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A Strategy of Conservation: American Power and the International System


  • Sewall, Sarah

    (Harvard U)


The overarching strategic challenge facing the United States is revitalizing the international system so that the nation might conserve its strength and power even as the global environment shifts. The United States, which has been the primary beneficiary of a stable international system and remains its preeminent power, must lead and shape a process of adapting the international system to provide greater stability and security in the 21st century. The interstate system of international rules and institutions related to politics, economics, and security is under stress as many sub-state and transnational actors and processes undermine the wellbeing and security of states and persons. This erosion of state and interstate capacity is a broad phenomenon that directly and indirectly undermines U.S. security and the American way of life. This paper focuses on two new complementary components of U.S. grand strategy: strategic flexibility and an indirect method. Strategic flexibility encompasses a host of policies designed to allow the United States to maintain its power and to shape the emerging security environment. The policies that enable strategic flexibility reflect a long-overdue update of the political, economic, and security assumptions that once buttressed U.S. foreign policy. America’s unipolar moment is already en route to being eclipsed by an increasingly diverse cast of global characters with the capacity to degrade or enhance U.S. security. The United States retains predominance in many arenas, but longer-term demographic and economic trends in key states and the diffusion of power from states to other entities suggest an emerging, if still largely invisible, shift of global power.

Suggested Citation

  • Sewall, Sarah, 2008. "A Strategy of Conservation: American Power and the International System," Working Paper Series rwp08-028, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp08-028

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