International Analysis: Imperiled Leadership?

By Ali Wyne  — The Mark News

As it prepares to release a new national-security strategy, the Obama administration is working to counter the growing conviction that U.S. influence in international affairs is receding. At the recently concluded Munich Security Conference, for example, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that he could not “think of a place in the world [where the United States is] retreating, not one. … This narrative … is flat wrong and it is belied by every single fact of what we are doing everywhere in the world.”

While assessments of declining U.S. influence are exaggerated (as Joseph Nye explained in these pages last August), few would dispute that it is experiencing relative decline. Strategic missteps have contributed, as have systemic economic weakness and a perception that the United States is increasingly incapable of competent self-governance. But the central driver of that phenomenon is one over which the United States has little control: An ever-growing roster of powers is ascending militarily, economically, and politically.

While many events could slow or even disrupt “the rise of the rest” (such as a global recession on the scale of, or more severe than, that of 2008–2009), none will reverse it. It would thus be imprudent for the United States to focus on staying No. 1. Should it do so, it will conclude not only that it is in decline, but also that its decline is absolute and accelerating. After all, China already leads the world in many areas, including foreign-exchange reserves, manufacturing output, and exports. Based on current trends, moreover, it will soon top the pecking order in consumer spending, stock-market capitalization, and gross domestic product. Further down the road, China could even overtake the United States in defense spending.

A more sensible foreign-policy course for the United States would proceed from a simple but powerful proposition: America’s pre-eminence is inextricably linked to and contingent upon the health of the liberal international system whose creation it nurtured after World War II. Those who want U.S. leadership to remain a linchpin of international affairs should accordingly strategize to make that architecture more resilient, more inclusive, and more nimble.

This focus – rather than an ill-defined and defensive preoccupation with maintaining hegemony – would enable the United States to forge a sustainable middle ground between isolationism and overextension.

More Resilient

The United States should embrace opportunities for its allies to contribute more to international security. In June 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously warned that NATO’s non-U.S. members would have to become “serious and capable partners in their own defense” for the organization to avoid “military irrelevance” and for the “transatlantic security project” to endure.

To that end, the United States should welcome Germany’s desire to “find a more muscular voice in foreign affairs” (however unfortunate it may be that disillusionment with the United States was a catalyst for that judgment).

In the Asia-Pacific, it should encourage Japan, South Korea, and other longstanding partners to develop greater indigenous military capabilities – not so that they are emboldened to coalesce in containing China, but so that they are less inclined to free-ride on U.S. security assurances.

More Inclusive

Integrating rising (and, in some cases, risen) powers into a system that overwhelmingly bears a U.S. imprimatur will be daunting. Some of those powers will be antagonists. Some will be partners-cum-competitors. Others will welcome occasions when their strategic priorities align with those of the United States, but will guard their policy autonomy fiercely and reject any attempt to make them mere instruments of U.S. foreign policy. Yet others, scarred by Western imperialism, will be sensitive to the possibility of neocolonialism masquerading as partnership.

On the other hand, even the most revisionist-minded of those powers recognize that they would jeopardize their own futures if they attempted to do more than mold today’s system gradually and transparently. After all, that system – a complex mosaic of norms, arrangements, treaties, and institutions – has generated historically unprecedented gains in wealth and security.

Nonetheless, the United States cannot be complacent. As diplomat and historian Charles Hill observes, “[n]o international order has proved immortal.” The United States must be bold and imaginative as it undertakes to strengthen emerging powers’ stake in preserving today’s system. Are their choke points in the global maritime commons, for example, that the United States can safeguard in partnership with China and India, rather than alone? What if it were to reduce its weight in international economic institutions in exchange for emerging powers’ commitment to greater trade and investment liberalization? Can it overcome tensions with China and Russia to forge rules of the road for cyberspace and outer space?

More Nimble

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Stewart Patrick observes that “the existing international order” increasingly cohabitates with “complementary frameworks for collective action, including ad hoc coalitions of the willing, regional and subregional institutions, public-private arrangements, and informal codes of conduct.” While the United States should continue efforts to revitalize established international institutions – such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund – it should also immerse itself in these alternative structures as thoroughly as possible.

To those who fear that U.S. leadership in the world is imperiled, consciously nudging other countries to play a more active role in international affairs might seem self-defeating. That concern would be valid if the United States pursued this course without a greater purpose. If, however, it does so with an eye towards updating the liberal international order for the 21st century, it will make its position in the world more secure, not less.

Ali Wyne is an associate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a contributing analyst at Wikistrat. He is a co-author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).

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One Comment

  1. Jason W. Smith, Ph.D. says:

    Fascism in Modern Ukraine

    (1) It may be of interest to your readers that the Ukraine situation and particularly that of western Ukraine has been the subject of considerable attention in Bolshevik history. During the ill-fated Polish-German campaign of the Red Army in August 1920 Stalin was in charge of Red Army forces heading toward Lvov. Trotsky (although in Kiev for most of the campaign time) was in charge of the Main Force heading for Warsaw (with General Tukhachevsky his assigned military commander). Trotsky as War Commissar was also in overall in charge of the entire campaign.

    (2) As you may recall Tukhachevsky fouled up his assault on Warsaw in several ways. (a) He failed to maintain operational contact on his left flank with Stalin’s forces (under Budenny) and left a gap of some fifty miles between the two. (b) His cavalry commander (General Gai Gaia) failed to turn left and come down on Warsaw from the north and ended up in Germany with his entire 2nd Red Cavalry Army captured and interned. The matter came to a head when Trotsky ordered Stalin to rescue Tukhachevsky’s Main Force just to the east of Warsaw and Trotsky refused. Trotsky went crying to Lenin who then ordered Stalin to do as Trotsky wished and Stalin said “no.” I describe this situation and the resulting mess when Stalin did finally acquiesce to Lenin and sent Budenny to rescue Tukhachevsky in my book The ABC’s of Communism, Bolshevism 2014 PP 186-190 (a 710 printed page book available in e-book form at Amazon Kindle for $2.99). (c) Finally Trotsky handled the preparations very sloppily not knowing even how many men he was sending and not watching over the logistical preparation.

    The reason Stalin had chosen Lvov as his target was because it was the hotbed of right wing forces who had gained ascendancy over the local working class in what was then a highly industrialized city of Poland. Defeating proto-fascists there and freeing the workers would further support the drive of the left pincer against Warsaw and enter Germany to the south of Tukhachevsky’s Main Force pincer taking Warsaw. That was his strategy.

    (3) During the collectivization of agriculture program (1928-1932) these same proto-fascist forces organized armed resistance and had to be suppressed much as they had been when the Red Army fought anarchists and proto-fascists in the Ukraine during the civil war.

    (4) During World War II these fascist elements formed a Nazi military adjunct for the Main Force of the Nazi occupation and had to be fought in a bitter internal war between them and the Red guerillas and the Red Army itself.

    (5) Two final notes of historical interest. It was during this campaign that George Zhukov (later overall commander of all Red Army forces during World War II) emerged as a Cavalry Sergeant in the Konarmia (Budenny’s First Red Cavalry Army.) –And neither the Party nor the Army would ever forgive Trotsky for this failure and it was the beginning of the end for him. (Lenin did forgive him more or less.)

    Now the collapse of the Soviet Union left the children and grandchildren of this fascist infestation in a better position than they had been in for nearly a century. They are attempting with the help of the US CIA and the equivalent ilk from the EU to overthrow the New Class government of the Ukraine and this threatens the overall progressive structure of the Old Soviet West as constructed by Mr. Putin. Communists hopefully will raise their own flag in the Ukraine once again. But first they must help destroy the fascist revolt. At least that is the way I see it.

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