#Reviewing American Power & Liberal Order

American Power & Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy. Paul D. Miller. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2016.


When it comes to foreign policy works, too many authors seem to either try to re-invent the wheel or propose an idea so bold it will supposedly render the wheel obsolete. As these works go, Paul D. Miller’s American Power & Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy is exceptional with its surprising humility. Miller builds a convincing case based on two centuries of American foreign policy principles, fusing the best paradigms of realism and liberalism to examine rising regional powers―notably China, Russia, and Iran―through an approach he calls conservative internationalism. It may come across as nothing new, which it is not, but it clarifies and reaffirms America’s global role and objectives for years to come.

Miller not only combines realism and liberalism to create a cohesive and relevant approach to grand strategy, he also organized his book in a manner that merges intellectualism and practical application, while foregoing the intellectual jargon typically found in international relations works. Moreover, he also manages to sidestep the determinism―neither apocalyptic nor utopian―of his peers. The final product is one that provides an optimistic outlook, as long as American leadership maintains its core principles and objectives.

Almost immediately one realizes Miller is not writing for an audience of international relations experts, but to the general public. American Power & Liberal Order begins by providing a short introduction in international relations theory and doctrine. Policymakers and politicians, Miller argues, have often failed to implement them in their entirety, and have over the years abandoned them when politically expedient. All too often, more time has been dedicated to branding and marketing a strategy to the public than to its articulation.[1] In Miller’s view, a good strategy cannot fit on a bumper sticker.

Miller defines grand strategy as more than just raw military power and security concerns, but in holistic terms that also encapsulate economics, diplomacy, international institutions, and democratic peace. In Miller’s view, a good grand strategy is a framework based on liberal principles and backed by hard power. The intellectual foundation for his proposed strategy is based on three paradigms: Just War Tradition, Christian Realism, and conservative internationalism.[2] He argues the United States must actively confront its threats, but with prudence and a realistic understanding of how the world works.

To be clear, conservative internationalism is not a partisan approach to foreign policy. It is the core paradigm of Miller’s grand strategy that calls for moderation in the use of hard power and liberal internationalism, blending their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses.[3] Conservative internationalism means the United States must incrementally spread democracy, while focusing on material, not ideological threats. This means the United States must intervene only when materially threatened and should seek opportunities to spread democracy only at the periphery of existing free societies.[4] It is these guidelines that will determine the United States’ posture in the world.

...military power would remain important, but diplomacy, economic development, and international institutions would take a leading role in addressing threats.

Miller provides the details of how the United States should implement his approach. This is the how-to section of the book that tackles current and emerging threats in the global environment. Over the course of more than two-hundred pages of text, he addresses a range of challenges, from non-state actors and cyberattacks, to more traditional, geopolitical threats such as China, Russia, and Iran. Under Miller’s conservative internationalism, military power would remain important, but diplomacy, economic development, and international institutions would take a leading role in addressing threats.

According to Miller, these non-military tools are neglected and have taken a backseat to the military. Miller cites the fact that since the 1950s, United States’ economic aid funding has dropped dramatically from 2.5 percent of the GDP to less than 1 percent. Politically, Miller suggests a ten-fold increase in development spending could be feasible since, on average, the American public already believes 25 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid.[5] Another recommendation is a renewed commitment to institution-building tools such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be underfunded and carries little institutional memory of success and failure.[6] These are just a small sampling of the cogent recommendations contained within American Power. Unfortunately, these tools have not only been neglected, they have since the book’s publishing been targeted for further reductions by the current administration.

American Power is clear in building a case for conservative internationalism in American foreign policy. There are, nevertheless, two predominant disagreements I have with his analysis: the mis-characterization of Iran and the exclusion of Constructivism from the primer on international relations. Regarding the theocratic regime in Iran, Miller characterizes it as a Shi’ite version of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This assessment is, in my estimation, far off target. Unlike ISIL, Iran acknowledges and preserves its pre-Islamic history. Iranian women can access education and can even divorce and drive. Iran’s interventionism and support for friendly regimes were not unlike those of apartheid South Africa, where ideology often took a backseat to realpolitik.[7] Furthermore, Iran has, despite its rhetoric, acted as a calculating, rational actor whose decisions reflect its national interests. This kind of behavior has simply not been observed in ISIL. It is important to differentiate the two because Iran has proven willing to engage in negotiations, whereas ISIL has been primarily motivated by a self-destructive desire to initiate a civilizational struggle.

  Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Sarah Fretwell/UN Photo)

Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Sarah Fretwell/UN Photo)

In regards to Constructivism, or the theory of how identity influences the interests and perceptions of international actors, identity is not static and is always in constant transformation.[8,9] One can observe this transformation in post-World War II Germany, Italy, and Japan, states whose contemporary identities as liberal democracies have helped to dramatically reduce their interest to go to war with their neighbors. Another example is South Africa’s decision to abandon Apartheid, which meant keeping its small stockpile of nuclear weapons was no longer in its national interest. Ignoring Constructivism had only made things worse between Iran and United States during George W. Bush administration.[10] Thus, there is no reason why it should be overlooked in this otherwise excellent framework.

Overall, American Power is a policy framework that is easy to read and yet full of substance. It bridges the gap between intellectual and practical policy. And while there is nothing necessarily revolutionary about the framework, it hammers home the United States’ role in the world as a promoter of democracy and the liberal order. I am in agreement with Miller that democracy promotion and the liberal order will always be in the United States’ interests. Lamentably, these principles are beginning to be doubted as the United States and world enter a new era of populist isolationism, which makes American Power & Liberal Order an even more timely and relevant work.


Carlo Valle is a veteran of the Marine Corps and U.S. Army and now a graduate student at the Catholic University of Paris and a research assistant at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).


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Notes:

[1] Miller, Paul. American Power and Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy, ix.

[2] Ibid., 26-27

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 248.

[6] Ibid., 253.

[7] Miller, Jamie. An African Volk. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

[8] Snyder, Jack. “One World, Rival Theories,” Foreign Policy. October 26, 2009.

[9] Lindemann, Thomas. “Peace Through Recognition: An Interactionist Interpretation of International Crises,” International Political Sociology, Vol 5, No. 1, 2011.

[10] Perkovich, George, and Silvia Manzanero. "Using Sanctions to End Iran's Nuclear Program." Arms Control Today (Arms Control Association), May 2004: 20-25.