International Politics

, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 260–275 | Cite as

The US foreign policy establishment and grand strategy: how American elites obstruct strategic adjustment

  • Christopher Layne
Original Article


In this article, I demonstrate that there are compelling reasons why the USA should reconsider its current grand strategy—variously described as primacy or deep engagement—and, instead, adopt a less activist strategy such as offshore balancing, or restraint. The most salient reason for the USA to make a change of direction is that its current strategy has set the USA on a collision course with China. Nevertheless, the American foreign policy establishment is resistant to strategic adjustment. In this article, I offer a two-pronged explanation for this resistance. First, the American foreign policy establishment imposes a broadly uniform world view on those who comprise it. In this sense, the foreign policy establishment’s very existence is a barrier to strategic adjustment. Second, the foreign policy establishment’s preferences invariably prevail because it exercises discourse dominance, which allows it to frame issues, and to set the bounds of discussion by signaling to a wider audience what policy positions are legitimate, and, perhaps even more important, which are not. In this article, I begin by discussing how the American foreign policy establishment’s members are recruited, and focus on its links to America’s corporate and financial elite. Then, I lay out the key elements of the foreign policy establishment’s world views. I show how the foreign policy establishment uses discourse dominance to ensure that US grand strategy reflects its core beliefs about America’s international political role. Finally, I demonstrate that with respect to China, the foreign policy establishment’s world view, and the discursive practices it employs, make it unlikely that the USA will be able peacefully to accommodate China’s rise.


American foreign policy establishment Elites The power elite Sino-American relations American grand strategy Foreign policy discourses 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Bush School of GovernmentCollege StationUSA

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