This course will provide an introduction to the concept of grand strategy and an overview of how U.S. grand strategy has evolved since the founding of the republic. Particular attention will be paid to the role of ideology in determining how successive generations of American leaders have defined objectives, perceived threats, and formulated plans to reshape the world.

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Aaron Friedberg on competing with China


Aaron Friedberg

Aaron L. Friedberg is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and co-director of the Woodrow Wilson School’s Center for International Security Studies. Dr. Friedberg served as Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs in the office of the Vice President.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions:

What Good Is Grand Strategy?

  1. What is grand strategy? How is it different from foreign or military policy?
  2. Why is grand strategy important to effective statecraft? What five difficulties does it address?
  3. What are the obstacles to devising a coherent grand strategy? Are democratic politics a help or a hindrance to grand strategy?

Chapter 3, Dangerous Nation

  1. How has American foreign policy been shaped by liberalism, according to Kagan?
  2. Why was liberalism such a potent engine for American expansion? How did Americans justify their conquest of Indian and Spanish lands?
  3. How did American commercial interests shape its early foreign policy?
  4. In what way was the Early Republic a “globalizing” power, according to Kagan?
  5. What principles guided American grand strategy in the era of the Early Republic?

Chapter 4, Dangerous Nation

  1. What was the “battle over foreign policy in the 1790s”? What were the two competing visions of US grand strategy, and how did they each approach the US relationship with Great Britain and France?
  2. What was Washington’s purpose with his Farewell Address? What vision of grand strategy does it offer?

Federalist No. 8

  1. Does Federalist No. 8 offer a vision of American grand strategy? If so, what is that vision?
  2. What is the relationship of liberty and national security?



Discussion Questions:

Reluctant Crusaders

  1. What were the alternatives for US grand strategy after World War I?
  2. Why did the US choose disengagement? What were the international and domestic factors that shaped America’s strategic choice?
  3. Why did Wilson fail to realize his vision of a League of Nations?
  4. From a realist perspective, what would have been the optimal strategy for the US to take?


  1. How did Theodore Roosevelt understand America’s role in the world? How did Woodrow Wilson?

“Fourteen Points”

  1. Why did the US enter the war, according to Wilson? What were its war aims?
  2. What was Wilson’s vision of American grand strategy? How did it differ from the grand strategy of the Early Republic? Are there any continuities?



Discussion Questions:

Reluctant Crusaders

  1. What were the alternatives for US grand strategy after World War II?
  2. Why did the US adopt a strategy of containment? What were the “distinct characteristics” of this strategy?

After Victory

  1. How did the international order change after WWII? What was America’s strategic situation?
  2. Describe the two postwar settlements.
  3. What were the competing visions of postwar US grand strategy? How did they differ? What did they all share?

NSC 68

  1. What is the “fundamental design of the Kremlin,” and what is the “nature of the conflict” between the US and the USSR?
  2. What are America’s objectives, and what means are available to it?
  3. Describe the vision of US grand strategy articulated in NSC 68. How does it compare to earlier visions of US grand strategy?



Discussion Questions:

Reluctant Crusaders & “From Containment to Enlargement”

  1. What were the alternatives for US grand strategy after the Cold War?
  2. What was America’s strategic situation post-Cold War?
  3. How did the Clinton administration conceive of US grand strategy?

What Good Is Grand Strategy? & NSS 2002

  1. How did the 9/11 attacks reshape US grand strategy?
  2. Describe the Bush administration’s grand strategy. What were its objectives, and how did it seek to achieve those ends?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did democracies win the great struggles of the twentieth century? What role did the US play in that victory?
  2. What explains the rise of nondemocratic great powers like Russia and China? How are they different from earlier authoritarian regimes like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan?
  3. How have the ambitions of Russia and China reshaped the international order?
  4. What are the alternatives for US grand strategy in the current moment?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In

Foundations of Grand Strategy

Assess grand strategic theory and practice in Thucydides and Plutarch.

Chinese Grand Strategy

Explore the implications of China’s global rise for U.S. primacy and the liberal international order.

Russia: What’s Next?

Examine U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War, with a view toward exploring where to go from here.

Nuclear Strategy and World Order

Explore the ways nuclear weapons have transformed the world we inhabit today.

World Order & American Foreign Policy

Explore the nature of the world order and America’s role in shaping it.

The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making

Examine key strategic decisions during one of the most dynamic confrontations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the U.S. and Iraq.