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  • Author: Paul MacDonald, Joseph M. Parent
  • Publication Date: 05-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: How do great powers respond to acute decline? The erosion of the relative power of the United States has scholars and policymakers reexamining this question. The central issue is whether prompt retrenchment is desirable or probable. Some pessimists counsel that retrenchment is a dangerous policy, because it shows weakness and invites attack. Robert Kagan, for example, warns, “A reduction in defense spending . . . would unnerve American allies and undercut efforts to gain greater cooperation. There is already a sense around the world, fed by irresponsible pundits here at home, that the United States is in terminal decline. Many fear that the economic crisis will cause the United States to pull back from overseas commitments. The announcement of a defense cutback would be taken by the world as evidence that the American retreat has begun.” Robert Kaplan likewise argues, “Husbanding our power in an effort to slow America's decline in a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan world would mean avoiding debilitating land entanglements and focusing instead on being more of an offshore balancer.... While this may be in America's interest, the very signaling of such an aloof intention may encourage regional bullies.... [L]essening our engagement with the world would have devastating consequences for humanity. The disruptions we witness today are but a taste of what is to come should our country flinch from its international responsibilties.” The consequences of these views are clear: retrenchment should be avoided and forward defenses maintained into the indefinite future.
  • Topic: Disaster Relief
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, China