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Research Report

Dynamic Stability: A US Strategy for a World in Transition

Barry Pavel
Peter Engelke
with Alex Ward
Foreword by Brent Scowcroft
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 68
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. i-i)
    Brent Scowcroft

    Even the most casual observer of international affairs notices that the world is going through a tumultuous period. At the geopolitical level, the Middle East roils; Russia wages war against Ukraine; China challenges the stability of its region; Western Africa is beset by extraordinary violence; widespread disease and climate change pose growing global dangers; and to make matters worse, all of this is happening at a time when American and European power are questioned. At the substate level, we are seeing individuals and nonstate actors, ranging from democratic revolutionaries to terrorists, play an outsized role on the global stage, causing...

  2. (pp. 1-4)

    We have entered a new era in world history, a post-post-Cold War era that holds both great promise and great peril for the United States, its allies, and everyone else. The 350 years since the Peace of Westphalia have featured the nation-state as by far the most dominant global actor. But in this new era, nation-states are increasingly joined on the global stage by powerful individuals, groups, and other actors who are disrupting the traditional world order, for better and for worse. We now can call this a “Westphalian-Plus” world, in which nation-states will have to engage on two distinct...

  3. (pp. 5-14)

    Our world is characterized by the rapid speed and massive scale of change. Challenges confront world leaders at a pace that appears faster than ever before, and of a fashion that seems more novel than at any time in the past. To most observers, these challenges make the world appear to be more volatile than it has been.⁶ The key global trends that are driving such change, as outlined in the National Intelligence Council’s landmark Global Trends 2030 report and the United Kingdom’s Global Strategic Trends out to 2045 report, include the rapid shift of power within the interstate system...

  4. (pp. 15-24)

    Historic transition periods in global affairs, such as those after both world wars, are marked by uncertainty, without a clear path forward for the global system. The global order that we have lived in since 1945 is now under great strain, and the operating principles that have guided US international engagement for so long are no longer sufficient to address a rapidly changing world. This dynamism in global affairs presents the United States, and the world, with significant new challenges that cannot be ignored. However, that same dynamism also opens an enormous set of new opportunities for those bold enough...

  5. (pp. 25-36)

    A strategy is a structured approach to harnessing available means to attain a desired end; in more common parlance, “it gets you from where you are to where you want to go.”63 Building a strategy requires leaders to define a nation’s goals. Dynamic stability is not itself an end, but rather an approach to strategy about how to achieve that end. What the United States will desire most in the future is not very different from what it has sought in the past. In the simplest terms, that is to help shape a world that is worth having. Indeed, America’s...

  6. (pp. 37-45)

    Some analysts have labeled the current state of global affairs as “No One’s World” or the “G-Zero” world, describing a system in which no actor is powerful enough to shape the global environment.88 As this essay underscores, there are good reasons to adopt such a position. Yet at the same time, it would be an error to write off states and state power. It is not accurate to say that this is a “G-Zero” world, regardless of how convincing this idea appears to be. States will likely remain the most powerful actors within the global system for some time to...

  7. (pp. 46-47)

    For a nation’s leaders, creating actionable strategies may seem an insurmountable challenge. Yet if a nation is to avoid aimless drift, thinking and acting strategically are absolute imperatives. Strategy is a difficult task to navigate. In the words of Lawrence Freedman, leaders and their advisers need to develop the ability to “think ahead, forge coalitions and hold on to long-term objectives,” all while staying pragmatic and “shifting [intermediate] goals as new opportunities arise.”114 This paper, the first in a series of strategy papers produced by the Atlantic Council, has outlined dynamic stability as a concept that offers strategists a means...