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On Rosato and Schuesslers A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States

Carver Murphy

Dr. Glenn Palmer

25 January 2015

Murphy 1
This essay will focus on the merit and outline of Rosato and Schuesslers A Realist
Foreign Policy for the United States, provide a critique, and suggest a new strategy. While I find
that Rosato and Schuessler develop and interesting and viable realist strategy for the United
States that focuses on balancing great power influence and containing strategic minor states, I
see some points where their theory is lacking. After pointing out some of these flaws, I present
my own strategy with the goals of allowing a state to increase its power, decrease a threats
power, and defer the cost of both to other states.
Rosato and Schuesslers Theory:
Rosato and Schuessler set out in a time where a widespread sense persists that the
domestic climate is hardly conducive to large-scale military action and an Iraq syndrome
exists that will deter any interventionist actions in the near future to outline a new strategy
applicable to American foreign policy based on realism (2011, 804). Additionally they offer a
strategy based on Liberalism that also seeks to inform foreign policy debate in this era. Their
strategy provides a historically reinforced and practically applicable theory toward world
Their realist approach focuses on great power relations and minor power relations. When
facing great powers, a state should balance their opponents power. The state must focus on
building their military and economic capabilities. This is the most logical aspect of deterrence.
Balancing is quite similar to containment; Rosato and Schuessler write that the balancer must
not only build up its capabilities, but must also make it clear to the more powerful state that it
will vigorously oppose any attempt at expansion. (2011, 806).

Murphy 2
If the state, in this case, is less powerful than the great power, the state can seek to gain
power through alliances with other states. The sum of the whole alliance must be more powerful
than that of the threat. Additionally, the state must be prepared for, and unafraid to resort to, war.
The balancer must be willing to draw a line the sand and enforce its decision. While this may
not deter every aggressor, in event of war, the balancing state or alliance will be in a far better
position to engage in conflict (Rosato & Schuessler 2011). The goal is to increase relative power.
In dealing with minor powers, the theory is even closer to that of containment. Rosato
and Schuessler argue that a state should ignore a strategically unimportant minor state (2011,
807). In fact they argue that attention should only be given to a minor power if they are hostile
and in a strategically important region and in such a case, they should be contained. Importantly,
the containment comes by supporting immediate neighbors, not by physically surrounding a
hostile minor power. Rosato and Schuessler also argue that the alliance of a minor power to a
great power is of no significance; they do not add much to the opposing alliance (2011, 807).
Rosato and Schuessler contend that a great power, or state, should not war with a minor
power that opposes it even if it can clearly win. They argue that the political, economic, and
social repercussions are too high to warrant intervention when balancing and neighborhood
containment will do. This is the cheaper and more expedient option (2011, 807).
Rosato and Schuessler provide a short but clear liberal alternative. It centers on the
Kantian tripod that outlines three major goals (2011, 308). The first is a promotion of
democracy. This is largely based on the argument that democracies are less likely to fight each
other. The promotion of democracy would thereby promote peace. The second is the promotion
of international organizations and laws. By creating an overarching pressure release system,
states could theoretically be less inclined to conflict. The third is economic interdependence.

Murphy 3
Economic interdependence cause states to think twice about their decision to go to war or raise
tensions. They are more likely than to avert conflict and find an amicable solution to their
problems (2011, 807).
Finally, Rosato and Schuessler provide a historical test of their theory. First they look at
World War I, where they find that allied states failed to balance Germanys rise and threat to
European hegemony. Furthermore, the British failed to draw a line in the sand when it came to
Germany (Rosato & Schuessler 2011). In World War II, Rosato and Schuessler again found that
the powers threatened by Germany failed to balance once again. This time, they went further and
tried to pass the buck to one another; effectively throwing each other under the bus (Rosato &
Schuessler 2011). Here again, no line was drawn in the sand and Rosato and Schuessler find that
the great powers probably relied too much on liberal ideology and not enough on realist
deterrence (Rosato & Schuessler 2011).
While the failure of the League of Nations is an example of a failure of liberal ideology,
Rosato and Schuessler point out another very pointedly: the Vietnam War. According to Rosato
and Schuesslers realist strategy, the United States never should have been involved in the war.
Their theory would have counseled against becoming militarily involved in the struggle in
Indochina due to the limited material stakes (Rosato & Schuessler 2011). They argue that
Vietnam was anticommunism run amok and that the fall of Vietnam to communism would
have not resulted in a change in the balance of power (Rosato & Schuessler 2011). Furthermore,
their theory would have encouraged the support of surrounding states in containing the
communism in Vietnam.

Murphy 4
A Critique:
The historical evidence offered as support for the policies of minor power containment
and great power balancing looks nice on the surface, but the arguments of Rosato and Schuessler
leave some problems to be addressed. First of all, the policy of buildup relative power will only
increase efforts by a threat to build up their power. Additionally, the idea of passing the buck is
not inherently detrimental to a state. Their policy toward minor powers is incompatible with the
reality of modern warfare. Additionally, the failure to explore a connection between realism and
liberalism means their theory falls short of its potential.
As I point out this shortcomings, I will present alternatives with the goals of increasing
state power ideally to great power status, decreasing the power of a threatening state, and
shifting the burden or costs away from the state. Mobility and flexibility of power influence
namely military and economic in the world, stability of alliances, and hegemonic control are
crucial to obtaining these goals. I will show how this applies to three modern threats: China,
Russia, and Global Terrorism and what policies might be good in each circumstance to combat
these threats. Additionally, I will show how some aspects of liberalism can be beneficial when
applied using a realist paradigm.
In regards to balancing great powers, the first issue that becomes apparent is the
seemingly inevitability of an arms race. The historical importance of this leading up to the First
World War was paid little attention to by Rosato and Schuessler. This was also true during the
practice of containment during the Cold War; another passed over but of information. Instead of
simply focusing on increasing its power, a state should also focus on decreasing the power of the
threat. By undermining the control of other states, a state can increase its relative control and
decrease another states.

Murphy 5
In its relations with minor states, regional strategic value should not mean that minor
states get ignored. Especially in non-strategic areas, states can gain power that is otherwise
ignored by competing states for a bargain price. Minor state containment under Rosato and
Schuessler also only works if neighboring minor states are willing to contain. Additionally,
ignoring great power influence on minor states can allow them to cheaply gain power either
immediately or potentially in a region that may be strategic later on. Having a presence in every
region will prevent a states following this strategy from being contained by another state.
Furthermore, minor powers can present a real threat in modern warfare that Rosato and
Schuessler ignored entirely. That is that they can harbor non-state actors, such as terrorist
organizations. Rosato and Schuesslers selective ignorance toward minor states and non-state
actors altogether is exactly how Afghanistan came to be a safe-haven for Al-Qaeda which, in
turn, attacked the United States.
An alternative:
States should focus foremost on creating and controlling regional hegemons as a means
of shifting the burden and costs of influence onto another state. States should further their
relations with these regional powers through liberal means when possible; this is the cheapest
and least destructive option. For example, the United States should exercise influence over a
state like Saudi Arabia as a conduit for exercising influence over the Arabian Peninsula and
Persian Gulf. As applied to U.S. relations with China, this would mean alliances with
Kazakhstan (also applicable to Russia), Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the
Philippines. As applied to Russia it would mean bolstering relations with Ukraine, Turkey, and

Murphy 6
While there is a benefit to holding the moral high ground, some hypocrisy should be
allowed. States should foremost ensure stability in these regional powers and practice
opportunistic democratization; that is the United States should ally itself with Saudi Arabia an
absolute monarchy with a history of human rights abuses and encourage it to slowly
democratize and end its human rights violations. Only in cases of egregious human right
violations the likes of genocide or civilian massacre should a state consider immediate
intervention. Additionally, a state should not hesitate to defend its regional allies or existing
This intervention should come in a swift, mobile, and absolute way. Modern intervention
should vary depending on circumstance but should focus on crippling sanctions first, then
military intervention. Military intervention should be mobile, absolute, but flexible. It should be
focused on air and naval power, enabling the state that is exercising its influence to withdraw if
the cost is deemed too high or if another more pertinent threat presents itself. This flexibility
will help drive defense costs down and allow the state to intervene at an opportune time. If all
else fails, the buck can be passed to a regional power and that alliance could be altogether
abandoned with no direct injury to the state.
As it applies to realism, liberalism should be considered not as an end but a means.
Economic power can wielded for influence in regions, especially developing insignificant
regions. Furthermore foresight into what regions will be potentially important in the future, such
as Africa, means that aid, infrastructure development, and other forms of soft power can be used
to get ahead of the game on any future power struggles. They should increase trade, provide
infrastructure aid, and promote international efforts. This should be the primary mode of creating
a regional hegemon and if need be the primary mode of intervention.

Murphy 7
If we apply this to United States relations with China, the United States should increase
its ties with Central Asian states that supply China with oil. Here the U.S. could increase its
relative power and decrease Chinas. As applied to Russia, it would mean bringing Ukraine into
NATO or the European Union. It would have meant funding infrastructure projects to bolster
Afghanistans economy after the Soviet invasion in the 1980s a cheaper alternative to
invading and building the infrastructure while also supporting an occupation in the 2000s. It
means ignoring their abuses and promoting slow democratization.
While Rosato and Schluessler provide an interesting strategy to be applied to foreign
relations, it is incomplete. The ignorance of the importance of minor powers and non-state actors
leaves a state vulnerable under their theory. While they constantly use the word balancing, and
consequently so do I, their theory is little more than containment theory in new words. It offers
no way to reduce the power of a threat and no way to preemptively gain power or act proactively
toward other states. While it does do a good job of presenting a strategy under which the United
States would not have gone to war in Vietnam, its other historical anecdote do not go far enough.
Under my theory, a state can flexibly exercise power over real modern threats like China, Russia,
and non-state, terrorist actors through regional allies. Selective democratization, overwhelming
intervention, and soft power are just a few policies that will allow a state to increase its power,
decrease a threats power, and defer the cost of both to other states.

Rosato, John, & John Schuessler. 2011. A Realist Foreign policy for the United States.
Perspectives on Politics 9 (December): 803-819.