The Center for Naval Analyses recently published Grand Strategy: Contemporary Contending Analyst Views and Implications for the U.S. Navy, a survey of potential U.S. strategies being debated in the academic and defense communities. The study identifies four competing lines of strategic thought: maintaining American hegemony, selective engagement, offshore balancing, and integrating collective international efforts. Two additional options—isolationism and world government—are noted and disregarded as not viable. Under this list of strategic options a sharp division is apparent, dictated by the question, “Is great-power war obsolete?”
This fundamental question must be answered before any logical strategic decisions can be made. If great-power war is possible, then the de facto existential threat to U.S. interests, latent in the international system, must be addressed before all others. There are enormous implications for weapon procurement, operational doctrine, and force levels driven by this single issue.