Military aircraft fly above the Lincoln Memorial as President Donald J. Trump, addresses his remarks at the Salute to America event Thursday, July 4, 2019, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)
How military superiority made America less safe

Interview by Alex Ward

There’s a myth Americans tell themselves: After World War II, the United States had no choice but to be the world’s superpower and preeminent military force. No other countries were strong enough after years of fighting, and it was solely up to the US, by virtue of its position, to rebuild and reorder the world.

The reason that’s not true, says Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy, is because the US made a conscious decision to seek military dominance before World War II ended. Such a strategy, forged in the heat of battle, would help the US thwart totalitarian regimes — namely the Soviet Union in later years — while pursuing its own interests.

Wertheim argues the plan made some sense in the moment. After all, Nazi Germany was winning in Europe, and the US didn’t want to live in a world full of brutal dictatorships. But the problem is the US hasn’t shifted its strategy since — and it’s backfired greatly.

Instead of focusing on issues like climate change and pandemic disease, for example, the US has prioritized building and deploying a robust force that has made a plethora of unnecessary enemies. And despite some horrific outcomes like the Iraq War, the US refuses to rethink its game plan, even after the Cold War ended and as domestic appetite for adventurism dwindles.

“Far from contributing to American security, the plan of global military superiority has made America — and Americans — less safe,” Wertheim, who is the deputy director of research and policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, DC, told me.

To better understand why Wertheim believes the US should focus less on military superiority, not more, I called him and asked him to expand on his argument in an interview. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

Read the interview on

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