The Perils of Empire

Statement of Principles by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy:

Against the backdrop of an ever-bloodier conflict in Iraq, American foreign policy is moving in a dangerous direction toward empire.

Worrisome imperial trends are apparent in the Bush administration's National Security Strategy. That document pledges to maintain America's military dominance in the world, and it does so in a way that encourages other nations to form countervailing coalitions and alliances. We can expect, and are seeing now, multiple balances of power forming against us. People resent and resist domination, no matter how benign.

We are a diverse group of scholars and analysts from across the political spectrum who believe that the move toward empire must be halted immediately. We are united by our desire to turn American national security policy toward realistic and sustainable measures for protecting U.S. vital interests in a manner that is consistent with American values.

The need for a change in direction is particularly urgent because imperial policies can quickly gain momentum, with new interventions begetting new dangers and, thus, the demand for further actions. If current trends are allowed to continue, we may well end up with an empire that most Americans-especially those whose sons and daughters are, or will be, sent into harm's way-don't really favor. The issue must be the subject of a broad public debate. The time for debate is now.

The American people have not embraced the idea of an American empire, and they are unlikely to do so. Since rebelling against the British Empire, Americans have resisted the imperial impulse, guided by the Founders' frequent warnings that republic and empire are incompatible. Empire is problematic because it subverts the freedoms and liberties of citizens at home while simultaneously thwarting the will of people abroad. An imperial strategy threatens to entangle America in an assortment of unnecessary and unrewarding wars.

There are ominous signs that the strategy of empire has already begun to erode our fundamental rights and liberties. More and more power is being claimed by the executive branch. And on the economic front, an imperial strategy threatens to weaken us as a nation, overextending and bleeding the economy and straining our military and federal budgets.

The defenders of empire assert that the horrific acts of terrorism on September 11, 2001, demand that we assume new financial burdens to fund an expansive national security strategy, relax our commitment to individual liberty at home, and discard our respect for state sovereignty abroad. Nothing could be further from the truth. Following 9/11, we should have refocused our attention on the very real threats facing us in the 21st century. As a nation, we must not allow the events of 9/11 to be used as a pretext for reshaping American foreign policy in a manner inconsistent with our traditions and values and contrary to our true interests.

We the undersigned announce the launching of a campaign to promote a realistic foreign policy for America. In the weeks and months ahead, our coalition will be hosting policy forums and conferences, publishing papers and articles, and appearing on television and radio to articulate the case against empire.

John Quincy Adams once declared that America "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." Those wise words still ring true. A restrained and focused foreign policy will best protect the liberty and safety of the American people in the 21st century. Conversely, an imperial policy will jeopardize all that we hold dear.


Robert J. Art, Brandeis University
Andrew Bacevich, Boston University
Doug Bandow, Former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan
Nicholas Berry, Foreign Policy Forum
Richard K. Betts, Columbia University
Seyom Brown, Brandeis University
Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Institute
Jonathan Clarke, Cato Institute
Steven Clemons, New America Foundation
Michael Desch, Texas A&M University
Carolyn Eisenberg, Hofstra University
Ivan Eland, Independent Institute
Paul Gessing, The Free Liberal
Eugene Gholz, University of Texas, Austin
Mike Gravel, Former U.S. Senator from Alaska
Leon Hadar, Cato Institute
Gary Hart, Former U.S. Senator from Colorado
David Hendrickson, Colorado College
Robert Higgs, Independent Institute
Theresa Hitchens, Center for Defense Information
David Isenberg, British American Security Information Council
Robert Jervis, Columbia University
Chalmers Johnson, Japan Policy Research Institute
Peter Krogh, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Charles Kupchan, Georgetown University; Council on Foreign Relations
James Kurth, Swarthmore College
Christopher Layne, Texas A&M University
Anatol Lieven, New America Foundation
Justin Logan, Cato Institute
Scott McConnell, The American Conservative
John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
E. Wayne Merry, Former State Department and Pentagon official
Daniel Nelson, University of New Haven
Robert Paarlberg, Wellesley College
Edward A. Olsen, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
Michael D. Ostrolenk, Center for Liberty and Community
Edward L. Peck, Former U.S. Ambassador
Charles Peña, MSNBC terrorism analyst
John L. Petersen, President, The Arlington Institute
Barry R. Posen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Christopher Preble, Cato Institute
Daryl Press, University of Pennsylvania
Jeffrey Record, U.S. Air War College
Andrew L. Ross, University of New Mexico
Paul Schroeder, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Sherle Schwenninger, World Policy Journal
Kenneth Sharpe, Swarthmore College
Jack L. Snyder, Columbia University
Robert W. Tucker, Johns Hopkins University
Marian Tupy, Cato Institute
Jon Utley, Americans Against World Empire
Stephen Van Evera, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jason Vest, The American Prospect
Stephen Walt, Harvard University
Kenneth N. Waltz, Columbia University
Cindy Williams, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
John Willson, Hillsdale College

*This statement reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.

If you would like to learn more, or if you would like to support the Coalition, send an e-mail to