In three steps, Wohlforth assesses the costs and benefits of the three US grand strategic options that capture most of the stakes in the debate among scholars of international security—"deep engagement," "offshore balancing," and "restraint". First, he unpacks the core arguments of each of these options and clarify where they part ways on US overseas commitments, showing why offshore balancing and restraint are distinct strategies. Second, he demonstrates that each strategy's estimates of the costs it will incur and the benefits it will produce depend on its middle-range theoretical underpinnings. These include how each strategy views the threat of great power war, the importance and vulnerability of US links to the global economy, the causes and risks of nuclear proliferation and the indirect economic benefits that the United States gains from its position of global military and political leadership. He demonstrates that while the policy prescriptions of deep engagement and restraint flow logically from these theoretical foundations, it is more difficult to discern a coherent set of theories and beliefs that would lead to the particular set of policies endorsed by proponents of offshore balancing. Third, he compares the costs and benefits of these strategies. He estimates how much savings in blood and treasure each strategy would yield when compared to the costs of America's current foreign policy and to each other; the economic benefits, if any, the United States reaps from maintaining its global military leadership position; and the costs to the United States of major military conflicts in strategically important regions, including how different strategies affect the probability of such conflict and the likelihood of direct US involvement. He concludes that offshore balancing, whose growing popularity owes something to its "Goldilocks" position between the two more extreme options, is highly unlikely to offer a more attractive ratio of costs and benefits than the other two.
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