This book is worth reading for anyone following the reorientation of American foreign policy towards meeting a more assertive China. Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s National Security Advisor has spoken about US goals for building a new partner “framework”, and Mira Rapp-Hooper is poised to contribute to this effort in her current role advising the US State Department Policy Planning team.
Former President Donald Trump was not alone in his view that the United States should rely less on friends when conducting foreign policy. Emboldened by his antipathy, more and more Americans were questioning why their country was devoting so much of its energy to supporting countries far away. The United States appeared to be falling out of love with alliance building.
Alarmed by this inward turn, Rapp-Hooper set out to recapture US excitement for its alliance system. The result of this effort is Shields of the Republic, a fast-paced analysis of American foreign policy past and present, focusing on one particular kind of partnership, mutual defense treaties.
It is hard to calculate the benefits of an alliance. To get around this problem, Rapp-Hooper engages in something called “counterfactual” analysis. This daring approach involves her imagining how particular historical moments might have unfolded if a treaty had not been in place. In doing so, she makes her case to a world-weary American public that the costs of alliances are worth it.
The trouble with mutual defense treaties is that many Chinese and Russian actions today involve grey zone activities such as cyber-attacks. They are below the activity that would invoke a treaty, thereby circumventing the arrangements of old. To address this point, Rapp-Hooper convincingly argues that US alliances erected during the Cold War should be retrofitted for the contemporary challenges rather than simply discarded.
Review by Michael Laha, German Chancellor Fellow
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