Journal Article: Externalizing the Burden of War: the Obama Doctrine and US foreign policy in the Middle East

Obama appears to prefer waging war in the shadows with a light footprint and if possible limited public scrutiny. Externalizing the strategic and operational burden of war to human and technological surrogates has developed into America’s preferred way of war under the Obama administration.

Krieg, A. (2016). Externalizing the burden of war: The Obama Doctrine and US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Andreas Krieg delivers a perceptive and important piece of analysis in Externalising the Burden of War. In 2016, as the United States’ stood at a critical juncture between a bipolar and apolar world, where the distinction between state and non-state actors was not easily-drawn, and with the burden of war fatigue, austerity measures and military downsizing hanging heavy, a policy of war by surrogate emerges as the response. While not a new phenomenon – the use of surrogates is as old as war itself, and the US has long forged local partnerships to secure its foreign policy goals – under Obama it became the principal means of projecting force.

Occasionally misinterpreted by Obama’s critics as an idle response, Krieg suggests the externalisation of war in this manner was a conscious and active decision to leverage an array of human and technological components. The incentives for doing so are considerable. A policy of surrogate warfare widens the scope of both deniability and legitimacy while maximising cost-benefit considerations in a time of austerity. In practice, this carries a number of overt and immediate benefits in minimising the strategic, operational and tactical burden of warfare. Equally, however, it may reap subtle but serious costs in the long-term as the abdication of control and oversight in theatres of operations risks jeopardising the United States’ moral reputation and traditional role as a guarantor of security in the Middle East.


Krieg, A. 2016. ‘Externalizing the Burden of War: The Obama Doctrine and US Foreign Policy in the Middle East’. International Affairs 92 (1): 97–113.