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American Primacy in Crisis: Historical Origins and Current Pressures
April 4, 2019 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Stephen Wertheim, Visiting Assistant Professor, Columbia University, CSS Visiting Fellow
Loren DeJonge Schulman, Deputy Director of Studies and the Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow, CNAS
Moderated by Justin Logan, CSS
Although some scholars claim that U.S. military primacy began in the 1990s, Stephen Wertheim argues that its origins lie further back, to the early years of World War II. In 1940 and 1941, American officials and intellectuals decided that the United States should attain political-military supremacy and maintain it indefinitely. Decades later, after the Cold War ended, primacy endured, having been conceived from the start as a project to secure “world order,” not just to counter a specific enemy.
At the same time, primacy was adopted out of fear that otherwise world order might be subverted by a totalitarian alternative. Does that rationale still apply today, a quarter-century after the collapse of communism? Could China and/or Russia justify a revived grand strategy of global primacy? Or does primacy face a crisis of legitimacy today because it lacks a discernible rationale, creating an opening for a more restrained replacement?