Continuing from earlier this week.  Military rivalry combined with economic cooperation is hard – but not impossible – to reconcile with “grand strategy.”

Of course, in neither case were those who advocated for economic ties with the Soviet Union or China, or their intellectual opponents, devoid of rational arguments. Indeed, the similarities between the two cases are striking, with many in the United States calling for a civilizing mission toward the communist rival. Yet I show in this chapter that this makes little sense as motivation for American policy. In the case of the Soviet Union, the view that trade with that nation was good was not shared by those at the top of the government; they simply failed to prevent it from happening. When faced with the rise of China, American leaders did emphasize that worldview, and business was actively encouraged to engage in trade.

But if you look more deeply, the attempted reconciliations just reveal total incoherence:

Yet this theory of the world, that engagement with potential rivals is better than isolation, has not been applied to other countries. If trade and economic openness would make China into a capitalist democracy, why could US engagement not do the same in the post- Cold War era for North Korea, Iraq, and Iran?

Incoherence, again:

The public choice perspective presents one possible solution. In this framework, there is no need for different components of American foreign policy to be tuned toward achieving the same goals. Domestic interest groups have a stake in trade liberalization, particularly businesses seeking out financial profit. They do not have to compete for influence with the groups that have a more direct role in the outcome of issues such as those surrounding American military posture. The national security bureaucracy and government contractors want money funneled to them. In theory, a foreign rival of the rising power might seek to lobby the American government to prevent the United States from trading with it, but the rising power itself will be just as able to lobby, and its stake in the outcome of the policy decision should be greater than those of its rivals, who would at most be trying to head off a potential threat.

Once that country rises, however, one of two things happens. First, geopolitical events may force a temporary grand strategy on the United States, and it either allies with the rising power or treats it as a rival. If this does not happen and things proceed as normal, then concentrated interests have an incentive to engage in threat inflation. They should recommend and advocate dealing with the threat they have emphasized in ways that benefit themselves: doubling down on military alliances and larger military budgets rather than trying to, for example, undo the economic gains that the rival has made. Thus, a schizophrenic policy develops in which the United States allows rivals to rise economically while seeking to prevent an increase of diplomatic power and military capabilities proportional to their new economic status. While such policies are incoherent from the perspective of a grand strategy pursued by a unitary actor, they make sense from the public choice perspective. As will be seen, the cases of the Soviet Union and China both support the public choice rather than grand strategy framework.


[T]he idea that trade leads to liberalization was applied by American leaders in a way that was extremely selective. With the end of the Cold War, the United States faced a series of challenges from “rogue regimes” who stood opposed to American interests by oppressing their people, threatening their neighbors, and developing weapons of mass destruction. In each major case – for example, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea – few top officials ever had the conception that the best way to change behavior was to delink these issues from that of economic engagement, and hope that greater wealth would automatically cause target countries to become democratic, peaceful states. In fact, the logic of sanctions makes the exact opposite assumption. When the rival country in question is not China, sanctions are said to make it more likely that the problematic regime will be replaced by leaders more amenable to American interests and values ( Solingen 2012 ; Niblock 2002 ). Whatever the plausibility of the theory of how China’s greater wealth would influence its internal politics, the fact that the idea was applied so selectively casts doubt on the importance of ideology as a causal factor. American leaders have simultaneously been able to believe both that sanctions and economically harming a regime would lead to democratization, and the same for economic growth, depending on the nation in question. This shows how ideological justifications can be post hoc rationalizations for what leaders want to do anyway. (emphasis original)