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American power: for what? ideas, unipolarity and America’s search for purpose between the 'wars', 1991-2001

Kitchen, Nicholas (2009) American power: for what? ideas, unipolarity and America’s search for purpose between the 'wars', 1991-2001. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis studies the debates surrounding the grand strategy of United States in the decade after the Cold War. 'Bookended' by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, it assesses the strategic ideas that were advanced to conceptualise American foreign policy, grouping these thematically under the headings of primacy, neoisolationism and liberal multilateralism. To this end the thesis introduces a neoclassical realist model of grand strategy formation, in which ideas are considered in conjunction with considerations of power in the international system. The thesis makes the case that the ideas of each strategic school-of-thought reflect both a distinctive theoretical understanding of international relations and a particular tradition in United States foreign policy. Furthermore, it makes the more general structural claim that under conditions of limited threat such as the apparent unipolarity of the post-Cold War years, great power strategies are less determined by the imperatives of international structure and more by the ideas at the domestic level influencing the foreign policy executive. As a result, grand strategy formation becomes highly ideologically contested, and the geopolitical science of strategic assessment and response becomes unpredictable. The thesis argues that after the Cold War the strategic debate is best understood in conjunction with the contemporaneous idea that the United States held a functionally imperial position in the international system. In the absence of agreed threats, competition between strategic ideas resulted in the United States pursuing a foreign policy that selectively incorporated elements of each strategic alternative. Although this 'uni-multilateralism' had as its aim the management of the international system, its diverse sources of ideas and support meant that in security matters in particular American foreign policy was inconsistent and unpredictable. It was therefore not until the events of 9-11 provided a unified threat around which to coordinate strategy that America adopted a more coherent imperial grand strategy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2009 Nicholas Kitchen
Library of Congress subject classification: E History America > E151 United States (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Cox, Michael

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