CSS Research and Policy Seminar with Monica Toft and Sidita Kushi

The CSS Research and Policy Seminar on April 8 discussed America the Bully, an upcoming book co-written by Monica Toft and Sidita Kushi. The new study traces the evolution of U.S. foreign policy, both through historical narratives and data-driven analysis, to understand how the United States has relied on different tools of statecraft to achieve its political objectives across pivotal eras. In particular, the book evaluates America’s reliance on its armed forces to achieve its strategic interests, questioning the country’s blurred foreign policy objectives and its bullying tactics.

Both the aggregated data from the Military Intervention Project (MIP) and historical narratives reveal that the United States has relied on its military instruments of power in ways that have proven detrimental to U.S. interests abroad. As costs grow higher, America’s image abroad devolves further. America the Bully argues that in the aftermath of 9/11 the country has become addicted to military interventions and the use of force in the absence of a coherent grand strategy. This lack of purpose, coupled with weakening tools of diplomacy and economic statecraft, may explain why new U.S. interventions do not achieve their stated objectives.

The book examines U.S. foreign policy-making from 1776 to the present through both original data and the historical literature. It then applies the lens of kinetic diplomacy—diplomacy solely through the usage of force—to key historical eras, including the interwar period, Cold War, and unipolar moments of U.S. foreign policy. Included in this analysis are also data and historical narratives on the Frontier Wars from the 1700s until 1890.

According to Karim Elkady, who served as the discussant at the seminar, the phenomenon of kinetic diplomacy is an important concept to expand upon, but there remains much empirical qualitative work to be done to establish its usefulness. For example, the authors could present a case in which high-level government representatives decided to send in troops without first deliberating on, or attempting, diplomatic, economic, and other non-forceful options. Elkady suggested that the decision to go after Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is perhaps a solid candidate for study. Furthermore, he wondered whether the evidence from MIP regarding the frequency of interventions and the increased funding to the Department of Defense is enough to make the case for kinetic diplomacy.

Seminar participants also debated the relationship between kinetic diplomacy and diplomatic achievements, how the novel concepts differ from others already existing in the international relations literature, and alternative explanations for why the United States over-relies on its military power. Overall, the discussion was engaging, thought-provoking, and addressed both questions on content and theory and structural issues.

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