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The Triumph and Peril of America's Alliances: An Interview with Author Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper

July 7, 2020

Mara Karlin, Associate Professor of the Practice; Director, Strategic Studies; Executive Director, The Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Mira Rapp-Hooper, Stephen A. Schwarzman Senior Fellow for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Professor Mara Karlin interviewed Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper on her new book, Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Perils of America's Alliances. In Shields of the Republic, Rapp-Hooper reveals the remarkable success of America’s unprecedented system of alliances. When the Soviet Union collapsed, however, the United States lost the adversary the system was designed to combat. Today, while American alliances have been invaluable to US national security, they remain without a core strategic logic, leaving them newly vulnerable.

Rapp-Hooper began the discussion by sharing her motivation for the book. Having written her PhD dissertation on extended deterrence in US Foreign Policy, combined with the increasing scepticism on alliances’ costs and benefits that particularly marked Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, she felt had to showcase that inadvertently this system had buried its own record of success. Rapp-Hooper reflected on Russia and China who, by the turn of the 21st century established two-pronged strategies on the conventional and even nuclear military levels, that seek to demonstrate that the US may not be able to credibly defend its allies in a military conflict with either country. They are advancing their aims below the military threshold in ways that route around the American alliance system while actually never triggering it at all. Essentially, she argues that the fact that both Moscow and Beijing moved into this competitive coercive space is a product of alliance success; it’s a product of functional deterrence. Both of these countries crafted strategies that are more subtle and slippery, therefore harder to respond to, and thus making the alliance system a victim of its own quiet success.

Rapp-Hooper concluded with the prescriptions she offers in her book regarding how to change American alliances in order to save them. Given the major shifts in geopolitical power which have transformed the international order irreparably she focused on increasing both the scope of what these alliances include as well as the scope of contribution that American allies can make.