In discussing the question of whether the US should pursue a grand strategy of Primacy, we must first examine the underlying assumptions that such a Grand Strategy makes.
To examine the question of Grand Strategy, we must start at the ground level, in examining the fundamental interests of states in their SECURITY, in both a physical and ideological sense. This is to say, that we can assume that a state’s interests are preserving its physical autonomy, which includes borders, the lives of its people, and its resources; and its ideological security, which include its modes of thinking, its culture, friendships, and so on.
If we define security by these two general criteria, then we can just as easily define threats to security using these criteria. Threats to physical security occur from direct military power, which threaten land and people. However, threats can also occur by geographical circumstance, which determines power via control of resources. Just as the US is special in its control of territory bounded on either latitudinal side by oceans, countries such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia are special in their control of vital resources. Thus, in a sense, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, regardless of other means of power, can threaten the physical security of other countries by negatively affecting other countries’ ability to access vital resources. The emphasis on physical threats tends to be a realist perspective on security.
Ideological interests can be threatened independently of brute force or physical resources. The constructivist argument is that countries that are weak can still exert power through the propagation of values and ideas. For instance, US export of rock’n’roll music into Arab nations is perceived as an erosion of core values of Islam, and is thus perceived as a threat to Islamic ideological security. Ideological tension can also occur from a liberalist perspective, for instance the Democratic Liberalist concept of dyadic ideological relationships leading to increased physical conflict. For example, some argue that the tensions of the Cold War were escalated by ideological incongruence, based on the idea of democratic peace, and dyadic conflict between autocracies and democracies.
With these ideas of security and threats to security defined, we can still establish a very broad hierarchy of state’s interests. We can argue that a democratic state such as the US is foremost is concerned about maintaining its physical autonomy. This is because without territory, a state, all other factors aside, will cease to exist, and thus concerns over other interests would be completely moot. We can also consider incremental losses of territory as being of paramount importance, but of secondary importance to the threat of absolute territorial loss. The second thing that the US would prioritize is the interest of ideological sovereignty, in other words preserving its democratic ideals. This is key as it cannot be an incremental loss – if it is compromised, it is compromised entirely or not significantly at all. As Tocqueville, among many other authors, argues, without its ideals of democratic government, the US ceases to become a state, and thus suffers a loss much akin to the loss of its territorial sovereignty (but not quite as severe, as with the loss of ideology there is still the hope of recovery). However, the trade-off between incremental territorial sacrifice and ideological sacrifice is ambiguous. As exhibited by many nations (Palestine, Vietnam), many countries are willing to risk incremental loss of territory to preserve ideological integrity. While many nations have sacrificed ideology for territorial preservation (Germany, Japan come to mind), in many cases these countries were simply threatened by absolute territorial annihilation. Thus, for the purposes of this, we can put partial territorial loss below the interest of ideology.
Security of life is below these, as it has been exhibited countless times that people are willing to die for land and liberty, as loss of life does not signal an absolute loss for a state, but a fractional loss. However, the loss of life will be a key metric in determining degrees of threat to security short of absolute loss of ideology and territorial sovereignty. Below life comes resource, as this determines a country’s standard of living and wealth, and then in less clear order culture and friendship (which is contingent upon , and so on.
Based on these working definitions of a states interest in security, we now have a good framework by which we can examine the benefits and drawbacks of a Primacy Grand Strategy to each aspect of a state’s interests. In this analysis, we will examine Primacy’s effectiveness in protecting interests by its own merit, and then we will attempt to find Grand Strategies that can potentially protect vital interests as indicated above better than Primacy.
In an ideal sense, Primacy is designed to “strengthen a nation beyond challenge”. As a thought exercise, let us assume that Primacy is possible (a country is able to cover the necessary costs to achieve Primacy – we will calculate in the obstacle of achieving Primacy later). Let us further assume that a country is able to maintain primacy “beyond challenge”, which implies that it could conceivably maintain a state of primacy indefinitely (we will calculate in the costs of maintaining Primacy later as well). This infinitely prime state
Let us introduce the idea that there are costs to maintaining primacy. In this case, realists would argue that a country that is far superior to others is a threat to the sovereignty of all others, and thus the