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Immoderate greatness: Is great power restraint a practical grand strategy?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2016

Tudor Onea*
Research Fellow, National University of Singapore
*Correspondence to: Tudor Onea, Political Science Department, National University of Singapore, Political, Singapore 119260. Author’s email:


The article examines when and how often great powers are likely to follow a grand strategy of restraint and whether there is any evidence that they have ever done so. The question has considerable implications for the ongoing US grand strategy debate. Restraint refers to the practice of self-discipline in the use of force for self-defence or for addressing massive power imbalances; and in extending security commitments to foreign political actors. The first part of the article examines statistics in the last two hundred years on great power involvement in wars and disputes as well as on their commitments to alliances and dependencies. The second part considers whether two seeming cases of the dominant power scaling down its international involvement – Ming China withdrawal from naval mastery in the fifteenth century and Victorian Britain splendid isolation – represent instances of genuine restraint.

Research Article
© British International Studies Association 2016 

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