Strategies of Restraint and U.S. Foreign Policy | 2021 | Events

Strategies of Restraint and U.S. Foreign Policy
Emma Ashford
Emma Ashford
Atlantic Council
December 1, 2021


The future direction of American foreign policy is more open than it has been in decades. With the failures of the War on Terror, and the rise of China, Washington’s foreign policy community appears to increasingly accept the need for some kind of course correction in foreign policy, but remains divided on the specifics. Perhaps the most notable element of this debate has been the growing influence of restraint, the idea that the United States should have a less militaristic and activist US foreign policy. But advocates often tend to focus on the things that unite them – criticism of the status quo – rather than the things that divide them (i.e, the question of what to do instead). The most viable consensus path through which restraint could become the dominant strand of strategic thinking among US policymakers is a kind of pragmatic Realist Internationalism which reflects the insights of a grand strategy of offshore balancing (hence realist), while augmenting these insights by emphasizing the continued importance of American internationalism (i.e, non-military engagement with the world). 


Emma Ashford is a senior fellow with the New American Engagement Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, where her work focuses questions of grand strategy, international security, and the future of US foreign policy. Previously, she was a research fellow in defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Foreign Affairs, the Texas National Security Review, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and War on the Rocks, among others. She writes a biweekly column, It’s Debatable, for Foreign Policy. She is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and holds a PhD in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia. Her first book, Oil, the State, and War: The Foreign Policies of Petrostates, is forthcoming from Georgetown University Press in May 2022.