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Christopher Layne, William Wohlforth, and Stephen G. Brooks

This chapter presents two opposing views on the question of whether US power is in decline, and if so, what would be the best grand strategy that the United States need to pursue. According to Christopher Layne, the United States is now in inexorable decline and that this process of decline has been hastened by the pursuit of global primacy in the post-Cold War era. He also contends that primacy engenders balancing by other great powers as well as eroding America’s ‘soft power’ global consensual leadership. On the other hand, William Wohlforth and Steven Brooks insist that the United States remains the sole superpower in the world and that it faces comparatively weak systemic constraints on the global exercise of its power. The chapter considers issues of unipolarity and multipolarity, along with the implications of China’s rise as a great power status for US foreign policy and hegemony.

Chapter

Christopher Layne, William Wohlforth, and Stephen G. Brooks

This chapter focuses on the debate over whether U.S. power is in decline and if so, what is the best grand strategy that the United States needs to pursue. Three leading experts offer their views on the issue and its significance for U.S. foreign policy: Christopher Layne, William Wohlforth, and Steven Brooks. Layne argues that the United States is now in inexorable decline and attributes it to the end of unipolarity. He identifies two specific drivers of American decline, one external and one domestic. The external driver of U.S. decline is the emergence of new great powers in world politics, while domestic drivers include debt, deficits, and the dollar’s uncertain future. In contrast, Wohlforth and Brooks assert that the United States remains the sole superpower, and that multipolarity is not just around the corner.

Chapter

This chapter examines how the external environment of US foreign policy and internal pressures on policy makers both shifted radically in the 1990s. Internationally, the ‘long 1990s’ were characterized by intense democratic possibility. Yet they were also years of atavistic negativity and irrationality, as seen in Rwanda and Bosnia. Two questions arise: First, how should the United States respond to a world which was apparently both rapidly integrating and rapidly disintegrating? Second, was it inevitable, desirable, or even possible that the US should provide global leadership? Before discussing various approaches to these questions, the chapter considers the wider international environment of apparent unipolarity and globalization. It also analyzes the development of American foreign policy under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, focusing in particular on the so-called ‘Kennan sweepstakes’ during the first year of Clinton’s presidency as well as Clinton’s turn towards unilateralism and remilitarization.