1: The Opportunity to Define an Era
The current world situation seems depressing, at times overwhelming. Terrorism is now a part of the fabric of modern life; at best we live with it, at worst we will die from it. It is a question of “when” and not “if ” the United States will suffer from another major act of terrorism, possibly one involving a weapon of mass destruction. North Korea and Iran have made substantial strides in producing nuclear explosive material and, in the case of North Korea, in developing nuclear weapons. Peace in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians remains distant. A large proportion of the world’s population is mired in poverty, with nearly 3 billion people, close to half the population of the planet, subsisting on $2 a day or less. Their plight is often exacerbated by HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Darfur (in Western Sudan) is but the most recent in a long line of tragedies highlighting the reality that the greatest threat to many individuals around the world stems from the actions of their own governments and their fellow citizens. Protectionism has made a comeback as efforts to extend free trade continue to run up against special interests in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. And, after impressive battlefield victories, the United States has found it extraordinarily difficult to stabilize either Afghanistan or Iraq. Iraq in particular has proved to be an expensive war of choice, one that has triggered an intense debate in the United States and around the world over American foreign policy and how the United States should use its immense power. Indeed, not since Vietnam, the last costly war of choice fought by the United States, has American foreign policy proved to be as controversial and as unpopular either at home or abroad.
Yet despite these and other difficulties, this continues to be a moment of rare opportunity for the United States and for the world. The United States, working with the governments of the other major powers, can still shape the course of the twenty-first century and bring about a world that is to a striking degree characterized by peace, prosperity, and freedom for most of the globe’s countries and peoples.
Opportunity, though, is just that. It represents possibility, not inevitability. This explains in part why we live in a time variously described as the post–Cold War or post-9/11 world. Such descriptions tell us where we have been, not where we are, much less where we are heading. Only when we see what the United States and the world make of this opportunity will the current era earn its name. This could turn out to be an era of prolonged peace and prosperity, made possible by American primacy successfully translated into influence and effective international arrangements. Or it could turn out to be an era of gradual decay, an incipient modern Dark Ages, brought on by a loss of control on the part of the United States and the other major powers and characterized by a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), failed states, and growing terrorism and instability. Still a third possibility is that this period will come to be viewed as another interwar era, or more precisely an inter–Cold War era, bracketed by the half-century struggle with the Soviet Union on the one hand and another such competition on the other, most likely between the United States and China.
At the heart of the opportunity is the fact that we live at a time when the prospect of war between states is less common than has been the case for several centuries and in which the prospect of conflict between this era’s major powers is remote. President George W. Bush made just this point in his introduction to his administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy: “Today, the international community has the best chance since the rise of the nation-state in the seventeenth century to build a world where great powers compete in peace instead of continually prepare for war.” It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of this development. It represents a fundamental departure from the past several hundred years of history, throughout which the defining struggle in the world was largely one between and among major powers. The twentieth century, for example, was dominated by a struggle between essentially liberal countries (led by Great Britain, France, and the United States) and militarized tyrannies (Germany and Japan in the first half of the century, the Soviet Union in the latter). This struggle was punctuated by three world wars, two of which were intensely hot, the third mostly (and mercifully) cold. There were existential threats to the United States and its allies, but these threats emanated from great power rivals.
The twenty-first century is fundamentally different. For the first time in modern history, the major powers of the day—currently, the United States, Europe, China, Russia, Japan, possibly India—are not engaged in a classic struggle for domination at each other’s expense. There are few contests over territory. For the foreseeable future, war between or among them borders on the highly unlikely and, in some cases, the unthinkable.
There is no fundamental ideological fault line pitting one great power against another in the world, and certainly nothing comparable to the “Communism versus Free World” axis that defined the previous era. Many governments share the view that “new forces,” including terrorism, disease, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, constitute the greatest threats to security and stability. And all the major powers (as well as virtually all countries, medium and small alike) share a stake in maintaining the stability that provides a necessary context for the economic interactions that benefit everyone.
In addition, the number of countries that can be accurately portrayed as full or near democracies (more than 100) is the highest in history; the same can be said for market economies. All this bodes well, not just for projected levels of human freedom and prosperity, but also for peace, as there is a good deal of scholarship suggesting that mature democracies are less likely to wage war on one another than countries where democracy has not put down deep roots or where it exists not at all.
We do not owe this good fortune to nuclear deterrence, the linchpin of peace between the two dominant powers throughout the Cold War. Although deterrence remains in effect, today’s major powers do not worry actively about each other’s nuclear intentions. More significant is the fact that U.S. strength—particularly military strength—is so pronounced that it discourages any kind of direct aggression from another state. Just as important, and recent intense disagreements over Iraq and other issues notwithstanding, international acceptance or at least tolerance of American power and purpose remains sufficiently high that other powers are not inclined as a matter of reflex to resist what the United States does around the world. None of the other major powers sees the United States as some contemporary version of, say, late-nineteenth-century Germany, a country intent on continental domination and colonial conquest that, as a result, had to be countered.
In history, no single country has ever possessed greater strength, and few countries or empires have enjoyed such advantages over their contemporaries as the United States does today. The United States now spends on the order of $500 billion a year on defense, more than China, Russia, India, Japan, and all of Europe combined. The qualitative advantage of the U.S. military is such that no other country can compete with the mobility, accuracy, and lethality of the U.S. forces. There is no obvious counterbalance: Today’s world is characterized by dramatic American advantage—a decided imbalance of power.
What is more, the United States enjoys the rare luxury of focusing almost all its defense budget abroad—in Europe, Asia, and the broader Middle East. Even allowing for sharply increased spending on homeland security introduced in the wake of 9/11, the United States spends only 10 to 15 percent of its security dollars on what might be described as self-defense against external threats. Historically, major powers have spent a significant portion of their resources fending off powerful, unfriendly neighbors. By contrast, the two immediate neighbors of the United States are its two largest trading partners. There is no significant threat in the Western Hemisphere. Consequently, much of what the United States devotes to national security is available for use elsewhere around the world.
American power is also economic. The GDP of the United States, more than $11 trillion, is more than 20 percent of world output, equal to the total annual output of goods and services of all twenty-five countries of the European Union (EU) combined, or to that of Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and China. Global economic performance is tightly linked to American economic performance. Access to the American market is essential; the United States, with just under 5 percent of the world’s population, imports 18 percent of what the rest of the world exports. American investment is often a principal driver of economic development elsewhere. The dollar remains the closest thing that there is to an international currency.
U.S. political weight is no less significant. When the United Nations was conceived in the 1940s, the United States was one of five permanent members of the Security Council accorded veto power. The United States was first among equals then and remains so today. In situations ranging from the Middle East and North Korea to Colombia and Sudan, the United States is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, whether it is in the room or not. What the United States chooses to do, what it chooses not to do, can and often does have profound consequences. This political influence is reinforced by American cultural reach: the influence of American universities, Hollywood and American television, U.S.-based media, and ideas generated throughout American society. The United States is both a model and an agent of global change.
All this power does not guarantee an age of perpetual peace or mean that history is ended or that we are secure. It is possible that traditional challenges to American dominance will emerge. One of the challenges for U.S. foreign policy is to ensure that great power competition does not revive on the scale of previous eras. Unfortunately, the first fifteen years of the post–Cold War era do not provide much reason for optimism on this score. Unless there are significant changes to U.S. foreign policy, we will almost certainly see a return to a world defined by balance of power politics, one in which the United States and other major powers will find themselves distracted by one another and unable to devote their resources to taking on what are in fact the real challenges of the day, those stemming from globalization and from a number of medium-sized and weak states.
U.S. strength, as considerable as it is and is likely to remain, is not unlimited. The number of active duty U.S. military personnel is approximately 1.4 million, down from just over 2 million at the end of the Cold War. Although some of this reduction can be attributed to improvements in technology and tactics, which in turn make possible reducing the number of troops without reducing overall combat effectiveness, the fact remains that quality cannot always substitute fully for quantity. Some tasks (in particular those that do not involve combat on open battlefields such as post-conflict stability operations) require a great deal of manpower. The result is that the United States would be hard pressed to respond to a full-fledged crisis on the Korean Peninsula without reducing its commitment to Iraq—or to try to replicate anywhere else what it is doing in Iraq or to intervene on a large scale in some humanitarian crisis such as in Darfur.
The United States is also stretched financially. The U.S. government, which could boast a sizable budget surplusonly a few years ago, now runs a fiscal deficit of more than $400 billion a year, a result of lower taxes, slower than hoped for economic growth, and an enormous increase in spending on both entitlements (mostly retirement and health-related) and discretionary items, that is, everything else, from homeland security and defense to education and roads. It is impossible to avoid questions of how American society will take care of its own as baby boomers retire and as life expectancy continues to increase. Making matters worse is the simultaneous mushrooming of the current account (essentially trade) deficit, which is now more than $600 billion a year, a figure approaching 6 percent of GDP. The American economy increasingly depends on the willingness of foreign governments and institutions to hold on to vast pools of dollars. The current situation may well endure for some time, given that it suits the immediate interests of all parties, but it cannot and will not endure indefinitely. (To paraphrase the economist Herb Stein, “[T]hat which cannot go on indefinitely, won’t.”) It is only a matter of time before foreigners grow wary (not to mention weary) of continuing to accumulate dollars, and when they do they will elect to sell some of those dollars they possess or slow their rate of accumulating additional ones. As this happens, the only question is whether the adjustment in the dollar’s value downward is gradual and manageable or quick and extremely painful in its effects.
To be sure, the United States could adopt policies that would increase its military capability or reduce its economic vulnerability. The United States could afford to increase military spending without jeopardizing the American economy. The United States spent a much higher percentage of its GDP on defense during World War II, for instance. But additional large increases in defense spending would increase the scale of the deficit and crowd out federal spending for more popular programs. Similarly, the United States could increase taxes, or decrease discretionary spending or what it spends on entitlements or both, but significant changes are politically unrealistic. A draft would likely be opposed by a majority of the American people, and already there are signs of popular resistance to heavy dependence upon and use of reserve forces.
These considerations all emphasize the unsuitability of American democracy for an imperial role. The American people are prepared to sacrifice for costly wars of necessity, such as World War II, and to undertake wars of choice such as the interventions in both Bosnia and Kosovo, so long as they do not prove to be costly. But expensive wars of choice (such as Vietnam proved to be and as Iraq threatens to become) that call for open-ended sacrifice for uncertain ends are simply not sustainable.
There is also the matter of American vulnerability. Indeed, with the possible exception of ten days in October 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union nearly came to war over the introduction of Soviet missiles into Cuba, Americans and their country have never felt more insecure.
American vulnerability is real. In part it is the residue of the Cold War and the fact that Russia still possesses thousands of nuclear warheads, more than enough to obliterate the United States. There is also China’s small but growing (and improving) nuclear arsenal. More of a danger, though, is the large Russian stockpile of nuclear materials (and possibly biological and chemical agents or weapons) that one day could end up in the hands of states such as North Korea and Iran or groups such as al Qaeda. Or terrorists could locate another source of advanced weapons or even develop their own basic weapon of mass destruction. Even without such a development, and as September 11 so starkly revealed on television screens across the country and the world, today’s terrorists can readily enter and move about the United States and cause billions of dollars of damage and claim thousands of lives with nothing more advanced than box cutters. What the United States has spent on homeland security has made airports somewhat safer but not much else.
The domestic vulnerability highlights a military weakness. Dominance on traditional battlefields, where advanced land, air, and sea-based forces can be combined, is one thing; dominance in built-up urban areas is something quite different. Many U.S. military advantages are irrelevant to the challenge of nation- or state-building in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. A lesson many governments and individuals seem to have taken from the 1991 Gulf War and from the more recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars is that the one place not to challenge the United States is on a traditional battlefield using traditional tools of war. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are emerging as the preferred “equalizers.”
The United States is vulnerable in other ways as well. The United States increasingly depends on imports of oil and natural gas; even more fundamentally, the American and world economies run on fossil fuels. Loss of adequate supply of oil or natural gas or price spikes could cause economic disruptions, trigger inflation, and undermine economic growth. Energy is one expression of economic interdependence. Millions of jobs depend on the ability to export goods and services around the world. Imports provide necessary goods and services, not to mention quality and choice. If trade protectionism were to make a comeback, it would have a chilling effect on the U.S. and global economies. At the same time, the willingness of others to hold billions of dollars allows Americans to import more than they export and to spend more as a government than is taken in. If foreigners were to have second thoughts about their dollar holdings, the need to hike interest rates in order to attract dollars to fund the U.S. debt and attract resources for investment would likely trigger job loss and recession in the United States.
America is also susceptible to global perils. In 2003, the outbreak of SARS in China demonstrated, like HIV/AIDS and the flu before it, that viruses respect no border. When people in China sneezed, people in Canada and the United States caught much more than a cold. Viruses of another sort, those carried in cyberspace that infect computers, can wreak havoc on a modern society. Worldwide drug trafficking meets and fuels American demand (and is indirectly responsible for a significant portion of our crime). Global climate change is another sort of American vulnerability. It is broadly understood that the way energy is used around the world is altering the temperature of the atmosphere, something that before too many more decades pass could alter the ability to grow crops or live in coastal areas. Many of these vulnerabilities are manifestations of globalization, which at its core is the increasing volume, speed, and importance of flows within and across borders of people, ideas, greenhouse gases, manufactured goods, dollars, euros, television and radio signals, drugs, germs, e-mails, weapons, and a good deal else. What is at issue is not simply the fact that the actions of one government affect and are affected by those of others, but also the reality that many of the most important forces in the world are beyond the control and, in some cases, even knowledge of governments.
Many aspects of globalization are positive, including the Internet, travel, trade, financing of investment, faxes, and telephones. Many of these phenomena play to U.S. strengths, as Americans (given their relatively open, dynamic society) are well suited to the demands of a modern world economy. Indeed, globalization is a powerful force behind the improvement in the American standard of living and, in some cases, the quality of life the United States provides its citizens.
The coexistence of what might be described as forces of disorder and order in the world at the same time is nothing new. Indeed, history can be understood as the balance or struggle between them. The best book that I have read on international affairs, and the one that most influenced my own thinking—Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society—captures in its title this fundamental truth, namely, that at any moment the world is a blend of restraint and rules (society) and anarchy. History, then, is largely determined by the degree to which the major powers of the era can agree on rules of the road—and impose them on those who reject them.
What side will win today’s struggle? What will be the enduring and defining character of our world? Will society triumph over anarchy? And, if so, what kind of society will that be? If it is too soon to answer such questions, it is not too soon to assert that the most influential factor will be the actions of the United States—the “hyperpower,” in the words of Hubert Vedrine, a former foreign minister of France.
Integrating the World
What is it the United States should be doing? The United States should be using its power and influence to persuade the major powers of the day, along with as many other countries, organizations, corporations, and individuals as possible, to sign up to and support a set of rules, policies, and institutions that would bring about a world in which armed conflict between and within states is the exception; where terrorists find it difficult to succeed; where the spread of weapons of mass destruction is halted and ultimately reversed; in which markets are open to goods and services and in which societies are free and open to ideas; and where the world’s people have a good chance to live out lives of normal span free from violence, extreme poverty, and deadly disease. Our policies must recognize that globalization is a reality, not a choice. As Prime Minister Tony Blair has stated, “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not.” But what to do about globalization, how to contend with it, does involve choice. The choice before the United States is between an effective multilateralism and either a gradual return to a world of great power competition or a world overwhelmed by disruptive forces, or both.
To have a chance of succeeding, the United States will need to view other major powers less as rivals and more as partners. Much the same applies to relations with critical medium powers such as Brazil in South America, South Africa and Nigeria in Africa, and South Korea and Australia in East Asia. The United States will have to accept some constraints on its freedom of action. It will have to make a concerted effort to build international consensus on the principles and rules that ought to govern international relations. It will have to use all the foreign policy tools at its disposal and not only or even mostly the military. It will have to get more involved in reforming other societies. Americans will need to rethink some of their traditional ideas about sovereignty. In all of this, the United States will not be able to simply impose its preferences. Power is not the same as influence; to the contrary, power is better understood as potential. The goal of foreign policy is to translate this potential into lasting influence.
There is a precedent for trying to bring about a world in which the leading states of the day do often act as partners. In the early nineteenth century, the major powers of the era met in Vienna and subsequently in other cities to develop understandings—rules of the road, in today’s parlance— about the conduct of international relations. The goal was to devise “international agreement about the nature of workable arrangements and about the permissible aims and methods of foreign policy.” While more modest than that, the resulting “Concert of Europe” helped to keep relative peace for several decades among the great powers— Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia—then at the heart of the European state system. The arrangements were never institutionalized, much less codified as some form of world government; rather, what emerged were a set of understandings and a commitment to consult in order to avoid the sort of major power conflict Europe had just experienced (the Napoleonic Wars), in large part leaving all five governments better able to contend with the rising pressures for self-determination and greater freedom and opportunity that threatened a world of empires and hereditary elites.
This period following the Congress of Vienna is not the only example of coordination among the major powers of the day. More recently, the Cold War was kept cold (as opposed to going hot) by a series of implicit or informal understandings between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both had a stake in avoiding a nuclear conflict that neither could win; as a result, each avoided any direct armed intervention against the other on the grounds that escalation to nuclear war was all too possible. In addition, it was acceptable to provide military assistance to an ally or client, but not to the point of overwhelming the ally or client of the other. The most dangerous moments of the Cold War came when such “rules” were violated or came close to being violated.
Rules of the road are just as necessary in the contemporary era. What is needed, though, are not simply “negative” understandings among the major powers that constrain competition, but “positive” commitments about how to work together to meet pressing challenges. The challenge is not simply to erect an international society with commonly accepted restraints but to fashion coalitions and institutions that promote certain objectives sought by the United States and embraced by others.
Areas for potential cooperation include what to do with governments that either commit genocide against their own citizens or are so weak that they cannot prevent massacres from occurring. Another is how to prevent (or revive) failed states. There is as well the matter of how best to promote open societies and open markets and reduce poverty, disease, and emissions that contribute to global climate change. Also needed is cooperation against terrorism, including rules to prohibit state support of terrorism. And, arguably most important, it is essential that the powers of the day work together to slow or better yet stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, above all nuclear weapons.
History and realist theory suggest that such talk of sustained international cooperation is unrealistic and that it is only a matter of time before one or more of these major actors (most likely China or an increasingly united and alienated Europe) challenges American primacy. But this is by no means inevitable. Countries tend to challenge the status quo when they see it as being inconsistent with their national aspirations and vulnerable to challenge. The objective for U.S. foreign policy should be to persuade others to work with the United States—and to persuade them that it is neither wise to work against the United States, given its strength, nor necessary to work against it, given its intentions.
The administration of George W. Bush has it half right when it comes to this point. It has stressed the importance of maintaining a U.S. power advantage that would discourage challengers. “The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy— whether a state or non-state actor—to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends. ... Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.”
There are limits to this approach, however. The United States is not in a position to prevent the rise of other powers. The rise and decline of states has a great deal to do with demographics, culture, natural resources, educational systems, economic policy, political stability, individual opportunity, legal frameworks—all matters largely beyond the control of outsiders. Put another way, there is not a lot the United States could do to prevent the rise of either China or Russia or India or Europe—any more than Europe was able to prevent the rise of the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Any effort on the part of the United States to frustrate the rise of another country would guarantee that government’s animosity and all but ensure it's working against U.S. efforts around the world.
Nor should the United States want to discourage the emergence of strong countries; to the contrary, the United States needs other countries to be strong if it is to have the partners it requires to meet the challenges posed by globalization. The issue for American foreign policy should not be whether China becomes strong, but rather how China uses its growing strength. The same point applies to India, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, and others. The United States should also encourage the emergence of a more unified and stronger Europe, as such a Europe has the potential to be a valuable partner in addressing global challenges. And the United States should favor the gradual “normalization” of Japanese foreign policy; only a Japan that sheds many of its post–World II constraints can play a significant role in contributing to the stability of Asia and in assisting war-torn societies.
It is not enough, though, to discourage major power competition or conflict. U.S. foreign policy needs to encourage cooperation. Even if other countries choose not to challenge the United States directly, they could elect to sit on their hands; for the immediate future, noncooperation is likely to be a more frequent and a bigger problem for U.S. foreign policy than direct opposition. The costly and damaging consequences of noncooperation are visible in postwar Iraq: For more than two years, few governments proved willing to commit troops or resources to assist that country’s new leaders and its people recover from decades of tyranny and the more recent war and subsequent disorder. Over time, this kind of passive resistance on the part of other major powers to U.S. policies abroad will drain the resources of the United States or lead to less effective international action against contemporary challenges, or both. Everyone will be worse off.
As a result, the goal of U.S. foreign policy should not simply be to maintain a world defined by U.S. military superiority. Rather, the priority for American foreign policy should be to integrate other states into American-sponsored or American-supported efforts to deal with the challenges of globalization. This can only be achieved through consent, not coercion. As Henry Kissinger has correctly noted, “American power is a fact of life, but the art of diplomacy is to translate power into consensus.”
Consent, in turn, presupposes a common view of what constitutes legitimate behavior. American foreign policy, then, should aim to promote a shared definition of legitimacy among the major powers and others, one that reflects a shared view of the proper ends and means of international relations. Against such a common backdrop, it would be possible to integrate other countries and organizations into arrangements that could sustain a world consistent with U.S. interests and values—interests and values that are in no way narrowly or uniquely American. Integration of new partners into U.S. efforts worldwide will help the United States deal with traditional challenges of maintaining peace in divided regions and protecting vulnerable populations as well as with meeting transnational threats such as international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It will also help bring into the modern world those billions of people living in dozens of countries who have largely missed out on the benefits of open markets and political systems, a development that would be good in and of itself for humanitarian reasons but which would likely have desirable economic and strategic dividends as well.
“Integration” is a word that brings to mind certain images, most often those associated with efforts to bring about a society in which race or religion do not define individual rights or access to services. In its most basic sense, however, it entails the combining or incorporating of parts into a larger whole.
An American foreign policy based upon a doctrine of integration would have three dimensions. First, it would aim to create a cooperative relationship among the world’s major powers—a twenty-first-century concert—built on a common commitment to promoting certain principles and outcomes. Second, it would seek to translate this commitment into effective arrangements and actions. Third, it would work to bring in other countries, organizations, and peoples so that they come to enjoy the benefits of physical security, economic opportunity, and political freedom. The goal would be to create a more integrated world both in the sense of integrating (involving) as many governments and organizations and societies as possible and in the sense of bringing about a more integrated (cooperative) international community so that the challenges central to the modern era could better be met.
Integration is the natural successor to containment, which was the necessary and correct policy construct for the Cold War. Containment—in George Kennan’s formulation, “a commitment to countering the Soviet Union wherever it encroached upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world”—implicitly and correctly rejected two dangerous alternatives: appeasement of the Soviet and Communist threat on the one hand, something that would have led to a diminution of security and freedom and prosperity around the world, and direct confrontation on the other, something that would have been all too dangerous in a nuclear era.
Containment, which survived some four decades of Soviet challenge, could not, however, survive its own success. What is needed as a result is a foreign policy doctrine for both a post-11/9 (November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, signifying the Cold War’s end) and a post-9/11 world. A doctrine relevant to this era, however, would seek to bring others in, not keep them out. That a guiding principle is needed cannot be doubted. An intellectual frame- work furnishes policymakers with a compass to determine priorities, which in turn help shape decisions affecting long-term investments involving military forces, assistance programs, and both intelligence and diplomatic assets. A doctrine also helps prepare the public for what may be required—and sends signals to other governments, groups, and individuals (friend and foe alike) about what the country is striving to seek or prevent in the world.
None of three post–Cold War presidencies has successfully articulated a comprehensive foreign policy or national security doctrine. The first Bush administration spoke of a “New World Order” but never defined it. The Clinton administration wrote of enlarging the circle of democracies but never put this enterprise at the center of a consistent foreign policy. Attempts to ascribe a “Bush Doctrine” to the first term of George W. Bush came up short, as there was less a coherent policy than a mix of counterterrorism, democracy promotion, preemption, and unilateralism.
The opportunity exists for our era to become one of genuine global integration. More than any other alternative, integration offers a coherent response to globalization and to the transnational threats that constitute the defining challenges of the era. Ruled out, then, as a national security doctrine is unilateralism. No single country, no matter how powerful, can contend successfully on its own with transna- tional challenges. Any such effort will fail. It will also have two other adverse consequences: It will stimulate the reemergence of a world defined by a balance of power, and it will erode the economic (and possibly political and military) foundations of U.S. strength that are in part responsible for the opportunity that now exists.
None of this should be construed as an argument against American leadership. But leadership implies followership. Unilateralism is just that: acting alone. Most of today’s pressing problems cannot be met by the United States alone, given the nature of the problems themselves and the realistic limits to American power. To take just one example, critical foreign policy tools such as sanctions will have little impact unless other potential partners of a target government join the United States in a policy of isolation.
The administration of George W. Bush is fond of saying that the United States needs no permission slip from the United Nations or anybody else to act. This is true. No country and certainly no great power would or should allow itself to be so hamstrung. But this in no way negates the point that the United States can only achieve what it seeks in the world if others work with it as opposed to against it or not at all. In the end, the United States does not need the world’s permission to act, but it does need the world’s support to succeed.
Isolationism is no better as an alternative. No country can escape the consequences of globalization. It is not simply that there is no hiding from globalization; it is also that the world cannot be expected to sort itself out without leadership, something only the United States can provide right now. Unlike Adam Smith’s economic model, there is no invisible hand ensuring that all works out for the best in the geopolitical marketplace.
Counterterrorism alone does not constitute an adequate foreign policy ambition for the United States. It is too narrow in scope and provides no guidance for dealing with a majority of the opportunities and challenges posed by globalization and international relations. Moreover, the surest way to address the threat of terrorism is integration. Only by integrating other countries into the struggle against existing and potential terrorism can the United States succeed.
Promoting democracy is another potential foreign policy lodestar, one that appears to be the preferred approach of the second term of George W. Bush. “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one,” the president proclaimed in his second inaugural address. “So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. . . . We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies.”
It is, however, neither desirable nor practical to make democracy promotion a foreign policy doctrine. Too many pressing threats in which the lives of millions hang in the balance—from dealing with today’s terrorists and managing Iranian and North Korean nuclear capabilities to coping with protectionism and genocide—will not be solved by the emergence of democracy. Promoting democracy is and should be one foreign policy goal, but it cannot be the only or dominant objective. When it comes to relations with Russia or China, other national security interests must normally take precedence over concerns about how they choose to govern themselves. The fact that promoting democracy can be difficult and expensive also reduces its attraction as a foreign policy compass.
Integration can be a bold, transforming strategy by which the United States can shape the next era of history. This is an optimistic prospect, but one more modest in imagination than, say, someone writing amid World War II of a Europe in which Franco-German friendship is the cornerstone, or of someone writing in 1951 (the year I was born) of a post–Cold War, post-Soviet world in which markets and democracies are more the world’s rule than an exception. An integrated world can, with American guidance, become an achievable reality.
Some will see a risk that integration might prove too successful: Following an extended period of international calm, a much stronger China or Europe might then turn on the United States. Some analysts take such a risk seriously: “[T]he United States has a profound interest in seeing Chinese economic growth slow considerably in the years ahead....A wealthy China would not be a status quo power but an aggressive state determined to achieve regional hegemony.” Here again, though, the strategy of integration offers reassurance. At its core is the ambition to give other powers a substantial stake in the maintenance of order—in effect, to co-opt them and make them pillars of international society—so that they will come to see it in their self-interest to continue working with the United States and damaging to their interests to have a falling-out with the United States. We are far more likely to face a disruptive major power down the road if we do not pursue the idea of integration.
This will not always be easy, particularly given the level of anti-Americanism that currently exists. It would be wrong, however, to view today’s sentiments as representing what might be described as a strategic choice by governments to counter the efforts of the United States throughout the world. Although some anti-Americanism can be attributed to natural resentment of a stronger country, the bulk of anti-American sentiment stems from disagreement over particular U.S. policies, especially the war against Iraq, the Palestinian issue and the perception in many quarters of uncritical U.S. support for Israel, and U.S. rejection of multiple international arrangements. The style and tone of American foreign policy during the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency has also had an impact. But much of today’s anti-Americanism need not be either structural or permanent. It is essential that policies and how they are promoted be adjusted. Anti-Americanism makes it more difficult for the United States to find useful and at times necessary partners. Even worse, over time, the perception that Americans do not have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind could bring to power individuals and governments around the world who view the United States as a threat that needs to be countered.
The current period is not the first time the United States has emerged from a major war blessed with great power and the opportunity to make the world more secure, prosperous, and in general, better off. Following World War I, the United States (and both France and Great Britain) could and should have done much more to prevent the rise of German power that over the course of two decades led to World War II. A foreign policy that does too little can be as dangerous as one that aims to do too much.
Even more, though, the current period resembles the era just following World War II. Then, as now, the United States emerged from years of intense struggle as the most powerful country in the world. Then, as now, the United States emerged triumphant from one struggle only to face another. Then, as now, the United States needed partners in order to meet the new set of challenges it faced. It did so after World War II in an extraordinary fashion; for good reason did Dean Acheson, President Harry S. Truman’s secretary of state, title his memoirs Present at the Creation. It truly was a creative time, one that gave rise to the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (or GATT, the precursor to the World Trade Organization [WTO]), theories and policies of nuclear deterrence, and, in the United States, the national security council system and a modern intelligence community.
The obvious question is whether the United States will prove to be equally creative now. This is a time for new thinking: about sovereignty, about how to view other major powers, about the purposes of foreign policy. It is also a time for new programs and arrangements: to contend better with terrorism, to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, to decrease the number of innocent people around the world at risk from internal conflicts and disease, to help the Arab world modernize its societies so it no longer produces legions of alienated young men and women all too eager to die rather than live for their causes.
All of which brings us back to the fundamental argument of this book, that of opportunity. The question is what Americans and others make of this moment. Time, resources, and potential have already been squandered. A different foreign policy, one based on promoting the world’s integration while the opportunity to do so still exists, is urgently necessary.