Author Q&A Session: Bastiaan Van Apeldoorn, Naná de Graaff

Authors of American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks, Bastiaan Van Apeldoorn, and Naná de Graaff, discuss their title and what lead them to writing it.

'This is an outstanding, ground-breaking study that puts elite studies back on the agenda. But it goes far further than rehashing C Wright Mills's The Power Elite or William Domhoff’s Who Rules America. The study establishes the objective and subjective significance of elites in American society, politics and foreign policy, and then even more significantly, shows through key decisions taken by administrations from Clinton to Obama how elites set the agenda for post-Cold war American grand strategy. This is a remarkable book that will become required reading for political scientists, area studies and IR specialists.' - Inderjeet Parmar, Professor in International Politics. City University London

Author Q&A

1. Congratulations on the publication of your book American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks! What lead you both to writing it?

Thank you! It started with the Master thesis that Nana had written under Bastiaan’s supervision on neoconservative networks and US foreign policy during the G.W. Bush administration. This converged with Bastiaan’s own developing research interests in US foreign policy and given our joint fascination and stimulating collaboration we decided to turn the thesis into a paper together then the one led to the other….The project grew bigger and bigger, we started publishing articles in Critical Sociology, Globalizations and the European Journal of International Relations and since our story turned out to be larger than what could be captured by these articles we decided that we would have to write this book.

2. What first attracted you to this topic as an area of study?

For both of us this was also politically inspired, it was during the George W. Bush administration and the onset of the War on Terror, the Iraq war and the contested turn in US foreign policy. All of this made us politically more interested and engaged with US foreign policy – even taking to the streets - and that political engagement also turned into an academic interest. Moreover, we are as political scientists both very much fascinated by power and since the US is still the most powerful state-society in the world this was another important reason for us to study the area of US foreign policy.

3. Can you describe your book in one sentence?

In this book we analyse and explain the evolution of the US post-cold war grand strategy by looking at the embeddedness of key foreign policy makers of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administration in corporate elite networks.

4. What is your favourite example in the book?

Our findings show that consistently key foreign policy officials of all three administration had high-level prior corporate affiliations. A good example is Hillary Clinton who started her career as a corporate lawyer and was director at several Fortune 500 firms such as Walmart and who as Obama’s secretary of state has played a key role in reformulating the strategy towards Asia (China) aimed at further opening up that area and market to American capital.

Another recurrent finding in our book is how previous membership with think tanks and other policy planning venues (which are in turn closely tied to and funded by the corporate world) of top foreign policy makers influence the grand strategy the help formulating. An illustrative example is how the underlying policy of the War on Terror, which was seen as a drastic change in US foreign policy, had in fact been proposed already much earlier by Cheney and Wolfowitz but had been quickly shelved for the controversy it caused at the time in 1992. These ideas kept circulating though in the neoconservative policy planning networks and about 10 years later, with Cheney as Vice-president and many neoconservatives in the White House and Pentagon, it finally turned into foreign policy doctrine, also facilitated by the ‘window of opportunity’ of 9/11 of course.

5. Have either of you read any Routledge books? If so, which is your favourite Routledge book at the moment?

We have several Routledge favourites in diverse areas but with regard to the theme in our book we can recommend a recent volume edited by Inderjeet Parmar, Linda Miller and Mark Ledwidge called Obama and the World. New Directions in US foreign policy.

6. Do you have plans for future books? What’s next in the pipeline for you both?

Too many, haha! Where to start… Our current joint research agenda is increasingly focused on the rise of China and the implications for the US-led liberal order. That is, how the changing relationship between the China and the US - with the potential for conflict and for cooperation - in part also depends on elite networks on both sides and the extent to which they are integrated or not. So you can probably expect a book from us on that major topic in IR and IPE but from an elite perspective in the future! If you want to stay update on our activities, projects and publications we welcome you to visit our EPIC (Elite Power Investigation Centre) website, at:

Author Biographies

Bastiaan van Apeldoorn is Associate Professor of International Relations at the VU University Amsterdam.

Naná de Graaff is Assistant Professor in International Relations at the Department of Political Science, at VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

About American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks

This book presents a novel analysis of how US grand strategy has evolved from the end of the Cold War to the present, offering an integrated analysis of both continuity and change. The post-Cold War American grand strategy has continued to be oriented to securing an ‘open door’ to US capital around the globe. This book will show that the three different administrations that have been in office in the post-Cold War era have pursued this goal with varying means: from Clinton’s promotion of neoliberal globalization to Bush’s ‘war on terror’ and Obama’s search to maintain US primacy in the face of a declining economy and a rising Asia.

In seeking to make sense of both these strong continuities and these significant variations the book takes as its point of departure the social sources of grand strategy (making), with the aim to relate state (public) power to social (private) power. While developing its own theoretical framework to make sense of the evolution of US grand strategy, it offers a rich and rigorous empirical analysis based on extensive primary data that have been collected over the past years. It draws on a unique data-set that consists of extensive biographical data of 30 cabinet members and other senior foreign policy officials of each of the past three administrations of Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama.

This book is of great use to specialists in International Relations – within International Political Economy, International Security and Foreign Policy Analysis, as well as students of US Politics.

Look inside...

Order your copy of American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks here