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Power Ebbing Away From United States (And Fear About World Stability)

January 21, 2019

The international implications of fracturing alliances, undermining of liberal democracies , and continuing growth of technology are all topics which interest me.  The Jan/Feb edition of Foreign Affairs has some stimulating articles which land at differing points of the divide regarding these problems that impact nations far and wide.

Over the years Richard Haass has offered leaders background and insight into international relations.  He has also placed his views into countless articles, along with books.  The entire How A World Order Ends can be read here, but I post a portion below about where we currently find ourselves.   And one paragraph about the future policy needs of the United States.

Why is all this happening? It is instructive to look back to the gradual demise of the Concert of Europe. Today’s world order has struggled to cope with power shifts: China’s rise, the appearance of several medium powers (Iran and North Korea, in particular) that reject important aspects of the order, and the emergence of nonstate actors (from drug cartels to terrorist networks) that can pose a serious threat to order within and between states. 

The technological and political context has changed in important ways, too. Globalization has had destabilizing effects, ranging from climate change to the spread of technology into far more hands than ever before, including a range of groups and people intent on disrupting the order. Nationalism and populism have surged—the result of greater inequality within countries, the dislocation associated with the 2008 financial crisis, job losses caused by trade and technology, increased flows of migrants and refugees, and the power of social media to spread hate. 

Meanwhile, effective statecraft is conspicuously lacking. Institutions have failed to adapt. No one today would design a UN Security Council that looked like the current one; yet real reform is impossible, since those who would lose influence block any changes. Efforts to build effective frameworks to deal with the challenges of globalization, including climate change and cyberattacks, have come up short. Mistakes within the EU—namely, the decisions to establish a common currency without creating a common fiscal policy or a banking union and to permit nearly unlimited immigration to Germany—have created a powerful backlash against existing governments, open borders, and the EU itself.

The United States, for its part, has committed costly overreach in trying to remake Afghanistan, invading Iraq, and pursuing regime change in Libya. But it has also taken a step back from maintaining global order and in certain cases has been guilty of costly underreach. In most instances, U.S. reluctance to act has come not over core issues but over peripheral ones that leaders wrote off as not worth the costs involved, such as the strife in Syria, where the United States failed to respond meaningfully when Syria first used chemical weapons or to do more to help anti-regime groups. This reluctance has increased others’ propensity to disregard U.S. concerns and act independently. The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen is a case in point. Russian actions in Syria and Ukraine should also be seen in this light; it is interesting that Crimea marked the effective end of the Concert of Europe and signaled a dramatic setback in the current order. Doubts about U.S. reliability have multiplied under the Trump administration, thanks to its withdrawal from numerous international pacts and its conditional approach to once inviolable U.S. alliance commitments in Europe and Asia. 

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All of this also requires that the United States get its own house in order—reducing government debt, rebuilding infrastructure, improving public education, investing more in the social safety net, adopting a smart immigration system that allows talented foreigners to come and stay, tackling political dysfunction by making it less difficult to vote, and undoing gerrymandering. The United States cannot effectively promote order abroad if it is divided at home, distracted by domestic problems, and lacking in resources.

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