Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century

Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century

Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century

Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century


This iconoclastic and fundamental work, Eric Nordlinger's last, advocates a new variant of isolationism, a "national strategy" confining U.S. military actions largely to North America and to neighboring sea-and air- lanes but encouraging international activism and engagement in nonsecurity realms. In Nordlinger's view, disengaging from security commitments on distant shores would liberate the United States to use its resources and decision-making powers to act more effectively abroad in matters of economic policy and human rights. A national strategy would then become a powerful new method of encouraging international ideals of democracy, and isolationism would be freed of its previous associations with appeasement, weakness, economic protectionism, and self-serving nationalism.

Nordlinger draws on the recent historical record to show that a national strategy would have lessened the perils of earlier decades, including those of the Cold War. While real dangers did exist during this period, engaged strategies, such as containment, too often exacerbated them. The United States could have effectively and far less expensively helped to


This book develops a national security strategy and compares it with the security designs of strategic internationalism in both its adversarial and conciliatory variants. It does so by way of two encompassing questions. How do the alternative security strategies compare in protecting America's security, its highest political, material, and survival values, from any and all external threats? And since all security strategies are consequential beyond the security realm, how do they stack up in promoting America's extrasecurity values—at home and abroad, material and ideal, political and economic? These questions are primarily addressed with respect to the Cold War period and after. But the preceding years, extending back to the early Republic, are hardly neglected. The answers to the security and extrasecurity questions take the form of a sharply revisionist interpretation of historical isolationism, an encompassing critique of adversarial and conciliatory internationalism from 1950 to the present, whose five strategic tenets form a radical policy prescription for the coming years.

A national strategy entails a near reversal of strategic internationalism's great commonalities. Instead of strategic engagement—a geographically wide-ranging and effortful political-military activism for shaping the behavior of opponents with varying combinations of forcefulness and accommodation—there is strategic nonengagement. In part 1 of the book, a national strategy is seen to maximize America's security. It promises the most security whether the opponent's intentions tend toward the hostile-aggressive or fearful-defensive, whatever strategy of forceful, political, or economic expansionism it adopts, and however great or small its military, economic, and ideological capabilities. And all this despite— or largely because of—the exceptionally narrow security perimeter that a national strategy draws around North America. Other than protecting the international sea- and air-lanes to and from the water's edge, the strategy demands a true minimum of security-centered involvements beyond North America.

Part 2 of this book considers the nation's extrasecurity values as they have been and might be affected by the alternative security strategies. Here too a national strategy promises more than any variant of strategic internationalism. It heightens the effectiveness of a foreign policy design . . .

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