Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

In the Digital Age, Retrenchment May Not Make America Safer

| Sep. 27, 2022

In debates about U.S. retrenchment from the Middle East, non-material considerations like cyber power matter just as much.

A s a scholar of cybersecurity strategy and policy chairing a workshop panel at Brasenose College, Oxford, last month, I was struck by the degree to which the panelist's debates on great power competition and international security remained disproportionately mired in material considerations, and in the lessons of past great power shifts in the international system. I say "disproportionately" because material power—the power to kill and maim, ranging from rifles to thermonuclear weapons—remains a critical consideration in international politics. But I believe that in debates about U.S. retrenchment from the Middle East, non-material considerations, specifically cyber power, matter as much or more.

Contemporary Retrenchment from a U.S. Perspective

The United States sees the People's Republic of China (PRC) as an emerging existential threat. This is not because China's economy is poised to overtake the United States as the world’s largest or because its military continues to expand in size and increase in capabilities at an unprecedented rate (a feat only equaled by the United States from 1942 onward). Instead, it is because both of these advances in power are being led by a dictatorship—a place where any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a crime punishable by imprisonment, torture, or even death.

This, combined with a long overdue reassessment of what U.S. global leadership should look like, has led to a renewed debate over retrenchment from the Middle East. The original U.S. foreign policy, best summarized in a 1630 speech by John Winthrop before a group of Puritans preparing to embark on a journey to North America, was not to have one.

All of this changed after World War II when the United States completed its shift from a reactive to a proactive foreign policy. Winthrop's "city on a hill" was replaced by "leader of the free world." The people of the United States remain justifiably proud of their aspiration to support popular sovereignty and the rule of law against tyranny worldwide. Unfortunately, after 9/11, the United States changed....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Arreguin-Toft, Ivan.“In the Digital Age, Retrenchment May Not Make America Safer.” The National Interest, September 27, 2022.

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