ESSAY | "Grand" Strategies - U.S.A. : Part 1
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ESSAY | "Grand" Strategies - U.S.A. : Part 1

By Vivek Joshi
Advisor to A-Joshi Strategy Consultants, Mumbai, India

ESSAY | "Grand" Strategies - U.S.A. : Part 1

Image Attribute: American flag : Mark Engelbrecht /Flickr/Creative Commons

All countries have "Grand" Strategies. The word grand is unfortunate as there is little that is grand about these, and perhaps the word was meant to convey overriding national strategy. In some cases, like for USA, parts of the strategy are explicitly enunciated. In other cases they are more implicit, but are nevertheless in existence even if put into practice inconsistently & ineffectually.  

The exception would be in the case of collapsed states, which are unable to formulate a strategy.  The grand strategy, its evolution and practice easiest to understand is that of USA, which is covered in part-1 of this series of short notes.  This is an analytical study, and neither prescriptive nor “evaluative”.  The analysis will subsequently be extended to understand the grand strategy of India & China in Parts 2 & 3 respectively.

In the period preceding World War I & in the 19th century, a key part of the U.S. grand strategy was to not allow in the western hemisphere a significant presence of an outside great power.  This was enunciated by Presidents Monroe, Wilson & Roosevelt.  This period is now of primarily historical interest, but can give some pointers on the actions of potential regional hegemony in future. It is worth noting that this strategy was enunciated even before the country had the capabilities to enforce it.

In the period between the two world wars there were no superpowers, a term which became popular after World War II.  Britain & France were then considered pre-eminent powers.  The U.S. strategy as an off-shore balancer was limited to preventing unquestioned dominance by any power in Europe and East Asia.

1945 - 1991: The US grand strategy was to not allow the Soviet Union to dominate Eurasia.  The Marshall Plan & NATO were examples of the grand strategy in action.  The strategy of not allowing another great power into the western hemisphere continued.  The Cuban missile crisis was an example of a crisis arising from grand strategy put into practice by both the superpowers.

1991- 2011: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the grand strategy shifted gears to “not to allow a global level challenger to emerge”. Western Europe, Arabia & North-East Asia were key geographies.  Seen in this perspective, the cost to USA of the proxy war in Afghanistan (in economic terms) is small compared to the benefit of expediting the end of the only global challenger (Soviet Union).   The cumulative cost of the subsequent wars in Afghanistan & Iraq, at less than 2% of GDP, is not very large, though neither wars were fought as part of grand strategy and hence not relevant to the analysis.

2011 onwards: The ‘pivot’ to Asia is the key development of grand strategy in action, as Eastern Asia is becoming equally important as Western Europe & the Arabian Gulf.  This is the area in which the practice of the grand strategy will be seen, through a combination of ‘approaches’ which are interesting combinations of the practice of Liberalism & Realism schools of international relations:

a) Balance of Power: The notorious India-Pak equation was one such example. In the next 10-15 Japan (& India) will be supported by USA to contain China.  Turkey, Saudi-Arabia & Iran will balance each other. In another two decades an assertive Japan will likely need to be balanced. The strategy will then change, with China supported to contain Japan. India will not need containment. Though these shifts appear confusing, however, the net result expected is aligned with grand strategy, i.e., not to allow a global level challenger or undisputed regional hegemon to emerge. Europe will need less active management, where the EU may be headed for eventual disintegration at least in political terms, and a coalition in East Europe will be built to contain Russia. Just about the only axis which can balance USA in the near future is France-Germany-Russia-China, and that will not be allowed.

b) Controllable instability: Partial instability in their respective regions keeps regional leader countries unbalanced, and looking for friends. Instability out of control can lead to break-down and wars which are, of course, not in the interest of anyone.

c) Regional Powers: These powers can help to keep regions stable in their own interests.  Examples are India, South Africa, Israel, Turkey, Poland & Brazil. However, regional powers are not to be allowed to grow to big powers status, even in the unlikely scenario that any of them can do so.

d) Economics: Build relationships leading to economic (inter)-dependency. Unlike the fate of many other past empires, this synergistic relationship bodes well for continuation of American dominance. The Roman & British empires practiced this to some extent.  Spread of democracy is another aspect which could support the grand strategy, and help to stabilize its dominance, though several countries are not yet ready for democracy.

e) Military dominance: Dominance of the seas & oceans, which is similar to the strategy of the British Empire. If the ‘tools’ mentioned above are successful, overwhelming force projection by the Navy & Air-Force could be adequate and a very large standing land army may not be needed.  Given its geography USA is comfortable being an off-shore balancer, and perhaps the grand strategy is likely to continue to be successful if it acts as an off-shore balancer only.  Since the nature of warfare is evolving, the dominance of oceans will be extended to dominance of Space. The previous decade was effectively a “lost decade” for Technology.  The next 15-20 years will see a significant acceleration in the military & consequently civilian applications of various technologies which are on the cusp of breakthroughs.  It is useful to note the synergistic aspect of this dominance which helps ensure uninterrupted global trade, while keeping the U.S. mainland out of reach of any other power.

All ‘empires’ fade away sooner or later, so how long can this grand strategy be effective?  As Asia heads towards increased geopolitical uncertainties, how will the grand strategies of key Asian countries evolve?  We will examine two key countries, India & China the part 2 & part 3 respectively.   

About the Author:

Vivek Joshi is an Advisor to A-Joshi Strategy Consultants Pvt Ltd based in Mumbai, at  He has international experience in in various sectors, and is an expert in Strategy, Innovation, Venture Capital, Knowledge Management and General Management.  Vivek is an invited speaker and contrubutes to knowledge in Strategy, Venture Capital, Economics, Challenges of the 21st Century and Geopolitics.   

Cite this Article:

Joshi, Vivek "ESSAY | "Grand" Strategies - U.S.A. : Part 1" IndraStra Global 002 No: 04 (2016) 0026, | ISSN 2381-3652 | Download the PDF - LINK