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Toward a Realist American Grand Strategy

In a rapidly changing geopolitical situation, the United States must have a better grand strategy.

Flags of different nations on high flagpoles
(Oliver Helbig/Getty Images)

Republican voters are ready to make a clean split from the neoconservative consensus that has dominated the party’s foreign policy for decades, and shift toward a grand strategy of realism grounded in America’s national interest. The two leading candidates in the Republican presidential primary have proven this, and Washington should follow suit sooner rather than later.

This new alignment reflects a major directional shift in the Republican Party. Poll after poll shows that Americans in general, and particularly Republican voters, no longer want to protect a wealthy continent that free-rides off their hard earned tax dollars. 


This urgent debate about the future of our nation’s foreign policy is absent elsewhere. As is tradition, when a Democrat is in the White House, the supposedly anti-war progressives in Congress disappear from the conversation. In addition, the mainstream media, which always stands ready to beat the drums of war, has compared Republican realists to Chamberlain in Munich in 1938. 

Despite what the neoconservatives, Democrats, and the mainstream media say, our government’s current foreign policy is unsustainable. 

We, as elected representatives, welcome a debate and the opportunity to demonstrate why realism is ascendant and reflects the growing majority in the Republican Party, challenging a quarter-century neoconservative consensus. 

In the context of the rapidly changing geopolitical situation and the emergence of an unbalanced multipolarity, the United States must have a better grand strategy. In the wake of the Cold War, China updated its strategic vision and America has not. While we do not call for a total retrenchment from Europe, it is clear the post-Cold War-era worldview of institutionalizing peace typified by a bipartisan faith in the progressive “arc of history” and the doctrinal dogma of promoting democracy through either institutions or force has ensured three unsustainable outcomes.

One, America’s historic restraint and detached prudence have been sacrificed in favor of interventionism and “rights promotion” around the world, and have squandered untold amounts of American blood and treasure. Two, NATO expansion ensured that the richest continent remains unincentivized to carry the burden for their own defense. This has resulted in the atrophy of all the major powers in Europe. Consider that a Germany two-thirds of its current size could field a dozen divisions alone during the late Eighties. Three, it also encouraged sanctimonious protectorates and weasel bureaucrats toward a maximalist foreign policy, increasing the risk of drawing America into a great power conflict.


The combined European GDP, manpower, production capacity, and technological prowess are overwhelmingly superior to those of Russia, and yet, it is the United States that is carrying the inequitable burden of keeping the Russians from overrunning Ukraine. Additionally, if the fourteen-month conflict in Ukraine has proved anything, it is that Moscow neither has the current capability to take large swaths of territory in the heart of Europe nor the ability to quickly offset the losses they have incurred. 

Geography also dictates that Europe—especially Western Europe—will never pay for their own defense share, as long as American money and manpower are guarding European frontiers and European interests. They respond as if NATO membership has purchased America’s military to fight their wars, not an alliance to help them win the wars they must (defensively) fight. In other words, Europeans understand the benefit of a “blank check” from America.

The actual threat from our prolonged involvement in Ukraine is Beijing continuing to strengthen its position on the world stage. China is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of a long war in Ukraine. Proxy wars cannot be viewed as risk-free. As we continue to deplete our weapon reserves into the Donbas, China has an intact and strong manufacturing capacity, and would happily be willing to turn the tables on us, reversing the strategy we are employing against the Russians. There is no direct Chinese loss in arming Russia and prolonging a war that diminishes American stockpiles as China continues to establish regional hegemony in Asia. America's descent into insolvency and the overstretching of its military are ends in themselves for Beijing. 

Finding the United States at a crossroads, we propose a few guiding principles to bring us back to sanity.

First, following the degradation of the Russian conventional forces, an effort should be made to redeploy American infantry, armor, and combat support units away from Eastern Europe. European frontiers should be guarded by European brigades and European armor, both in combination and command. Otherwise, Europe will never share the burden as long as Americans are there to provide. The U.S. should continue to provide the nuclear umbrella and naval forces, because freedom of seas as well as controlling the levers of the ultimate deterrence are in the American interest. But infantry, armor, artillery, and logistics should primarily be the burden of Europeans. 

Second, the NATO bureaucracy should be discouraged from out-of-area operations, or opining on social issues that are not strictly within the military remit and hamper alliance cohesion. NATO should also cut its bloated bureaucracy and maintain an organizational hierarchy that is befitting a defensive alliance aimed at a major power war, instead of morphing into a giant NGO. NATO should also stop all expansion. A defensive military alliance that is constantly mutating in shape cannot have a coherent grand strategy, and risks falling into the trap of being drawn to conflict by the militaristic instincts of the newer member states. 

Finally, European burden-sharing has been a core American aim through the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Obama, and Trump. But that cannot be achieved without a concrete plan and timeline, as both the NATO bureaucracy and free-riding European states are adept at evading this responsibility. The U.S. Congress should therefore plan a fixed timeline of burden shifting within NATO to undertake a more detached approach. Likewise, it is in the urgent interest of the Europeans to not only scale up their munitions production but also maintain uniformity and parity with American arms. 

We are both veterans and understand the need for a peerless military and martial readiness. We also understand our history and core strategic interests. American history, as well as wisdom from our founding fathers, explicitly warns against permanent entanglements that might lead to forever wars. The current and emerging geopolitical scenarios make it imperative to focus on multiple challenges, most importantly, our trillions of dollars in debt, a fragmented culture dependent on an all-volunteer force, the rise of a potential peer rival in the East, and a broken immigration system to our south. Prioritization of strategic theaters is therefore key to a prudent grand strategy and inevitably leads to trade-offs. America’s grand strategy must recognize that China is our main grand-strategic challenge, and an urgent prioritization of resources and areas of active engagement is in order. 

We, as representatives, are willing to work with anyone in future Republican administrations to formulate a legislative agenda and advance a more prudent foreign policy in line with the views, values, and interests of our fellow Americans.