The Future of American Power
On Monday, July 18, 2016, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Hal Brands, associate professor of public policy and history at Duke University and author of Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order, for a discussion on his book and U.S. foreign policy challenges today. GMF Counselor and Senior Advisor for Security and Defense Policy Derek Chollet moderated the discussion, which was the first installment in a new GMF series on the “Future of American Power.” This series will discuss recent books to examine the global foreign and security policy challenges facing the United States.
Brands outlined why he believes U.S. policy makers beginning in the 1970s and 1980s capitalized on emerging global forces to effectively position the United States as the world’s sole superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union. While Brands indicated he believes there are firm limits to how much American policy makers can influence world events, he asserted that when policy actors use strategy to identify global trends, such as third-wave democratization or globalization, they can use U.S. power to influence a global agenda. Brands argued that the 1970s and 1980s represents an era of positive and constructive use of American power in global terms, particularly in democracy promotion, the strengthening of the global-liberal order, and international political stability. He notes, however, that an area where American power has failed to effectively prevent conflict and promote stability is in the greater Middle East, a region whose challenges continue to loom large in today’s headlines. When considering what this means for today, Brands noted that history does not provide the answers for today’s challenges, but it can provide context to help inform decisions.
Brands concluded by noting that he believes American power has grown more resilient over time. However, he noted that policy makers should have humility when considering grand strategies. And given that strategic decisions can have a significant impact in the long-term, policy makers must seriously consider the relationship of strategy to the structure of the geopolitical landscape.