The foremost struggle of grand strategy is the balancing act between focus and flexibility. A doctrine without consistency is useless, as it has no prescriptive value. (The president would not be amused if his national security advisors told him to just wing it and hope for the best!) However, an overly narrow-minded approach to national security may lead to a warped view of events as policy makers attempt to force every given situation into the same overly narrow framework. Ultimately, grand strategy at its best is a set of guidelines which give policymakers a consistent set of metrics and goals while leaving some room for tactical flexibility. In terms of defense policy, this leads to the question of whether a capabilities or threats based approach to military preparedness is preferable.
|US Soldiers in Vietnam|
Although any US defense policy will take elements from both approaches, overall a threats-based approach is preferable. The United States is blessed with weak neighbors and a strong economy, and therefore will have time to respond to any developing threats. While a surprise attack is possible, the likelihood of an invasion of the US mainland is virtually nil, allowing the United States time to prepare a devastating counterstrike. This is not to say that the United States should not retain its rapid response and global strike capabilities, as the ability to tip the scales on a regional conflict is necessary for the United States to play its traditional role as an off-shore balancer. However, an eternal massive commitment to police the entire world is unsustainable and ultimately counterproductive to the defense of key US interests.