I. The United States and the Political Doctrines of Its Foreign Relations:

During his interview with Jeffery Goldberg, published in the Atlantic in April 2016, Obama started by describing for Goldberg a four-box grid representing the main schools of American foreign-policy thought. One box he called “Isolationism”, which he dismissed out of hand. “The world is ever-shrinking,” Obama said. “Withdrawal is untenable.” The other boxes he labelled “Liberal interventionism”, “Internationalism”, and “Realism”. “I suppose you could call me a realist in believing we can’t, at any given moment, relieve all the world’s misery,” Obama said. “We have to choose where we can make a real impact.

II. The US strategy “Offshore Balancing” and the foreign policy doctrine “Realism”:

“Offshore Balancing” is a strategic concept used in realist analysis in international relations. It describes a strategy in which a great power uses favored regional powers to check the rise of potentially-hostile powers. This strategy stands in contrast to the dominant grand strategy in the United States, liberal hegemony. Offshore balancing calls for a great power to withdraw from onshore positions and focus its offshore capabilities on the three key geopolitical regions of the world: Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Arabian Gulf.

The three regions are the focus, since Europe and Northeast Asia are the major industrial centers of the world, which contain all of the other great powers and the Arabian Gulf for its importance to the global oil market.
Outside of these regions, The U.S. as an offshore balancer should not worry about security developments. Also, it should first seek to pass the buck to local powers and intervene only if the threat is too great for the other powers in the region to handle. This, as I think, is what Obama adopted at the last stage of his term, which he called “Leading from Behind.”

Hence, it can be said that the strategy of “Offshore Balancing” allows a superpower like the United States to maintain its power without the costs of a large military deployment around the world, and limits its military deployment in the three corners of the strategic triangle (Europe, East Asia and the Arabian Gulf).
According to political scientist John Mearsheimer, in his University of Chicago “American Grand Strategy” class, offshore balancing was the strategy used by the United States in the 1930s. Mearsheimer argues that when the United States gave Lend-Lease aid to Britain in the 1940s, the United States engaged in offshore balancing by being the arsenal of democracy, not the fighter for it.

III. Military and security measures taken to support “Offshore Balancing” strategy:

  1. The United States supported the losing side (Iraq) in the Iran-Iraq war to prevent the development of Iranian regional hegemony, which could eventually threaten the U.S. hegemony.
  2. On the contrary, the United States and its allies confronted Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, for fear of Iraqi hegemony over the capabilities of the Gulf region.
  3. Obama signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, in coordination with EU and 5+1 countries; as the U.S. considered the JCPOA insures the balance of power in the Middle East in general and in the Gulf region in particular; thus it guarantees the energy security which is necessary to secure the industry technology development in Europe and East Asia. Therefore, Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, during his presidency, was considered a severe blow to the U.S. Realism doctrine, and specifically to the strategy of “Offshore Balancing”. The JSPOA is one of the pillars of building “Offshore Balancing” strategy, but it strongly clashes with the Israeli goals, which aims to monopolize nuclear power on the expense of the military balance in the region.

IV. Conclusion:

I think that what is happening now, which the analysts see it as a shift or changing in the U.S. strategy, is in fact a clear insistence on adopting the Realism doctrine and to continue its grand strategy, “Offshore Balancing”, in a way that ensures that the U.S. remains at the top of the world order for as long as possible.

Dr. Sayed Ghoneim
PhD in Political Science – Fellow of Nasser Higher Military Academy
Chairman, IGSDA – Visiting professor at NATO and Royal Military Academy of Belgium



PhD, MG(Ret.), Chairman IGSDA (UAE), Visiting Scholar in International Relations & International Security in several countries, (Egyptian)