Sharing Power? Prospects for a U.S. Concert-Balance Strategy

  • April 01, 2013
  • Dr Patrick Porter

The subject of U.S. grand strategy has been getting increasing attention from the policy and academic communities. However, too often the debate suffers from being too reductionist, limiting America’s choices to worldwide hegemony or narrow isolation. There is a wide spectrum of choices before Washington that lie “somewhere in the middle.” Frequently, not enough thought is given to how such alternative strategies should be designed and implemented. The future cannot be known, and earlier predictions of American decline have proven to be premature. However, there is a shift in wealth and power to the extent that America may not be able to hold on to its position as an unrivalled unipolar superpower. Therefore, it is worth thinking about how the United States could shape and adjust to the changing landscape around it. What is more, there are a number of interlocking factors that mean such a shift would make sense: 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. Alternative strategies that are smaller than global hegemony, but bigger than narrow isolationism, would be defined by the logic of “concerts” and “balancing,” in other words, some mixture of collaboration and competition. Can the United States adjust to a Concert-Balance grand strategy that made space for other rising powers without sacrificing too much of its forward military presence, without unleashing too much regional instability, and without losing the domestic political will? It is not certain that a cumulative shift to a new grand strategy would necessarily succeed, since other powers might turn down the chance to cooperate. But with soaring budget deficits and national debt, increasing burdens on social security, and possible agonizing choices in the future between guns and butter, it is surely worth a try.