December 2009: A Tobin Project conference on "America & the World: Power Through Its Prudent Use"

In December of 2009, the Tobin Project hosted its second National Security conference on "America & the World: Power Through Its Prudent Use," exploring the controversial and timely issue of how to balance military force with the use of non-military tools to advance U.S. interests abroad. Participants included political scientists, diplomatic historians, and legal academics, as well as think tank researchers and policymakers from the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. 

The U.S. is in the process of re-emphasizing diplomacy, negotiation, and the “prudent use” of military tools in its national security strategy. Making this shift requires fresh ideas that move beyond existing orthodoxies. By directing their energy towards this need, scholars will be able to test the boundaries of “non-kinetic” power and provide policymakers with a better understanding of the options available.

The conference centered on the appropriate role of “non-kinetic” power, such as diplomacy and economic sanctions, in U.S. foreign policy. Scholars will continue to harness their energy to test the boundaries of these concepts and provide policymakers with a better understanding of the options available.

The eleven conference papers drew on Tobin scholars’ expertise to explore the U.S.’s historical experience with diplomacy and multilateralism, as well as the relevance and implications of a reduced reliance on force to contemporary security challenges.

In 2010, the conference papers were compiled into a published volume: The Prudent Use of Power in American National Security Strategy (The Tobin Project).

Key Themes

Diplomacy and Negotiation in a Historical Perspective

What can history reveal about the conditions under which diplomacy and negotiation are successful in achieving a state’s security objectives, particularly when dealing with enemies? How and when has the widespread notion that negotiating with adversaries is a sign of weakness been used to discredit diplomatic engagement in US domestic politics? When has economic diplomacy worked? How has the US engaged best with its allies to further its own diplomatic and security objectives?

Diplomatic Options for Contemporary Challenges

How can the US best use its non-kinetic power to address the opportunities and threats presented by state and non-state actors? Notable cases include strategies for engaging with Pakistan and India, Iran, China, North Korea, as well as non-state actors such as the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda. Can lessons from one case be applied to another? What is unique about negotiating with non-state actors?

Evaluating the “Prudent Use of Force”

What does the “prudent use” of force entail and is such a strategy appropriate for the challenges, threats, and oppor tunities that the US currently faces? For example, would a drawdown of US forces abroad affect the probability of terrorist attacks on American soil? Is US hegemony necessary to maintain the provision of international public goods and are there institutions or regimes that could take on this role?

Credibility and Perceptions of the United States

Would the US be able to maintain sufficient influence to advance its foreign policy objectives while pursuing a more “prudent” approach to the use of force? How can states liquidate their political and military commitments abroad while maintaining their credibility and influence? How do the Persian Gulf states evaluate the costs and benefits of the American presence in the region? How does past foreign policy behavior, such as the decision to employ force against a state, affect the perceptions of other states?

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