Parameters – Full Issue – Winter 2015
This essay examines the history of the Cold War to illuminate insights that can help assess debates about American grand strategy today. As will be shown, calls for dramatic retrenchment and "offshore balancing" rest on weak historical foundations. Yet Cold War history also reminds us that a dose of restraint-and occasional selective retrenchment-can be useful in ensuring the longterm sustainability of an ambitious grand strategy. U S grand strategy stands at a crossroads. 1 Since World War II,
... the United States has pursued an ambitious and highly engaged grand strategy meant to mold the global order. The precise contours of that grand strategy have changed from year to year, and from presidential administration to presidential administration; however its core, overarching principles have remained essentially consistent. America has sought to preserve and expand an open and prosperous world economy. It has sought to foster a peaceful international environment in which democracy can flourish. It has sought to prevent any hostile power from dominating any of the key overseas regions-Europe, East Asia, the Middle East-crucial to US security and economic wellbeing. And in support of these goals, the United States has undertaken an extraordinary degree of international activism, anchored by American alliance and security commitments to overseas partners, and the forward presence and troop deployments necessary to substantiate those commitments. 2 his grand strategy has, on the whole, been profoundly productive for both the United States and the wider world, for it has underpinned an international system that has been-by any meaningful historical comparison-remarkably peaceful, prosperous, and democratic. 3 Yet over the past several years, America's long-standing grand strategy has increasingly come under fire.