America Still Needs Hard Power, and the Willingness to Use It

January 13, 2017 | Mackubin Thomas Owens
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In The Big Stick, Eliot A. Cohen argues that the United States needs to maintain its global primacy and leadership on the international stage—above all to guarantee its own interests. Contrary to those who have become overly enamored with “soft power,” Cohen believes that the U.S. can only succeed if it has the ability and the willingness to use military force. Mackubin Thomas Owens writes in his review:

Cohen also assesses the four major challenges we face: the rise of China, the continuing threat from assorted jihadist movements, “dangerous states” such as Russia, Iran, and North Korea, and the challenge posed by “ungoverned space” and the “commons”—that is to say, the maritime realm, space, and cyberspace, which no one state or alliance rules or controls. China clearly tops his list of challenges, but we ignore others at our peril.

The problem is that the American hand, as strong as it is, is hard pressed to respond to all the challenges simultaneously. An important role of strategy is to establish priorities, and deciding how to allocate military power in response to these diverse threats will be the great strategic challenge for the foreseeable future. . . .

Indeed, the Obama administration’s retreat from primacy provides a preview of . . . a fragmented globe in which our friends and allies are making the best deals they can because they no longer have faith in the United States while our adversaries act aggressively, constantly probing for weaknesses.

The idea that the use of military power is at odds with the arc of history is equally absurd. Its use must be governed by prudence, but it cannot be unilaterally dismissed as an instrument of statecraft. For too long, American policymakers have acted as if diplomacy alone is sufficient to achieve our foreign-policy goals; but to cite Frederick the Great, . . . “Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.” Policymakers need to relearn the lesson that diplomacy and force are two sides of the same coin.

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