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The US and transatlantic relations

On 9 October, IFS hosted a seminar where US foreign policy and transatlantic relations were discussed through Kenneth Waltz’ three ‘images of analysis’.

In 1959, the American scholar Kenneth Waltz published his book Man, the State, and War. Today, nearly sixty years later, the book still provides a useful analytical framework for understanding security policy from an international relations perspective.

The seminar was organised by the Centre for Transatlantic Studies and chaired by Johannes Rø, associate professor at IFS.

How to use Waltz to explain international conflicts

Professor Barry PosenBarry Posen, professor of political science and Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, opened the seminar by presenting Waltz' three 'images of analysis' and delineated how they can be used to explain international conflicts. He emphasised that while both the first and the second 'image', portraying the individual level and the state level, has some explanatory power, we should focus on the third image and the systemic level in order to understand contemporary security policy.

Posen shared his perspectives on US foreign policy from the systemic level of analysis. In his view, the US should pursue a more restrained role in international affairs. Posen maintained that their endeavour to promote a liberal world order has failed, and that the biggest threat to the liberal world order is the way in which the US has sought to implement it. From his perspective, both the US and the international system as a whole would benefit from a more restrained US foreign policy. 

Discussion of Waltz' three levels of analysis

Associate Professor Stephen BrooksStephen Brooks, associate professor of government at Dartmouth College, shared his perspectives on how US foreign policy and the transatlantic relations should be understood through the "third image", the system level. Brooks argued that two fundamental questions should be answered to decide on an expedient position for the US in foreign affairs. First, has the US declined so much that it is forced to pull back? Second, to which extent should the US engage globally? Brooks emphasised that the US decline is exaggerated and that the global security environment argues in favour of the US to stay engaged.

Senior Fellow Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer,
senior fellow at Centre for Transatlantic Studies (IFS), provided some new perspectives on US foreign policy on the state level. He focused on the idea of American exceptionalism, and argued that we must take into account the structural shifts that have occurred since Waltz wrote his book in the late 1950s. Although the public support to interventions remains high, the federal debt is increasing and the idea of "America first" has gained a foothold which is prevalent in US foreign policy.



Associate Professor Anders RomarheimAnders Romarheim, associate professor at Centre for Transatlantic Studies (IFS), shared his analysis of President Donald Trump and how his persona translates into US foreign policy. Romarheim argued that Trump best can be characterised as a "dominant bilateralist" who seeks power through series of bilateral negotiations. He emphasised that Trump has a zero-sum worldview on threats and rewards, which subsequently leads to a foreign policy recognised by protectionism, exceptionalism, and nationalism. According to Romarheim, these ideas are increasingly observable in US' foreign policy. This contrasts the commonly held assumption that Waltz' first image, the personal and psychological level, has minor impact on US foreign policy. 

Panel discussion on how the current instability affects the transatlantic relations

The panel discussion focused on how the current unstable security landscape affects US foreign policy and the transatlantic relations. 

Barry Posen opened the discussion by arguing in favour of a more isolationist US foreign policy. From Posen's perspective, this approach would benefit both the US and its Allies. He argued that the alleged disadvantages of a more restrained US foreign policy are overstated, and emphasised that the US under any circumstances remains powerful, with a stable economy, an advantageous geography, and the most advanced military technology. In his view, US' Allies would also benefit from increased incentives to develop their own military capabilities, and subsequent less dependency on the US.

Stephen Brooks supported the idea that a more restrained US foreign policy would increase the incentives for of US' Allies to develop their own military capabilities. He did however express concerns towards the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which he expects would result in increased instability. Brooks further emphasised that we should differentiate between deep engagement, which describes America's grand strategy since WWII, and deep engagement plus, which describes engagement in global affairs beyond the scoop of US' core interests.

Anders Romarheim followed up on this reflection by deliberating on whether US presence in the conflict in Syria, a large-scale international conflict that emerged into the European sphere, should be considered deep engagement or deep engagement plus. He argued that President Putin's stake in the conflict gave it a different importance than what had been the case in i.e., Libya.

Barry Posen ended the discussion on the note that there are no cheap interventions in the Middle East. Engagement in this region requires responsibility, and that is costly. If the US engages in this region, they contribute to instability, because the leaders will count on their help every time they need it.

Summary by Siri Strand


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Publisert 9. oktober 2017 00:00.. Sist oppdatert 30. oktober 2017 13:11.