A Grand Strategy is a long-term plan and policy intended to give correct guidance to a nation in its interactions with the whole world.
The political document authored by "X," later revealed to be Ambassador George Kennan, that called for a doctrine of containment against the Soviet Union is an example of an important component or even the outline for a grand strategy that took years to work out yet brought an end to the USSR without involving us in a third world war and a nuclear holocaust.
Judging by the erratic reaction of the U.S. government to international political development and world environmental changes in the last several years, it is unlikely that the U.S. has any any grand strategy worthy of mention at this time.
When many parameters are going critical, the thought of just bungling through should give everyone pause. Even the wealthy and powerful cannot afford to be complacent.
Planning for the next century, world leaders (and especially the U.S. President) must be aware that global warming will not turn itself off. Even with full commitment by all world leaders to controlling greenhouse gases, warming will proceed on its own momentum for decades.
With global warming will come several inevitable consequences. These consequence may be ignored only at our peril. As these consequences grow more intense, more and more resources will need to be directed toward ameliorating the worst consequences and dealing with the unavoidable casualties.
The first consequence to face will be the arable land vs. population pinch. Arable land will decrease both because of loss of low elevation coastal land as the sea level rises and also because of over-farming and farming of easily eroded fields. Arable land will in some areas fail to get sufficient moisture from rain at the same time that underground aquifers are getting low. Even current levels of population will be difficult to maintain, and current rates of starvation and malnutrition will increase. Population movements will occur, regardless of attempts at regulation, and resentment will grow in well-managed areas with relatively good agricultural productivity as people from areas that have poor agricultural resources and/or socio-political situations that mitigate against good agricultural use of existing resources.
Epidemic diseases will be most likely to affect the world areas with the worst living conditions. To some extent plagues will reduce the populations that have not been otherwise controlled. However, these plagues will also drive migration of refugees into areas not yet severely impacted by the epidemic diseases. The likely results will be introduction of the disease to economically more fortunate areas, social turmoil, and even riots in reaction to the migrant populations. Many world leaders may be moved to take up draconian methods of control.
Both Abrahamic religious teachings and the social values of many groups such as the Chinese make population control policies very unwelcome. The fact that so many such factors work against population controls makes it all the more important to discover what social, economic, or other factors are involved in population declines that have not resulted from direct government controls.
Education is already known to be one factor that lowers the reproduction rate. The mechanism is believe to be based on the desire of educated parents to be able to provide well and equally for the educational futures of their children, but another factor may be the relatively greater confidence of educated parents that their children will all grow to maturity. Increasing public health benefits may have benefits in regard to tempering population growth as well as lowering the severity and frequency of epidemics. A third area in which planning policy interventions would likely be useful is the possibility that a government supported social security life net would decrease the tendency of parents to feel that they might need to depend on their children for maintenance in old age.
Rapid decline in the availability of some resources may limit future technological fixes, and eventually will be felt more and more widely. Already, the limited availability of sweet crude is making consumers pay higher and higher prices for fossil fuels that carry higher prices both in extraction and in pollution costs. In the computer chip area, projections indicate that we will run out of iridium in ten years, zing in about thirty years, and hafnium, by 2017. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118006390463014430.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace)
A related area that must be included in any grand strategy is the need to maintain the international market infrastructure in the face of declining resources, deteriorating items such as tanker ships, higher costs for replacement items and fuel, and direct actions or sabotage by terrorist forces.
Countering the growing importance mentioned above is the growing attractiveness of solutions promised to conform to divine intentions -- and solutions that end up delivering great temporal power to the leaders of these religions.
To form an effective grand strategy, thinkers must be aware of the factors that can be expected to influence our wellbeing in powerful ways, and must also maintain reserve capacity to use in the event unforeseen factors impact us powerfully.
What kind of world environment would be best for U.S. interests in the future? Do we want to lock horns with adversaries of our own creation? Do we want to have adversarial relationships with other countries because an attitude of neglect or fatalism has led all potentials for mutually beneficial interactions to wither on the vine? Do we want to leave ourselves open for other nations that learn that they can "win by intimidation"? How we act as a nation can strongly influence the way that individuals, communities, and nations react to us.
We must not muddle through. We must see the future as tending toward higher levels of turmoil, as a period of unknown length during which we must struggle to maintain even the minimum requirements of civilization. To be successful, we will need to actively cultivate allies, and with those allies we must search out ways to pull the peoples of the earth together and simultaneously uplift them.
Active human forces will be arrayed against our attempts to maintain civilization. Some will be inspired by the desire for their own power, for their own control of how events unfold, and by ideologies that intent or happenstance have tailored to further their ends. Others will be motivated by egocentric and even selfish desires to take from others so that they might have more for themselves. Still others will be enslaved by their fears -- fears of the threatening nature of a changing world, fears of the supposed malice of members of other cultures and religions, and even fears of their own innate characteristics that have been given an evil interpretation by those who cleave to authoritarianism. All of these human agencies will be augmented by increasingly inimical environmental changes.
The strategy of the United States, and of like-minded nations, must be to weave together the positive and progressive forces needed to navigate this period of crisis. The biggest long-term problem is global warming, so we must both make carbon dioxide producers pay for the damage they do to the environment and then invest those funds in using existing technologies and developing new technologies to bring greenhouse gases down.
The second highest priority will be to do what we can to raise education levels and economic prosperity world wide. Regressive and reactionary parties may react to policies that direct funds outside our national borders, or may even claim that they make others better competitors against us in the global marketplace. Members of the U.S. leadership will need to make it clear to everyone that there are great benefits to be obtained from investments in the welfare of the global community.
Science is an alternative path to the acquisition of knowledge, a path that does not necessarily conflict with one's search for spiritual growth and insight, but one that is often perceived as threatening to religious leaders because they fear the loss of their own legitimacy if the teaching stories of ancient religious texts are not treated by their followers as literal truths. If science can be taught as a necessary tool for competition in the modern world, and if it can be taught in a way that does not set itself up to make direct contradictions of religious doctrine, then it can become simply an alternative way to search for knowledge and/or a way to search for an alternative kind of knowledge. It is perhaps worth noting that the Christian tradition recognized the importance of empirical learning as a source of knowledge at least as early as St. Thomas Aquinas, and that the Sufi tradition in Islam has been both a presenter of the importance of personal knowledge to members of the Islamic tradition and also a contributor to our own history of science. The defensiveness of contemporary fundamentalist Christian groups is matched by the defensiveness of the Salafist Islamic groups. A major part of the reluctance to be open to other sources of knowledge is in both cases the fears that arise because of their beliefs that they are under attack.
In an even wider sense we need to learn and practice the ways that we can be the friends and allies of other nations. We need to learn from people like Senator George Mitchell how we can befriend leaders and nations whose immediate goals and methods we cannot approve. We may often find countries that perceive that they need to change so that they will become more responsive to their own citizens but do not have knowledge of how to move forward. If we can find ways to help them move forward in ways that are agreeable to them, rather than simply specifying desired outcomes and issuing threats about what will be done of those outcomes are not forthcoming, then we will be in a very powerful position to assure the cooperation of these close allies in maintaining a more stable and secure environment in the world -- including a good international market infrastructure for energy resources.
The struggle that all the peoples of the earth will endure in the coming century will not be a zero-sum game unless cynical leaders make it so. We are all on one spaceship earth, and the success of one group provides the matrix upon which the success of other groups can grow. Our need, the need of all of our leaders, is to become and remain truly objective in the service of our shared valuing of good human careers in the world. It may seem counterintuitive, but no one group can win by visiting devastation or even economic disaster on any other group or groups. In the short term we might seem to be in a zero sum game, but the gains of such pursuits quickly dissipate. The opposite is true, that by giving to others what they need to provide good lives for themselves, the givers end up promoting their own wellbeing.