Fletcher in the News

Q&A with Prof. William Martel on American Grand Strategy

The Diplomat

William C. Martel is Associate Professor of International Security Studies at The Fletcher School, Tufts University.

The Diplomat’s editor Harry Kazianis sat down with Dr. William Martel, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in a preview of an upcoming three-part series on American grand strategy.

When it comes to American grand strategy, many would argue America has had no overarching grand strategy since the Cold War. What would you attribute this to? Would you consider America's "War on Terror" a grand strategy?

Sadly, I would agree. Since the end of the Cold War, America has struggled to define a grand strategy to govern its foreign policy. From the great clarity of containment to the muddle of today, the contrast could not be starker. The problem is that without a grand strategy, the United States is unclear about what its interests and priorities are. And worse, policymakers have no clear sense of what, precisely, they should do on a daily basis in foreign policy.

The source of the failure to define a grand strategy falls on the shoulders of policymakers and scholars, who were so enamored of containment that they failed to move beyond it and to conceptualize a world in which policies are defined by a far more diverse set of challenges than one central adversary.

America’s war of terror or extremism was less a grand strategy than a temporary response to an attack on our homeland. Unfortunately, the political unanimity behind the post-9/11 policies has eroded steadily in recent years.

Since a grand strategy provides guidance to policymakers and the American people as to what our foreign policy seeks to achieve, the failure for twenty years to define a grand strategy since the end of the Cold War and containment constitutes a serious weakness in American foreign policy. Moving forward, we must articulate our vision for America’s role in the world, discuss how we plan to achieve that vision, and define the core principles that will guide our actions. Anything less is abdicating America’s responsibilities.

Follow us on Twitter