A Grand Strategy Clinging to “the End of History”
I’ve been working on an essay for a forthcoming edited volume that will be of interest to some in the Un-Diplomatic community. It re-politicizes primacy and US grand strategy as a byproduct of “the end of history” post-ideological thinking—a mode of strategy that poorly fits our current historical moment.
That may sound like it’s an abstract, big-think piece, but it’s actually the only way to adequately make sense of certain concrete policies like AUKUS. I’m excerpting a small portion of that essay here in the spirit of “workshopping.” ✌️
Since at least the 1980s, the US national security state has been committed to a grand strategy that most closely resembles primacy. That vision of how America relates to the world seeks to treat political, economic, and military preeminence as a chief means and end of US statecraft.1
Notwithstanding America’s earlier ambitions, primacy in the grand strategic sense only became a realistic possibility during the so-called unipolar moment, when the United States inherited its position as the planet’s sole superpower, lacking enemies capable of threatening either its existence or power position in the world system.
It was in this context of an extreme imbalance of power globally that Francis Fukuyama’s “the end of history” thesis became the meme to capture an entire epoch. As reflected in popular culture and the policymaker imagination, the refrain “the end of history” was a statement that liberalism had prevailed in an epic global struggle and now there was no alternative to it, perpetually reproducing a sense of victoriousness and ennui.
Paradoxically, it also gave rise to a self-induced paranoia in Washington that this best of all possible worlds could come tumbling down if not for US global preeminence. Triumphalism necessitated a hypervigilance predicated on an understanding of American primacy as the difference between order and chaos.
So unipolarity, a primacy strategy, and feelings of ideological triumph at the end of the Cold War are all closely linked. Not only were they historically convergent; they were mutually reinforcing.
But no power, no matter how great, can preserve in amber their political and military advantages indefinitely…