Shadow Government

What is grand strategy and why do we need it?

By Peter Feaver

What is President Obama's grand strategy? That is the question that David
Sanger takes up in a recent New York Times analysis

The term, "grand strategy," may strike some as odd and perhaps a bit
high-falutin'. As near as I can tell, the last time the New York Times used
that term in a news story (as opposed to a book review) was back in 1999
when Judith Miller used it to frame the debate over Kosovo. There was a brief mention to it in a May 2001 op-ed on Bush's forthcoming defense policy review, which was largely a discussion of Andrew Marshall, the grand strategist of the Pentagon.)

Grand strategy is a term of art from academia, and refers to the collection
of plans and policies that comprise the state's deliberate effort to harness
political, military, diplomatic, and economic tools together to advance that
state's national interest. Grand strategy is the art of reconciling ends
and means. It involves purposive action -- what leaders think and want. Such
action is constrained by factors leaders explicitly recognize (for instance,
budget constraints and the limitations inherent in the tools of statecraft)
and by those they might only implicitly feel (cultural or cognitive screens
that shape worldviews).

The classic exemplar is containment during the Cold War, and ever since the end of the Cold War there has been a quest to identify and brand the grand
strategy the United States is or should now follow. It used to be called
the "Kennan sweepstakes," as analysts sought to produce the next great X article to chart America's course.

The study of grand strategy -- and arguing about grand strategy, for you
cannot study something without arguing about it -- is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Yale has pioneered an extraordinarily popular Grand
Strategy Program
headed by distinguished historians, John Lewis Gaddis and
Paul Kennedy, and distinguished practitioner Charlie Hill. Several graduates of that program have gone on to positions of responsibility in the Clinton, Bush, and now Obama administrations. Some of them might even lurking here in Shadow Government.

I am starting a similar program at Duke and I find it is an excellent way to bridge theory and practice. Grand Strategy begins with theory: leaders' theories about how the world works and what is or ought to be their states' roles in that world. Yet it is embodied inpolicy and practice: government action and reaction in response to real (or perceived) threats and opportunities.  Grand strategy may be born in debates at the highest levels of national power, but it lives or dies in the collaborative action of myriad junior officials.

Grand strategy lends itself to vigorous interpretive academic debates, yet it is so realistic that practitioners, current and former, can and must contribute for it to be properly understood. It leads to constructively critical appraisals of leaders: helping students empathize with the leaders even as they critically evaluate their choices.

Grand strategy blends the disciplines of history (what happened and why?), political science (what underlying patterns and causal mechanisms are at work?), public policy (how well did it work and how could it be done better?), and economics (how are national resources produced and protected?). Students are especially drawn to grand strategy because it makes history more relevant, political science more concrete, public policy more broadly contextualized, and economics more security-oriented.

Indeed, the study of grand strategy may require a revolution of sorts in the way that we educate students. That, at least, is the thesis of a talk given by John Gaddis at Duke recently (and available here). He argues, persuasively to my ears, that grand strategy is a useful way of blending academic history, academic political science, and the real-world experience of practitioners. He argues, less persuasively to my ears, that the United States does not do grand strategy well and hasn't had a functioning one since the end of the Cold War.  But he is absolutely correct that we need to do a better job of training the next generation to engage critically in the hard work of designing, implementing, and revising American grand strategy.

Such students would be well-equipped to subject the Sanger review of Obama's grand strategy to some critical scrutiny of its own. Such students would ask Sanger to consider the numerous continuities in the Obama foreign policy thus far, such as in terrorism policies or Iraq -- continuities that are obscured to the casual observer because of the changed rhetoric but do not fool those who have eyes to see. The students would also press Sanger to distinguish more carefully between the optics and the operations of Obama's grand strategy.

Sanger probably would have reasonably good comebacks -- he did when my students grilled him on a visit to Duke's American Grand Strategy program last fall -- but he also would probably say, let's wait and see. Obama's grand strategy is still unfolding, and he still has time to reconcile the various contradictions. As he does so, armies of young armchair academic strategists will be arguing about it every step of the way. And I am glad they will, because some of them will be joining the Obama team (and whoever comes later) to put theory into practice.

Shadow Government

A new policy of "malign neglect"

By Mitchell B. Reiss

North Korea's recent launch of its rocket over the Pacific no doubt served multiple agendas for Kim Jong-il: demonstrating toughness to a domestic audience at a time when some may be questioning his life expectancy, retaliating against both South Korea and Japan for perceived and real slights, enhancing the country's marketing strategy for foreign missile sales, and raising the price for any possible buy-out should the Six Party Talks reconvene. Not a bad day's work for the leader of a poor, dysfunctional, friendless country.

Obama administration officials, after having warned (and failed to dissuade) the North not to launch, are now blustering about how Pyongyang's action violated UN Security Council 1718 (a pretty strained reading of the resolution), further isolated the North (as if that was possible) and should now be punished by additional UN sanctions (not going to happen). 

So what can the United States do? Let's review the options.

Military action is not viable, especially with the United States already committed to two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Short of a second Korean war, military options have priced themselves out of the market, as indeed they have for the past fifty-plus years.

Economic sanctions have been ineffective in shaping Pyongyang's behavior, even when there has been rare agreement in the UN Security Council.  (Enforcing compliance is another matter altogether. Despite past UN resolutions banning luxury items, there appears to be no shortage on fine cognac and fancy electronics in Pyongyang.) China and Russia have already stated publicly in the past few days that they are not willing to impose additional UN sanctions. The United States, Japan, and South Korea could unilaterally adopt commercial and other trade sanctions. But the reality is that these countries' leverage is limited due to their relative lack of interaction with the North, Pyongyang's willingness to allow its people to suffer hardship and, perhaps most important of all, China's unwillingness to allow the North to collapse. 

Diplomatically, that leaves the Six Party Talks (6PT). During the past few years, the Bush administration staked out untenable positions only to capitulate after the North raised tensions, whether over the Banco Delta Asia accounts in Macau or the October 2006 nuclear test. Predictably, rewarding North Korea's misbehavior only encouraged more misbehavior. By repeatedly telegraphing its eagerness to return to the Six Party Talks, the Obama administration now appears to be making the same mistake. 

So what to do? I would advocate a policy of what might be termed "malign neglect." The starting assumption is that the North Koreans will now play hard to get, using their reluctance to return to the Six Party Talks as leverage for an easing of sanctions, provision of additional food aid, a resumption of energy assistance, or other benefits. And no doubt the Obama team will try to appease the North's desires and ease them back to the negotiating table.

This would be a mistake. Although it is possible for the United States to bribe the North back to the negotiating table (we have done it before), this would be mistaking process for substance. The goal of the Six Party Talks is not to get to the North Koreans to the bargaining table. It is for the North Koreans to want to come to the table to investigate whether it makes sense for them to abandon their nuclear weapons programs and forge a fundamentally new relationship with the United States and the region. The United States and the other 6PT members cannot make this calculation for Pyongyang and they should stop trying to do so.

Instead, the Obama administration should do three things:

First, it needs to state that it is prepared to resume the Six Party Talks whenever the North is ready to do so -- and then say nothing else. There is really not much more to say, anyway. For once, we should at least try to be as patient as the North Koreans.

Second, the United States needs to repair relations with our two major allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea. Both relationships have been bruised in recent years and Seoul and Tokyo are anxious about whether the new team in Washington will fully consult and coordinate on its North Korea policy. In this sense, the North Korean nuclear issue is not about North Korea at all. It is about the United States preserving alliance relations. After all, we can't control what the North does, but we can control what we do in relation to Seoul and Tokyo. 

Third, we ought to welcome South Korea's joining the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and encourage China to do so. These actions should be part of a clear and unequivocal message sent to Pyongyang that the international community will not tolerate the North's export of any nuclear technology or ballistic missiles. In addition to enhancing global security, this would choke off a source of hard currency to the regime.

These modest steps, forming a policy of "malign neglect," may be unsatisfying to many. But they have the merit of placing the burden for progress in the negotiations on North Korea, where they should be, on playing to U.S. strengths in our alliance relations in the region, and on aligning our nonproliferation interests for the Korean peninsula with those of the international community.