Torbjørn L Knutsen
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
American presidents constantly assess the international situation. They identify trend lines and pressure points, and they ponder how to employ national resources to tackle international threats. The outcomes are grand strategies. This book is a learned presentation of 75 years' worth of such American efforts to identify, grasp, and adapt to key impulses of a changing world – from Truman's containment in Berlin and Korea, via Kennedy's responses to Soviet missiles in Cuba and Reagan's 'rollback' in Afghanistan, to the reassessments that followed the Soviet collapse, the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and the rapid rise of China. The book is not a history of America's grand strategies (although it can certainly be read as such). Rather, it is an International Relations (IR) analysis of strategic change. The authors' analytical focus is trained on the reasons behind the change and on the dynamic of change itself. They are deeply indebted to Kenneth Waltz – both to his neo-realism (which shows them how external pressures and impulses may challenge old strategies) and to his levels-of-analysis approach (which allows them to identify domestic communities of ideas as well as perceptions and arguments of individual decision-makers). The result is an elegant theory of strategic change. Although derived from American events, solid moorings in IR theory make it general – applicable to Fascist, Muslim, and Confucian great powers alike. The text is richly equipped with references to IR literature and to central disciplinary debates. The style is parsimonious. A little too clipped and sharply focused, perhaps? The next edition may want to explain how mere 'strategy' is different from (the surprisingly recent) 'grand strategy'.