Come Home America; A response to the doctrine of Global Hegemony

In “Don’t Come Home America,” Brooks et al. argue that only maintaining America’s overseas military presence can prevent the emergence of a dangerous global security environment. Despite a compelling refutation of retrenchment’s budgetary benefits, their assessment of deep engagement suffers from overt optimism regarding the systemic costs of hegemony[1]. Specifically, American engagement actually intensifies potential conflict scenarios rather than deescalating them, as shown by the allied “free-riding,” hard counterbalancing, and nuclear proliferation cascades generated by hegemony.

Brooks et al.’s assertion – that American hegemony prevents regional aggression and power war by restraining partner nations from taking provocative actions[2] – relies on a selective misrepresentation of the cited literature. According to Friedman, the studies cited by Brooks et al. actually indicate that “offensive realist and prestige-oriented states will be… most resistant to the restraining effects of U.S. power.” Although American leadership may prove effective in restraining the relatively moderate security interests of allied states, highly motivated states can render American pressure ineffective by simply “free-riding” on the benefits of American alliance. Protected by the guarantee of American security, these states can pursue otherwise foolish (or even suicidal) geopolitical maneuvers, absorbing the benefits while deferring the costs and risks to the US[3]. This purposeful escalation of tensions can be observed in Israel’s over-the-top rhetoric and policy aggression towards bordering nations like Iran[4] along with the maritime aggressions by the Philippines and Vietnam against China to gain leverage during boundary disputes[5]. Absent American protection, it is doubtful whether allies would even consider such extreme measures.

Furthermore, Brooks et al.’s defense of engagement fails to adequately account for either Chinese or Russian counterbalancing. Their refutation of hard counterbalancing boils down into two arguments: (1) no peer rival superpowers can emerge due to the difficulty of producing military innovations and (2) American leadership slows the diffusion of military power necessary to credibly threaten the US. First, both of these statements are disproven by China’s recent military modernization and foreign policy trends. While American forces do dwarf Chinese military capabilities, America’s attempts to restrain Chinese military growth have proven ineffective. As a result, China has begun rapidly gaining ground on American military supremacy, circumventing the embargo on military sales by turning towards internal weapons development and amassing a substantial sum of conventional and nuclear armaments. Recent breakthroughs in “carrier-killing missiles” and “Guam-killer” IBCMs capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads[6] demonstrate China’s potential for credibly challenging the US in the future. In addition, China’s loose security alliance with Russia poses a significant security risk to the US[7]. Although a war waged alone against America would assuredly result in catastrophic defeat for China[8], a combined war involving a united Chinese-Russian front would end very differently[9].

Second, Brooks et al.’s portrayal of Russia ignores its recent forays into the Arctic frontier. Russia currently lacks the economic robustness to directly balance against the US[10]. But American engagement has cornered Russia into enhancing its ability to counter potential aggression. One of the more notable examples is Russia’s attempt to economically “proxy balance” against American allies by aggressively securing access to the Arctic’s vast natural gas, fossil fuel, and rare earth mineral reserves[11]. These actions are in direct conflict with (primarily NATO-member) nations that seek similar access to the Arctic frontier. This competition over Arctic resources has created massive militarization in the Arctic, with Norway, Finland, Russia, and other nations building naval and air-force bases outfitted with nuclear launch platforms to fend off against potential territorial grabs. Not only do these actions risk catastrophic war that would drag in the entirety of the NATO alliance, but they also enable Russia to access the vast economic potential of Arctic mineral and energy reserves[12], creating the economic robustness necessary to credibly balance against the US.

Finally, contrary to the assertions of Brooks et al., deep engagement does not reliably deter nuclear proliferation. American hegemony has prevented (so far) Japanese and South Korean proliferation, but Brook et al. ignores America’s failure to prevent British, French, and Israeli proliferation[13]. In fact, empirics indicate that American hegemony actually forces hostile states to obtain nuclear capabilities as a last-resort attempt for deterrence factors and military credibility.  Until the recent denuclearization, Iran pursued nuclear capabilities in response to the economic blockade imposed by the US global order, and both China and Russia have sold it advanced weaponry[14]. North Korea’s nuclear development and threats of “nuclear holocaust” are generated in response to perceived American militarism[15]. These instances of hostile proliferation hardly qualify as successful counterbalancing but do significantly fuel geopolitical tensions.

Through Brooks et al.’s own framework regarding nuclear proliferation – that nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous to global stability and always possess a non-zero risk of being used –, it is difficult to believe that American hegemony is stabilizing. Not only does it escalate conflicts metaphorically by trapping nations into a corner, but it also fails to demonstrably prevent risky actions by allies. Although the question of balancing cannot comprehensively determine the efficacy of America’s foreign policies, it does suggest that deep engagement is counterproductive for engaging security threats abroad-Shawn Lee




Works Cited:


Bleiker, Roland. 2003. “A rogue is a rogue is a rogue: US foreign policy and the Korean nuclear crisis” International Affairs 79(3): 719-722.


Braw, Elisabeth. 2015. “Putin Makes His First Move in Race to Control the Arctic,” Newsweek, January 9, 2015. Available at


Brooks, Stephen G., G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth. 2012 “Don’t Come Home, America: The Case against Retrenchment.” International Security 37(3): 7-51.


Friedman, Benjamin. 2013. “Debating American Engagement: The Future of U.S. Grand Strategy,” International Security 38(2): 184-187.


Friedman, Uri. 2014. “The Arctic: Where the U.S. and Russia Could Square Off Next,” The Atlantic, March 28th, 2014. Available at


Kang, David. 2003. ”Getting Asia Wrong: The Need for New Analytical Frameworks” International Security 27(4): 57 – 85.


Klimenko, Ekaterina. 2015. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, March 15, 2015.


Koren, Maria. 2014. “Russia’s Militarization of the North Pole Has U.S. Lawmakers on Edge,” National Journal Daily, September 11, 2014. Available online at


Lukin, Artyom. 2014. “Sino-Russian Entente Would Move the World a Step Closer to 1914,” Huffington Post, July 28, 2014. Available at


Minnick, Wendell. 2015. “China’s Parade Puts US Navy on Notice,” Defense News, September 3, 2015. Available at


Mitchell, Jon. 2014. “Russia’s Territorial Ambition and Increased Military Presence in the Arctic,” April 23, 2014, Available Online at


Posen, Barry. 2013. “Pull Back: The Case for a Less Activist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs January/February 2013.


Posen, Barry. 2014. “Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy,” Cornell University Press, pp. 44-8. Electronic copy accessed through Cornell University Library.


Primakov, Yevgeny. 2009. “The Fundamental Conflict: The Middle East Problem in the Context of International Relations,” Russia in Global Affairs 7(3): 130-133.


Wallace, Michael, Stephens Staples. 2010. “Ridding the Arctic of Nuclear Weapons: A Task Long Overdue.” Canadian Pugwash, March 2010. Available at

[1] Brooks et al. 2012, pp. 7-51.

[2] Brooks et al. 2012.

[3] Friedman 2013, pp. 184-187.

[4] Primakov 2009, pp. 130-133.

Posen 2014, pp. 44-8.

[5] Posen 2013.

[6] Minnick 2015.

[7] Posen 2014, pp. 21-31.

[8] Brooks et al. 2012.

[9] Lukin 2014.

[10] Brooks et al. 2012.

[11] Braw 2015.

[12] Mitchell 2014.

Friedman 2014.

Klimenko 2014.

Koren 2014.

Wallace and Stephens 2010.

[13] Friedman 2013.

[14] Posen 2014, pp. 31-33.

[15] Bleiker 2003.


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