategic vision, and has gone to great lengths to differentiate its vision of

    liberal hegemony with current efforts at empire. But with the logic of order clearly

    hierarchical in both cases, the similarity between these approaches is striking.32

    Military preeminence and armed humanitarianism have been explicitly embraced by the

    foreign policy leadership of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)

    and its Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) have been very clear on the need to preserve American

    strategic preponderance within their vision of progressive internationalism, and a similar

    emphasis is evident in newer organizations like the Truman National Security Project.33 This

    liberal hawk wing has also been coy on the subject of the Iraq War, emphasizing the

    31 Robert Jervis, The Remaking of a Unipolar World, The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2006, p. 13.32 For example, see G. John Ikenberry, Liberalism and empire: logics of order in the American unipolar age,Review of International Studies, vol. 30, no. 4 (2004), pp. 609-630.33 Anatol Lievan, Liberal Hawk Down, The Nation, Oct. 25 2004, pp. 29-34 and Jacob Heilbrunn, Neocons in theDemocratic Party,Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2006. For an in-depth examination, see Tony Smith,A Pact withthe Devil: Washington's Bid for World Supremacy and the Betrayal of the American Promise (New York, NY:Routledge-Taylor & Francis Group, 2007).

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    incompetence of the implementation rather than the wisdom of the invasion per se,34 and include

    among its supporters Senator Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and

    Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. The Democrats are clearly trying to reduce their vulnerability

    on issues of national security, and many have taken the hawkish anti-communist approach of

    Presidents Harry Truman and John Kennedy in contrast to President Bill Clintons adage, Its

    the economy, stupid! as their principal models.

    Liberal internationalists share many of the central assumptions of the Bush administration

    on issues of democratization, preemptive self-defence and American leadership. But unlike

    their neo-conservative cousins, liberal hawks emphasize the importance of maintaining a

    semblance of multilateral legitimacy for American hegemony. Not surprising, the Final Report of

    the Princeton Project on National Security, which offers an ambitious manifesto for a

    Democratic grand strategy, advocates a balance of power in favor of liberal democracies and

    the creation of a new Concert of Democracies that could be used to legitimize military

    interventions.35 Liberal hegemony is at the heart of this variant of primacy. However, as noted by

    two astute Canadian observers, an imperial approach to world affairs is more likely to be

    created under a Democratic rather than a Republican presidency in the name of human rights and


    34 See Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias, The Incompetence Dodge, The American Prospect, Nov. 2005, pp.31-34.35 G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, co-directors,Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: US NationalSecurity in the 21stCentury, Final Paper of the Princeton Project on National Security (Woodrow Wilson School ofPublic and International Affairs, Princeton University, 2006), p. 30. A Concert of Democracies has been advocatedby influential experts in both major parties and, under the name of a League of Democracies, has even become akey part of John McCains platform.36 Douglas Ross and Christopher Ross, From neo-isolationism to imperial liberalism: Grand strategy options inthe American international security debate and the implications for Canada, in David McDonough and DouglasRoss, eds., The Dilemmas of American Strategic Primacy (Toronto: Royal Canadian Military Institute, 2005), p.205.

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    The reason why the current debate is currently mired in second-order issues of

    multilateral versus unilateral legitimacy can be attributed to the post-9/11 security environment.

    A grand strategy is, after all, a states theory about how it can best cause security for itself.37 It

    would be prudent to examine why the neo-conservative theory proved to be so attractive to

    American decision-makers after the 9/11 attacks, and why the Democrats have begun to rely on

    an equally primacist theory of their own. As Charles Kupchan has demonstrated, a sense of

    vulnerability is often directly associated with dramatic shifts in a states grand strategy. Kupchan

    is, of course, largely concerned with vulnerability to changes in the global distribution of



    Even so, the 9/11 terrorist attacks have dramatically increased the US sense of strategic

    vulnerability to both global terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and even to more traditional

    threats that are seen, in the words of Donald Rumself, in a dramatic new light through the

    prism of our experience on 9/11.39

    Perhaps more than any previous terrorist action, these attacks demonstrated the potential

    influence of non-state terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. American strategic primacy makes

    conventional responses unattractive and ultimately futile to potential adversaries. The countrys

    societal vulnerability to terrorist attacks will likewise lead to extremely costly defensive

    reactions against otherwise limited attacks. For both the United States and its asymmetrical

    adversaries, the advantage clearly favours the offence over the defence. With the innumerable

    list of potential targets, preemptive and preventive attacks will accomplish more

    37 Barry Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine:France, Britain and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 13.38 Charles Kupchan, Vulnerability of Empire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), Chp. 1. Kupchan is thereforeconfident that, notwithstanding the activism following 9/11, the US will become less inclined to expend blood andtreasure on matters of foreign affairs. Kupchan, Hollow Hegemony or Stable Multipolarity? in G. JohnIkenberry, ed.,America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power, (New York: Cornell University Press,2002), p. 76.39 Cited in Julian Borger, Rumsfeld Shifts Stance on Iraq Weapons, The Guardian, July 10, 2003.

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    against[terrorist or their support structures], dollar for dollar, than the investment in passive

    defenses.40 Perhaps more importantly, as former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas

    Feith has argued, the primary reliance on defensive measures would inevitably endanger

    American civil liberties and curtail its free and open society.41

    Strategic preponderance ensures that the United States will continue to face adversaries

    keen to implement asymmetrical tactics, even as it offers the very resources necessary to

    implement both offensive and less effective defensive measures. Unfortunately, terrorist groups

    with strategic reach (i.e., capable of influencing the actions of states) will likely increase in the

    coming years due to a combination of factors, including the democractization of technology,

    the privatization of war and the miniaturization of weaponry. As more groups are imbued

    with sophisticated technological capabilities and are able to employ increasingly lethal weapons,

    the US will be forced to rely even further on its unprecedented global military capabilities to

    eliminate this threat. The global war on terror, even with tactical successes against Al-Qaeda,

    will likely result in an inconclusive ending marked by the fragmentation and proliferation of

    terrorist spoiler groups. The Israelization of the United States, in which security trumps

    everything, will be no temporary phenomenon.42

    Realism provides a less than useful means to understand the current post-9/11 strategic

    threat environment and leads to an underestimation or dismissal of the terrorist threat and its

    potential impact on the American sense of vulnerability. Globalized terrorism must be

    confronted by proactive measures to reduce the domestic vulnerability to attack and to eliminate

    40 Richard Betts, The Soft Underbelly of American Primacy: Tactical Advantages of Terror,Political ScienceQuarterly, vol. 117, no. 1 (2002), p. 33.41 This point is raised in Douglas J. Feith, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War OnTerrorism (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), Chp. 3.42 Frank Harvey, Addicted to Security: Globalized Terrorism and the Inevitability of American unilateralism,International Journal, Winter 2003-2004, p. 3 and 4 (emphasis in original).

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    these organizations in their external sanctuaries. Even then, these measures will never be able to

    ensure perfect security. As a result, significant public pressure for expanded security measures

    will arise after any attack. The United States will be consumed with what Frank Harvey has

    termed security addiction: As expectations for acceptable levels of pain decrease, billions of

    dollars will continue to be spent by both parties in a never-ending competition to convince the

    American public that their partys programs are different and more likely to succeed.43

    This addiction has an important impact on the dramatically rising levels of homeland

    security spending. Indeed, while this increased spending is an inevitable and prudent reaction to

    the terrorist threat, it also creates high public expectations that will only amplify outrage in the

    event of inevitable security failure.44 Relatedly, American strategic preponderance plays an

    important role in facilitating a vigorous international response to globalized terrorism, including

    the use of coercive military options and interventions. A primacist strategy has the dual attraction

    of both maximizing US strategic dominance and convincing the public of a partys national

    security credentials. Indeed, the Republicans have developed a strong advantage in electoral

    politics by its adherence to a strong military and aggressive strategy, and the Democrats have in

    turn learned the lesson of its vulnerability on the issue and has explicitly declared its devotion to

    national security and support for the military.45

    The 9/11 attacks may not have altered the distribution of power amongst major states, but

    it has directly created a domestic political situation marked by an addiction to expansive security

    measures that are needed to satisfy increasingly high public expectations. In such a climate, it is

    easy to see why the neo-conservatives were so successful in selling their strategic vision. The

    43 Ibid., p. 12.44 Frank Harvey, The Homeland Security Dilemma: Imagination, Failure and the Escalating Costs of PerfectingSecurity, Canadian Journal of Political Science, June 2007, pp. 283-316.45 Richard Betts, The political support system for American primacy,International Affairs, vol. 81, no. 1 (2005),pp. 5-6.

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    fact that the United States has effectively settled on a grand strategy of primacy in the post-9/11

    period should also come as no surprise. It is simply inconceivable that a political party could

    successfully advocate a grand strategy that does not embrace military preeminence and

    interventionism, two factors that are seen to provide a definite advantage in the pursuit of a

    global war on terror. Political parties may disagree on the necessary tactics to eliminate the

    terrorist threat. But with increased vulnerability and security addiction, the United States will

    continue to embracestrategies of primacy rather than going beyond primacy for much of

    the Long War.

    Primacy after the Iraq War

    The present difficulties in Iraq, in particular the ongoing effort at counter-insurgency and

    stabilization, have created expectations that the US will need to adopt a grand strategy of

    restraint.46 This primacist adventure has stretched the American military, especially the Army,

    nearly past its breaking point. With so many troops on rotation in Iraq, it would be foolish indeed

    to believe that the US has the capability let alone the will or appetite to undertake another

    significant regime change operation. The high hopes of the neo-conservatives seem to have

    fallen short. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has rediscovered a more selective and

    multilateral approach towards Iran and North Korea in its second term, even as it sought to

    achieve a semblance of victory in Iraq in order to extricate itself from that morass.

    Failure in Iraq may seem to herald the demise of the Bush Doctrine and the consolidation

    of a truly alternative grand strategy that goes beyond the imperial hubris of primacy. But Iraq

    is unlikely to transform the fundamental logic of the current addiction to security. Any

    46 Barry Posen, while initially a proponent of selective engagement, has since begun to advocate a grand strategy ofrestraint (with strong similarities to either neo-isolationism or offshore balancing). See Posen The Case forRestraint, The American Interest, Nov./Dec. 2007.

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    subsequent hesitation to undertake military interventions, which will likely happen in the

    immediate aftermath of a withdrawal from Iraq, will be extraordinarily short-lived if another

    terrorist attack takes place on American soil. As Richard Betts concludes, while retreat may look

    appealing to some, primacy unleashed may prove fearsomely potent and many Americans

    would consider escalation to more ferocious strategies.47

    A more likely consequence of the Iraq project is second-order changes in the strategies of

    primacy. True, the Democratic Party will continue to adopt a liberal internationalist approach,

    and as such place US preeminence and leadership within an institutional hegemonic order. But

    they may also be more wary, at least temporarily, of immediately following the Iraq folly with

    their own interventions. Liberal internationalists may also find multilateral legitimacy and

    collective action to be an unexpectedly elusive goal American preponderance promises to

    make allies uneasy and unilateral action ultimately more feasible. In contrast, the Republican

    Party will continue to favour a unilateral, if more undiluted, form of primacy that abstains from

    aggressive liberal wars like Iraq in favour of latent containment strategies against a rising

    China and a more geostrategically ambitious Russia. In both parties, however, the voices of

    restraint and true multilateral cooperation will be in a clear minority.

    On an operational level, the United States will likely be just as willing to utilize coercive

    military options when its national interests, against terrorism or rogue states, are clearly at stake.

    Iraq has proven to be a difficult and costly experiment in state reconstruction and social

    engineering, and the US may simply be more hesitant in commiting itself to the reconstruction of

    post-conflict states. One should recall that the destructive agenda of the Iraq War, including

    the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, the destruction of his regime and the elimination of

    47 Betts, The Soft Underbelly of American Primacy, pp. 35, 34.

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    Iraq as a serious proliferation concern, was accomplished quickly and relatively cheaply.48

    Irrespective of which political party wins the 2008 presidential elections, one should not dismiss

    the threat of a possible American counter-proliferation and/or counter-terrorism strike against

    Iran. Even with a withdrawal from Iraq, the United States will continue to have a significant

    regional military presence among the Gulf states that could readily be used for military

    contingencies in the region.

    * * *

    The 9/11 attacks will influence and shape the debate on American strategic options long

    after the Iraq reconstruction project has come to an end. The need to achieve the elusive goal of

    perfect security, which is perhaps the most prominent symptom of security addiction, will only

    lead to ever more expansive and costly grand strategies. The new reality of globalized terror and

    violence has heightened the natural sense of American vulnerability, and made it even more

    difficult for any administration to fully satisfy the publics high expectations of security. Indeed,

    both major political parties appear destined to endlessly debate the merits of their respective

    strategies of primacy in an effort to secure the publics trust on issues of national security.

    Security addiction has facilitated the bi-partisan consensus on the need to preserve American

    strategic primacy. Despite the current imbroglio in Iraq, American decision-makers are unlikely

    to be swayed by even the most convincing calls for more restrained and perhaps sensible

    strategic choices.

    48 Steven Miller, The Iraq Experiment and US National Security, Survival, Winter 2006-07, p. 34.

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    The author would like to thank Sean Clark and Frank Harvey for their insightful comments and

    discussions. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Association for Canadian

    Studies in the United States 19th Biennial Conference in 2007.

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