Universiteit Leiden

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Lunch Research Seminar: The Illusion of Inevitability: American Grand Strategy and Leadership in Europe

Wednesday 11 May 2016
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

Why has the US maintained a global posture throughout the past seventy years and consistently avoided alternative grand strategies, such as offshore balancing? The US not only did not take the opportunity to pass off the costs of providing security to allies, but in fact increased risks to itself by extending its deterrence to allies. The paper seeks to address this puzzle, by arguing that a series of core beliefs held by nearly all American policymakers has guided US grand strategy since the Second World War, and that these beliefs were formed by the US experience around the war, and reinforced by later conflicts during and after the Cold War. The failure of the European balance of power, the allied collapse in 1940, reinforced by the surprise attack of Pearl Harbor; these all informed subsequent assessments of American policymakers of allies, threats,  distance, and the impossibility of passing of security costs, leading to a perceived inevitability of leadership by the ‘indispensable nation’. The paper makes this argument through a combination of structured counterfactuals, documents, and interviews. It concludes that despite the much-publicized current gestures towards retrenchment and rebalancing during the Obama years, and the recent dismissal of alliances as costly weights on the US by Donald Trump, the core beliefs of American policymakers have not much changed.

About the speaker

Paul van Hooft is a lecturer at the Political Science Department of Leiden University. He received his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam in 2015 for the dissertation ‘The Future in the Past: Victory, Defeat and Grand Strategy in the US, UK, France and Germany’. Before pursuing his doctoral research, Paul was a policy analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. Paul is a 2016-2017 Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence.

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