US grand strategy, Foreign policy elite, Qualitative interviews, Abductive reconstructivist methodology, Trump nationalism, Blob


American Politics | International Relations | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


This article discusses the grand strategy imperatives of 37 foreign policy experts in Washington, DC. in response to President Donald Trump's nationalist challenge to the post-WWII international order concept. Using an abductive reconstructivist methodology to analyze in-depth interviews, five grand strategy imperatives or rules for action shared by all actors were identified: safeguarding US global leadership, maintaining alliances, securing US prosperity, value orientation, and the belief in a mission. Based on the interpretation of these rules for action, four types of foreign policy experts were distinguished: nationalists, realists, pragmatic liberals, and liberals. The latter three expert types, also labelled globalists, were united in their opposition to the nationalists' demolition of the international order but divided along partisan and ideological lines about the meaning and implementation of the rules for action. Realists, pragmatic liberals, and liberals were also unsure of how to explain and respond to Trump's nationalism beyond a defensive or wishful hope to save the vestiges of an US-centric international order. The findings demonstrate the value of in-depth qualitative interviews for explaining elite beliefs, illustrating the rich insights for policy analysis that can be gained through this methodology.


This article has been published in a revised form in European Journal of International Security []. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution or re-use.

Original Citation

Kurthen, H. (2021). Present at the destruction? Grand strategy imperatives of US foreign policy experts during the Trump presidency. European Journal of International Security, 6(1), 1-24. doi:10.1017/eis.2020.5