United States Setting National Security Policies

How does the U.S. prioritize national security decisions through various strategies?

Ans: The national security decisions made by the US government follow certain considerations. They are prioritized according to the level of threat posed to the US in its homeland, towards its economy, and to its other interests in various areas. The terms of Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton serve as ideal examples of how these decisions are prioritized. National security decisions are made based on defining the national interests of the US. As Nuechterlein puts it, determination of US national interests lies in “assessing the intensity of interest or stake, the United States has in a specific issue or crisis.” (Nuechterlein 1991, p. 17). Taking the example of the Persian Gulf crisis in 1990-1991, the US can be said to have two vital interests in taking part in resolving the crisis. One was the economic well-being of the country and the second was the establishment of favorable world order. (Nuechterlein 1991, p.206). Therefore, it engaged itself in the conflict and deployed its troops to fight Saddam Hussein’s forces. The Balkan crisis in the 1990s presented another issue during the Clinton presidency. In this case, the US government decided it did not have a significant vital interest in the region as the ethnicities of the former Yugoslavia fought each other. Therefore, no immediate action was taken. It was only after the death toll of the Bosnian Muslims started reaching for the skies that the US government decided that the promotion of values translated as a significant vital interest of the US and inaction may damage its reputation as a superpower. Therefore this identification of national interests and their priority is one aspect that significantly guides national security decisions.

Another prime factor that shapes national security decisions is the status of the US and the direction taken by its executive branch. This is symbolized by the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, the document that outlines the general position to be taken by the US in dealing with issues of national security. As in the case of the Clinton administration that pursued the policy of engagement and enlargement, where national security decisions were made with that directive in mind, the executive branch set the guidelines on which decisions were based (Nuechterlein 1991, p. 198). These guidelines change with the status of the US, the consistency of the executive branch, and the world environment.

Describe the competing visions for a US grand strategy, their objectives, premises, and preferred instruments.

Ans: The US, like most countries, has had to be very active in devising a grand strategy, taking into consideration the consequences of its policy decisions, but more particularly being a superpower. In this regard, it has had to identify its interests and objectives, the threats to those interests, and appropriate responses to the threats as they arise. Four competing strategies have dominated the debate regarding a US grand strategy.

Neo Isolationism is one grand strategy option. Isolationists have embraced a constricted view of U.S. national interests that renders internationalism not only unnecessary but counterproductive. Defense of the homeland is the only vital interest of the country under its principle. The underlying principle is that no state is powerful enough to challenge the US’s basic interest of homeland security, and the rising powers can serve as counterbalances to each other. It is also self-sufficient in terms of most resources and controls a significant portion of the world’s GDP. Therefore, this strategy seldom justifies any sort of involvement abroad by the US (Posen and Ross et al, 1997).

The second choice, selective engagement, endeavors to ensure peace among powers that have substantial industrial and military potential. Thus Russia, the wealthier states of the European Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Japan matter most. The purpose of U.S. engagement should be to affect directly the propensity of these powers to go to war with one another. These wars have the greatest chance of producing large-scale resort to weapons of mass destruction, a global experiment that the United States ought to try to prevent. This strategy holds that any great power in the Eurasia region may be a threat to the US if it emerges. This can best be met by pursuing traditional alliances in Europe and the East Asia region (Posen and Ross et al, 1997).

The third option, a cooperative society, stresses that peace is effectively indivisible. Therefore the US has a major vital interest in world peace and therefore should cooperate as much as possible with international, cooperative security institutions. Cooperative security does not view the great powers as a generic security problem because most are democracies, or on the road to democracy. The primary instruments in this regard are therefore pushing for arms control agreements and transparency in the actions of the countries (Posen and Ross et al, 1997).

The final option is primacy, motivated by both power and peace. This assumes that both world order and national security require that the United States maintain the primacy with which it emerged from the Cold War. The collapse of bipolarity cannot be permitted to allow the emergence of the multi-polar world. Primacy is most concerned with the trajectories of present and possible future great powers. The primary policy focused towards it is that of containment of the rising powers that may be threats in the future (Posen and Ross et al, 1997).

How do realists view grand strategy options?

Ans: Realist view of international security and national strategy formulation advocate the importance of power. The view in the case of the US states that since the US is the world’s sole superpower, it, therefore, does not face any significant threat to its national security because it is not challenged militarily or economically and its geographical location gives it a significant advantage in terms of homeland security. The collapse of the Soviet Union has left a rough balance of power in Eurasia. If either Russia or China begins to build up its military power, there are plenty of wealthy and capable states at either end of Eurasia to contain them. Indeed, Russia and China help to contain one another. Selective engagement is also derived somewhat from the realist approach as it focuses on the US’s power and geographical security. The only long-term threat may be through one of the emerging powers or Russia (Posen and Ross et al, 1997).

Therefore in a realist view, the strategy of isolation is preferred as it required no involvement in international affairs at all. Selective engagement only requires going into the middle of international matters and crises only to stop the escalation of a possible war between the big powers that may directly or indirectly affect the national interests of the US, primarily homeland security. The strategy of primacy only requires action for containment where power may be in a position to rise and challenge the US dominance in a unipolar world (Posen and Ross et al, 1997).


  1. Nuechterlein,Donald Edwin. America Recommitted. 1 ed. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1991.
  2. Barry Posen, Andrew Ross, “Competing Visions for US Grand StrategyAmerica’s Strategic Choices 4. (1997), 1-49.