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Primacy without a Plan?

In an article written by Nathan Freier (2006), he states that:

"Today, the greatest risk to American position is not defeat at the hands of a peer competitor, but slow voluntary retreat from international activism hastened by a cultural aversion to grand strategic calculation and risk assessment. Quite simply, the end of American primacy may come via a persistent, unwelcome, and unanticipated accumulation of strategic costs, as successive American executives exercise great power without reference to grand design, and as average Americans, their most influential opinion elites, and those states upon whom the United States relies for support grow increasingly weary of the price associated with doing so. Absent a real ends-focused, ways and means-rationalized, and risk-informed grand design, the United States is vulnerable to slow surrender to strategic exhaustion and voluntary retreat from that essential activism necessary to the security of its position in perpetuity."
(Freier, N. (2006). Primacy Without A Plan. Parameters, 36(3). )

What do you think this quote means in terms of risk assessment? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Primacy without a Plan? NATHAN FREIER “Most people assume there are all sorts of ‘master plans’ being pursued throughout the US government. But, amazingly, we are still searching for a vision to replace the decades-long containment strategy that America pursued to counter the Soviet threat.” — Thomas Barnett 1 T extbook models for policy and strategy formulation argue that grand stra- tegic success relies on the effective development of a rational, consistent, meaningful, and—to some extent—consensus grand strategic design that en- forces discipline and unity over the discrete policy choices of American gov- ernment. 2 One can, for example, make a cogent argument that foundational Cold War efforts like Kennan’s “long telegram” and his “X” article (“Sources of Soviet Conduct”); NSC 20/4 (“US Objectives with Respect to the USSR to Counter Soviet Threats to US Security”); NSC 68 (“United States Objectives and Programs for National Security”); the Eisenhower Solarium Project; and, finally, NSC 162/2 (“Basic National Security Policy”) established just such a grand strategic foundation; and further, that this foundation, with some subse- quent and at times substantial course correction and style adjustment, informed and guided strategic decisionmakers for half a century. 3 These foundational Cold War initiatives chartered grand strategic choices for the nation that were ends-focused, progressively ways- and means- rationalized and thus more readily risk-informed. They enabled senior deci- sionmakers to see discrete policy choices within a strategic context that was broader and often more consequential than that which defined and bounded the most immediate challenges and crises of the day. In the end, it is safe to say that they enabled successive executives to make effective and rational cost-benefit calculations that enforced some consistency on policy decisions over time. By doing so, they also underwrote an ordered defense of the nation’s long-term strategic interests. Autumn 2006 5
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The post-Cold War reality is unfortunately quite different. Over a half decade of blue-ribbon panels, think-tank research, and expert commen- tary have made it quite clear that, since the end of the Cold War, the nation has had no grand strategy. 4 Nor, for that matter, does it have the capacity for meaningful net assessment and planning. 5 There is no risk-informed grand strategy or consensus strategic vision guiding American great power or en- forcing discipline over the employment of those instruments of power so critical to securing American primacy most effectively. There is no standing design chartering broad, integrated American political, military, and eco- nomic action to secure the state’s position and influence in a rational and de- liberate way. 6 Frankly, the exercise of American influence is not, as many imagine and as Thomas Barnett quips about in the quotation at the beginning of this article, the product of some deliberative, whole-of-government pro- cess enforcing unity, order, and focus on the nation’s instruments of power. Instead, American power is employed against discrete challenges in isolation as they arise with neither detailed nor comprehensive, whole-of-government consideration of the broader implications or risks associated with either ac- tion or inaction. 7 Believing otherwise—believing, for example, that the nation is op- erating according to some coordinated grand doctrine that has been both vetted by and socialized across the whole of the American government— implies that three key questions can be answered satisfactorily. First, since the end of the Cold War, has the United States corporately devoted the requi- site intellectual and political energy necessary to truly understand its own rel- ative position in detail and the real obstacles, risks, and costs associated with maintaining that position over time? Second, has the United States developed a consensus grand design that employs all of the enormous potential embod- ied in its instruments of power in order to secure its strategic position and in- fluence effectively against direct and indirect challenges to both? 8 Finally, if one believes the previous two questions can be answered in the affirmative, have the nation’s strategy elite identified and articulated the principal aspects 6 Parameters Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Freier is Director of National Security Affairs at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI). Prior to joining SSI, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where his principal responsibilities included de- velopment of the National Defense Strategy . Previously, he was a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies and a strategist with the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate, Department of the Army Staff, in Wash- ington, D.C. From January to July 2005, Lieutenant Colonel Freier served as a strategist with Headquarters, Multi-National Force–Iraq. He is a graduate of the US Army Com- mand and General Staff College and holds master’s degrees in international relations and politics from Troy State University and the Catholic University of America.
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