During my brief stop-over in Moscow earlier this month, I was asked to give a lecture at the Institute for Economic Strategies about the recent political turmoil in the US as viewed through the lens of Cliodynamics. I’ve given lectures there before—last time was actually in 2009, when I explained my forecast for American political violence peaking in 2020s. Since this forecast is, unfortunately, right on track, my talk was well attended. There was a lot of discussion—in fact, more than two hours of back and forth, which followed the lecture.
There were many good questions because, generally speaking, Russian political scientists are reasonably well informed. However, it was also clear that they were still struggling to understand how the political landscape in Washington changed following the Trump victory in the 2016 presidential election. Just as an example, only two people in the audience knew who Steve Bannon is.
But the most interesting part of discussion, which really highlighted the differences between the Russian and American mentalities, was triggered when someone in the audience asked me about America’s long-term strategic plan.
It turns out that several people in the audience have been contributing to the development of the Russian national strategy. During my visits to Russia in the early 2000s I remember discussions about the need for such planning, and it was interesting to see that they led to some fairly concrete results. In 2014 the Duma (Russian Parliament) passed a Law on the Strategic Planning for the Russian Federation. This law established the framework for making strategic forecasts and plans on the national security and foreign policy, on scientific and technological progress, and on economic development at the national and regional levels. The time horizon of these forecasts and strategic plans is 12 years done every six years (apparently timed to coincide with presidential terms). But I was told that there is another federal law in the making that would extend this time horizon to 2050 or even beyond.
This is very interesting because, as far as I know, the United States has nothing like this. The American policy-planning network, made up of foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion groups, is concerned with fairly tactical and, usually, nakedly partisan issues. The foreign policy establishment is interested in predicting what other players on the international arena would do, but it doesn’t seem to be plotting the long-term strategy for the US. I am familiar with research funding programs at agencies like DoD (Department of Defense) and CIA. But again, their concern is with other countries, not domestic issues.
There is a fairly voluminous literature on “Grand Strategy”, following influential work by Edward Luttwak. But my reading of it is that it’s mostly about how to preserve the hegemonic position that the US had attained following the Soviet Union collapse. It’s not strategy, but tactics: how to keep resurgent Russia down, prevent China from extending its naval reach beyond its coastline, and the such.
Talking about China, it’s very clear that the Chinese leadership has a long-term strategy looking many decades ahead (this is clear from how successive administrations behave; I haven’t looked into whether such a strategic plan is publicly discussed in China).
But the United States, apparently, doesn’t. If I am missing something, I hope readers of this blog will set me straight!
The closest thing to a long-term strategy in the United States, I can think of, is exemplified by the decades-long work of two cabals of intellectuals that have “gifted” us with neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. In my work, I have been particularly interested in tracing how a small group of heterodox (for the 1940s and 1950s when they got started) economists and businessmen around Hayek and von Mises, known as the Mont Pelerin Society, utterly transformed the ideological landscape in America. After they triumphed in the 1980s, neo-liberalism became the dominant ideology of the American ruling elites, including both the Democrats and Republicans.
But that’s not quite the same as a National Strategy for America.