William C. Martel: R.I.P. Containment
Dr. William C. Martel is an Associate Professor of International Security Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is the recent author of Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Strategy.
When we consider the array of problems in our world, no one can say that we don’t live in interesting times.
Asia worries about China’s ascent, Russia is dismantling its democracy, and Iran everyday gets closer to possessing a nuclear weapons capability.
Recently, the Middle East was wracked by violent protests against American embassies in Egypt and Libya – with as many as twenty countries experiencing turmoil.
Facing mounting evidence of an increasingly chaotic and unstable world, it is immensely dangerous for societies to hang on to old and familiar policies.
What is missing, as I wrote on these pages in the summer, is a coherent grand strategy for the United States. But you ask: doesn't America have a grand strategy? It's a good question. The answer may be equally surprising.
Some would argue that the United States still follows a strategy of containment. When some policy analysts conclude America is trying to contain China with its "pivot" or "rebalance" to the Asia-Pacific, or when economic sanctions crafted to "contain" Iran's nuclear aspirations, one could see why containment is still on people's minds.
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but containment died more than twenty years ago. While once an immensely successful policy, sticking with containment promises certain foreign policy failure.
Why, then, do states adhere to containment?
The answer is simple: policymakers and societies find comfort in following familiar policies that once produced results. Even when they no longer make sense, familiar, well-established ideas are reassuring to the public, particularly in unsettling times.
Containment was a highly effective strategy for decades, but its irrelevance was foreordained when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Today, containment is intellectually bankrupt, but it endures as the jargon, the 'gold standard', for American grand strategy. Strangely, many continue to embrace a strategy totally unsuited to dealing with the modern world.
This essay asks what containment was and why it emerged, why it eroded and cannot work, and briefly outlines several principles to guide foreign policy in the modern world...
comments powered by Disqus
- New documentary explores the legacy of the 5,000 Rosenwald schools set up by a Sears magnate and Booker T. Washington
- Rare silent Native American movie of 1920s attracting a lot of interest
- It happened in Idaho and was the largest massacre of Indians in US history, but where exactly did it take place?
- Junípero Serra’s Missions Destroyed Entire Native Cultures. And Now He’s Going to Be a Saint.
- Isis destruction of Palmyra's Temple of Bel revealed in satellite images
- Two scholars from UT object to the Texas school's decision to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis
- A history professor explains why Americans are so prone to conspiracy theories
- Now Greg Grandin has come out with a study of Henry Kissinger
- Japanese historian upends the familiar narrative of WW 2 by taking a bottom up approach, focusing on fascism from the grassroots
- Holocaust-denying historian David Irving organises 'disgusting' £2,000-a-head holiday tours of former concentration camps and Hitler's HQ so people can 'make up their own mind about the truth'