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Isolationism Reconfigured

Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century

Eric A. Nordlinger
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Isolationism Reconfigured
    Book Description:

    This iconoclastic and fundamental work, Eric Nordlinger's last, advocates a new variant of isolationism, a "national strategy" confining U.S. military actions largely to North America and to neighboring sea-and air- lanes but encouraging international activism and engagement in nonsecurity realms. In Nordlinger's view, disengaging from security commitments on distant shores would liberate the United States to use its resources and decision-making powers to act more effectively abroad in matters of economic policy and human rights. A national strategy would then become a powerful new method of encouraging international ideals of democracy, and isolationism would be freed of its previous associations with appeasement, weakness, economic protectionism, and self-serving nationalism.

    Nordlinger draws on the recent historical record to show that a national strategy would have lessened the perils of earlier decades, including those of the Cold War. While real dangers did exist during this period, engaged strategies, such as containment, too often exacerbated them. The United States could have effectively and far less expensively helped to deter Communist aggression in Europe and Asia by encouraging other nations to make larger investments in their own protection. Marshaling impressive empirical evidence in defense of a controversial position, this final work by a leading scholar of international affairs is essential reading for scholars, practitioners, and lay readers alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2181-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    Robert L. Paarlberg

    Eric Nordlinger completedIsolationism Reconfiguredjust prior to his untimely death from illness in June 1994. Had he lived even a short while longer, he would have been able to compose a preface to this book and to acknowledge the support and assistance he received from many quarters in its preparation, drafting, and revision. We can hope to provide only a rough and surely incomplete approximation of the acknowledgments Eric would have wished to make, using secondhand knowledge and a perusal of Eric’s records of written correspondence.

    From the beginnings of this project, Eric relied heavily on support and advice...

    (pp. 3-26)

    This book develops a national security strategy and compares it with the security designs of strategic internationalism in both its adversarial and conciliatory variants. It does so by way of two encompassing questions. How do the alternative security strategies compare in protecting America’s security, its highest political, material, and survival values, from any and all external threats? And since all security strategies are consequential beyond the security realm, how do they stack up in promoting America’s extrasecurity values—at home and abroad, material and ideal, political and economic? These questions are primarily addressed with respect to the Cold War period...

  5. PART ONE: America’s Security

      (pp. 29-30)

      There are only two fundamental doctrinal bases for the design of any broad-gauged set of security policies: Capabilities writ large and the challenger’s intentions. Doctrine shapes policy according to assessments of relative military, economic, and political capabilities and according to interpretations of the opponent’s intentions, which can vary from the hostile and implacably expansionist to the insecure and fearful. Variations in these encompassing and irreducible criteria allow for three and only three “pure” grand strategies: Adversarial engagement, conciliatory engagement, and nonengagement.

      Adversarial and conciliatory internationalism are at one in their highly activist policies and their derivation from both capabilities and...

      (pp. 31-62)

      Every grand strategy has its characteristic and distinctive features, the elements that bind it together and distinguish it from others. These can be most clearly adumbrated by placing them within a comprehensive typology of security strategies. The first part of this chapter delineates the most basic classificatory scheme for ordering all security strategies. Placing adversarial and conciliatory internationalism within it brings out their great policy and doctrinal commonalities. Opposing these commonalities are the central features of a national strategy.

      The second part of the chapter describes the national strategy’s policy and doctrinal contours. The most distinctive policy, and the one...

      (pp. 63-91)

      A national strategy begins with a general statement and a specific question. To the extent that a country—any county—is strategically immune it can well afford to dispense with its activist security policies. What is the narrowest security perimeter that makes for America’s strategic immunity, that which safely allows it to forego political-military involvements beyond the perimeter?

      The strategic immunity concept is encompassing in its scope and diversity. Just as there is no shortage of health-threatening bacteria and viruses, there are numerous military, geostrategic, economic, and political challenges—aggressively and defensively motivated—that could threaten the nation’s immunity. Breaking...

      (pp. 92-111)

      States differ enormously in the range of their aggressive-defensive intentions. Intentions are the most immediate, if not also the most fundamental, explanation of their hostile to benign behavior. The success of any security strategy is heavily dependent upon its addressing the other side’s actual intentions.

      There is no doubting the validity of these tenets. But it does not follow that it is necessary or advisable to act on them. In chapter 2 it was seen that strategic internationalism recognizes their full import and shapes its hawkish or dovish policies accordingly. A national strategy also appreciates the fundamentals of intentions, without...

      (pp. 112-141)

      Easily the most important objective of any security strategy is the protection of America’s highest values from direct external threats. Whether the strategy’s scope does or does not extend beyond a narrow security perimeter, our intrinsically highest values are physically, politically, and economically embodied within it. Whether the strategy be of a national or international kind, safeguarding them means warding off unacceptable actions around, against, and within the core perimeter, as well as minimizing their hurtful consequences if they were to materialize.

      This chapter compares the performance of strategic engagement and nonengagement in safeguarding America’s highest values under hawkishly defined...

      (pp. 142-159)

      The security of status quo states is endangered not only by revisionist, aggressive opponents, but also by those with largely benign intentions. The rivalry and its hazards are real, although neither side is intent upon threatening the other. The contender’s defensive needs bring on, continue, or exacerbate conflictual relations. Whether it be done confidently or out of desperation, he builds up his military forces, extends his sway, and relies upon some combination of swaggering, terrorism, and wars. A nation’s security can thus be assured by reassuring powerful and weak contenders alike that they are not, in fact, the focus of...

      (pp. 160-178)

      Inadvertence happens. Mismanagement is always possible. Potential minor and major security deflations stem from misconceptions, misunderstandings, miscalculations, mistakes, misbehavior, and other “malfunctions of minds and machines.” Inadvertent possibilities have been attributed to careless decision making, psychological distortions, decisional biases, information gaps and intelligence failures, jumbled communications, organizational constraints, breakdowns in command and control arrangements, ambiguous directives and insufficient guidance of middle-level officials, their purposeful disobedience, and sheer accidents. Mismanagement has also been explained by the (all too full) fulfillment of preestablished decision-making arrangements, standard operating procedures, and both centralized and dispersed organizational responsibilities and routines.

      Since the Cuban missile crisis...

  6. PART TWO: Beyond the Security Realm

      (pp. 181-182)

      Security strategies are considered first and foremost in terms of their performance and promise in safeguarding the nation’s highest values from purposeful external threats. This is what they are intended and expected to do. In addition, security strategies have decided consequences outside the security realm—if not by design, then unintentionally, if not directly, then tangentially, if not immediately, then over time. And while the protection of the nation’s highest values obviously comes first, a strategy’s consequences for the nation’s various extrasecurity values constitute patently important evaluative standards, all the more so at present—in the absence of a major...

      (pp. 183-213)

      From the late eighteenth century to the present there has been no denying America’s liberal international ideals of maintaining and extending peace among and within states, national self-determination, political liberty, economic freedom, human rights, and democracy. Since 1900 America has been divided on whether and how extensively to go abroad in furthering these ideals. These divisions continue to cut across those having to do with the protection of the nation’s security. Bringing the various levels of idealistically inspired and security-centered activism together finds historical isolationists advocating minimal levels of both. Liberal internationalists are their opposites in supporting activist policies in...

      (pp. 214-239)

      The preamble to the Constitution assigns the government the responsibility to “provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare.” There is no doubting that any design to achieve the former also bears upon the latter. Every security strategy has significant consequences for the nation’s welfare. The consequences may entail benefits and losses, costs and opportunity costs; they may be of a short-term and long-term kind, direct and indirect in being mediated by the economy and the political process; and they may be played out domestically and internationally. This chapter considers all the national-welfare values that have been, could...

      (pp. 240-262)

      America’s ideals, liberal, constitutional, and legal, rank among its highest values. Taken together, they also define the national creed, what it is to be an American, our national identity. These political ideals have been articulated in the form of legally binding rules, normative declarations and exhortations, partisan promises, and national self-congratulations. They are found in the preamble to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and in countless Supreme Court decisions, presidential inaugurals, congressional addresses, national and local campaign speeches, July Fourth perorations, newspaper editorials, school texts, and scholarly books. America’s liberal principles encompass democratic majoritarianism,...

      (pp. 263-278)

      This book has assessed the performance and promise of alternative security strategies as they bear upon the nation’s security and extrasecurity values. This final chapter addresses the strategies’ political attractiveness. No matter how well designed, how intellectually persuasive a security strategy and its attendant foreign policy may be, it must be compatible with the predominant foreign policy culture to be widely embraced and to enjoy support in the face of occasional setbacks. Strategy and politics are brought together here by way of the country’s foreign policy culture, its externally focused behavioral dispositions. They encompass the generalized attitudes—values, norms, beliefs,...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 279-318)
  8. Index
    (pp. 319-335)