By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia-Pacific Since 1783.

AuthorGyngell, Allan
PositionBook review

By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia-Pacific Since 1783. By Michael J. Green. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. Hardcover: 725pp.

Michael Green's deeply-researched and finely-written history of US strategic policy in Asia, By More Than Providence, could not be timelier. As the Trump administration's international policy positions swing unpredictably, apparently untethered from long traditions of American statecraft, policy thinkers on both sides of the Pacific need more than ever to understand the nature of those traditions and the interests that have driven them.

If a more conventional Republican candidate than Donald Trump had won the November 2016 US presidential election, Michael Green would almost certainly now be occupying a senior national security position in Washington. Instead, he continues to contribute to the policy debate from Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies and Georgetown University.

This history is an essential starting point for that debate. Beginning with the War of Independence and the first trading voyages carrying ginseng from New England to China--well before the United States stretched across the continent--Green records the "threats, commerce, and capacity [that] all went into the soup that became the American strategy for expansion into the Pacific" (p. 76).

Over more than two centuries, he notes, five tensions "reappear with striking predictability" (p. 6) in America's strategic approach towards Asia: Europe versus Asia; continental (China) versus maritime (Japan); the place at which the forward defence line should be established; self-determination versus universal values; and protectionism versus free trade. The national objective, America's key leaders agreed, was to ensure that "the Pacific Ocean remains a conduit for American ideas and goods to flow westward, and not for threats to flow eastward towards the homeland" (p. 5).

Trade is one of the central elements in Green's story, as the United States worked to prise China and its economic opportunities from the grasp of European imperialist powers. The latter part of the nineteenth century plays out as a sort of American Belt and Road initiative, as the United States extends its power westwards with the purchase of Alaska in 1867 and the annexation of Hawaii in 1898.

By the beginning of the twentieth century especially during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, all the...

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