Striking a Balance in Foreign Policy

Review: Juliana Geran Pilon, 'The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World'

March 5, 2017

For all its salutary outcomes, the end of the Cold War in 1991 also resulted in the end of the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy: opposition to communism. U.S. policymakers never produced a new, broadly accepted, and soundly constructed alternative to advance the country's global interests. Instead, in the new age of terrorism, the United States began to rely on military operations, even as the world was changing at a feverish pace.

In her erudite and well-reasoned book, The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World, Juliana Geran Pilon makes the case for "rebalancing" U.S strategy. In introducing this ambitious topic, she poses the question "why is the art of peace not practiced alongside the art of war?" This may seem almost a rhetorical question at first blush, but it leads readers into Pilon's compelling analysis, which is peppered with insights from such varied thinkers as Sun Tzu, Colin Gray, Bono, Grotius, Emma Sky, and Michael Flynn.

Pilon organizes the book into four major sections that explore what it would take to develop a new, successful foreign policy. These sections culminate with "Rebalancing to Win the Peace," her prescriptions for advancing U.S. foreign policy goals. Many of her recommendations involve reforming the country's national security and diplomatic institutions. Pilon stresses using the tools of the interagency process more effectively, for example, and calls for closing the "intelligence deficit" by taking fuller advantage of open source intelligence. According to Pilon, the "hapless" State Department should reform and reprioritize its assistance programs, while the National Security Council should become more of a coordinating than an advisory body.

Having served on the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, this reviewer can quibble with that last assessment. The NSC was and remained for Bush and Obama very much a coordinating body. Pilon joins a long list of academics with limited understanding of that powerful organization, one of the few missteps in the book.

Pilon's work adds to other recent studies that offer new paths for America to advance its interests around the globe. Eliot Cohen's The Big Stick, a recent example, mainly moves in the opposite direction, calling for limits on soft power while making the case for more frequent use of military force.

Readers prepared to tackle both books will come away with much to ponder as President Donald Trump takes hold of U.S. foreign policy, apparently committed to moving it in a new direction from his immediate predecessors, the liberal Barack Obama and conservative George W. Bush. A much fuller accounting and understanding of the Trump foreign policy awaits, but reasons for concern already are apparent. Successful foreign policies are characterized by subtle, coordinated, and invariably complex efforts. Pilon's excellent book can offer Trump's new foreign policy team practical lessons worth applying.

Published under: Book reviews