Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy

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Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy

By Stephen M. Walt
Norton, 2005
320 pp. $27.95
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Americans tend to see U.S. preeminence as benign or positive -- but around the world, it arouses worry, fear, and resentment. In this landmark book on U.S. power and grand strategy in the age of unipolarity, Walt provides the most lucid and sophisticated account yet of why these negative reactions arise. Drawing on insights from realist theory, he argues that global concern over American dominance is rooted in the insecurities and uncertainties that inevitably exist in a world of anarchy and unequal power. Put simply, other states "worry because the United States is strong enough to act pretty much as it wishes, and other states cannot be sure that Washington will not use its immense power to threaten their own interests." Much of the book explores the strategies that states are using to oppose or counteract U.S. primacy. Although Walt does not find much evidence of full-scale balancing, he does see states using an array of less direct measures to counter U.S. power, such as building realms of regional autonomy and attempting to ensnare the hegemon in international rules and norms. To navigate these troubled waters, he recommends a radical shift by Washington away from a hegemonic grand strategy to one of "off-shore balancing" -- that is, resisting imperial or liberal internationalist activism, particularly in the Middle East, in favor of selective engagement and leading by example. It remains a question, however, whether in a world transformed by globalization and menaced by violent groups, the United States can really pull back from its geopolitical commitments and security leadership.