Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Competitive Engagement: Upgrading America’s Influence

Competitive Engagement: Upgrading America’s Influence


America’s instruments of foreign policy are weak. As a result, Washington depends much more on its military power than it should. The militarization of foreign policy is neither good for American interests nor sustainable, since many political, economic, and ideological outcomes are not attainable through the use of military force. Yet ongoing discussions about America’s non- military power miss one important factor: in virtually every theater of the world, local, regional, and strategic competitions affect America’s ability to exert influence through its aid and diplomacy. From Pakistan to the Middle East to Africa, ideas about how to develop economies, shape educational systems, administer health care programs, and build political institutions, are contested. Until the competitive nature of aid and diplomacy is deliberately and explicitly considered, Washington’s ability to achieve outcomes using its non-military power—often called “soft” or “smart power”—will remain fundamentally limited.

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