How distance constrains US grand strategy in an era of military-technological innovation

The United States has ample security due to its distance from other great powers and its command of the maritime commons. The United States can consequently act where and when it wants, as Britain traditionally did in Europe. However, the political stakes between the United States and its allies and adversaries are always inherently asymmetrical. To compensate the United States tends to overcommit itself overseas and oversell its policies at home. Yet rapidly improving long-distance precision-strike capabilities are extending the definition of what constitutes a hostile coastline, particularly in the Western Pacific. American grand strategy has not yet adapted to these fundamental realities and increasingly faces a stark choice between escalation and large-scale retrenchment in its competition with China.

Paul van Hooft is a Senior Strategic Analyst at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) and the Co-Chair of The HCSS Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations. He was a postdoctoral fellow from 2018 to 2020 at the Security Studies Program (SSP) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including as a 2018-2019 Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow. His work focuses on: the origins and logic of American grand strategy towards Europe and the Indo-Pacific; European grand strategy and security; nuclear strategy;  alliances; and extended deterrence. Paul attained his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Amsterdam (UVA) and was a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute (EUI) from 2016 to 2018. Paul received the 2016 prize from the Dutch and Flemish political science associations for his dissertation on the impact of experiences with war on postwar grand strategy.