How Trump would weaken Amer­ica

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - JOSEPH S. NYE —Cour­tesy: TJT [The writer is univer­sity dis­tin­guished ser­vice pro­fes­sor at Har­vard and au­thor most re­cently of “Is the Amer­i­can Cen­tury Over?” ©Project Syn­di­cate, 2016. www.project-syn­di­cate.org]

DON­ALD Trump, the Repub­li­can Party’s pre­sump tive US pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, has ex­pressed deep scep­ti­cism about the value of Amer­ica’s al­liances. His is a very 19th cen­tury view of the world. Back then, the United States fol­lowed Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s ad­vice to avoid “en­tan­gling al­liances” and pur­sued the Mon­roe Doc­trine, which fo­cused on US in­ter­ests in the West­ern Hemi­sphere.

Lack­ing a large stand­ing army (and with a navy that in the 1870s was smaller than Chile’s), the US played a mi­nor role in the 19th cen­tury global bal­ance of power.

That changed de­ci­sively with Amer­ica’s en­try into World War I, when Woodrow Wil­son broke with tra­di­tion and sent US troops to fight in Eu­rope.

More­over, he pro­posed a League of Na­tions to or­gan­ise col­lec­tive se­cu­rity on a global ba­sis. But af­ter the Se­nate re­jected US mem­ber­ship in the league in 1919, the troops stayed home and Amer­ica “re­turned to nor­mal”. Though it was now a ma­jor global ac­tor, the US be­came vir­u­lently iso­la­tion­ist. Its ab­sence of al­liances in the 1930s set the stage for a dis­as­trous decade marked by eco­nomic de­pres­sion, geno­cide and an­other world war.

Omi­nously, Trump’s most de­tailed speech on for­eign pol­icy sug­gests that he takes his in­spi­ra­tion from pre­cisely this pe­riod of iso­la­tion and “Amer­ica First” sen­ti­ment. Such sen­ti­ment has al­ways been a cur­rent in US pol­i­tics, but it has re­mained out of the main­stream since the end of World War II for good rea­son: It hin­ders, rather than ad­vances, peace and pros­per­ity at home and abroad. The turn away from iso­la­tion and the be­gin­ning of the “Amer­i­can cen­tury” in world pol­i­tics was marked by pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man’s de­ci­sions af­ter World War II, which led to per­ma­nent al­liances and a mil­i­tary pres­ence abroad. The US in­vested heav­ily in the Mar­shall Plan in 1948, cre­ated NATO in 1949, and led a United Na­tions coali­tion that fought in Korea in 1950.

In 1960, pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower signed a se­cu­rity treaty with Ja­pan. Amer­i­can troops re­main in Eu­rope, Ja­pan and Korea to this day.

While the US has had bit­ter par­ti­san dif­fer­ences over dis­as­trous in­ter­ven­tions in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as Viet­nam and Iraq, there is a bedrock of con­sen­sus on its al­liance sys­tem — and not just among those who make and think about for­eign pol­icy.

Opin­ion polls show pop­u­lar ma­jori­ties in sup­port of NATO and the US-Ja­pan al­liance. Nonethe­less, for the first time in 70 years, a ma­jor US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date is call­ing this con­sen­sus into ques­tion.

Al­liances not only re­in­force US power; they also main­tain geopo­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity — ex­am­ple, by slow­ing the dan­ger­ous pro­lif­er­a­tion of nu­clear weapons.

While US pres­i­dents and de­fence sec­re­taries have some­times com­plained about its al­lies’ low lev­els of de­fence spend­ing, they have al­ways un­der­stood that al­liances are best viewed as sta­bil­is­ing com­mit­ments — like friend­ships, not real es­tate trans­ac­tions. Un­like the con­stantly shift­ing al­liances of con­ve­nience that char­ac­terised the 19th cen­tury, mod­ern Amer­i­can al­liances have sus­tained a rel­a­tively pre­dictable in­ter­na­tional or­der. In some cases, such as Ja­pan, host-coun­try sup­port even makes it cheaper to sta­tion troops over­seas than in the US. And yet Trump ex­tols the virtues of un­pre­dictabil­ity — a po­ten­tially use­ful tac­tic when bar­gain­ing with en­e­mies, but a dis­as­trous ap­proach to re­as­sur­ing friends. Amer­i­cans of­ten com­plain about free rid­ers, with­out recog­nis­ing that the US has been the one steer­ing the bus.

It is not im­pos­si­ble that a new chal­lenger — say, Eu­rope, Rus­sia, In­dia, Brazil or China — sur­passes the US in the com­ing decades and takes the wheel. But it is not likely, ei­ther. Among the fea­tures that dis­tin­guish the US from “the dom­i­nant great pow­ers of the past”, ac­cord­ing to the dis­tin­guished Bri­tish strate­gist Lawrence Freed­man, is that “Amer­i­can power is based on al­liances rather than colonies”. Al­liances are as­sets; colonies are li­a­bil­i­ties. A nar­ra­tive of Amer­i­can de­cline is likely to be in­ac­cu­rate and mis­lead­ing. More im­por­tant, it holds dan­ger­ous pol­icy im­pli­ca­tions if it en­cour­ages coun­tries like Rus­sia to en­gage in ad­ven­tur­ous poli­cies, China to be more as­sertive with its neigh­bours, or the US to over­re­act out of fear.

Amer­ica has many prob­lems, but it is not in ab­so­lute de­cline, and it is likely to re­main more pow­er­ful than any single state for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

The real prob­lem for the US is not that it will be over­taken by China or an­other con­tender, but that a rise in the power re­sources of many oth­ers — both states and non­state ac­tors — will pose new ob­sta­cles to global gov­er­nance. The real chal­lenge will be en­tropy — the in­abil­ity to get work done. Weak­en­ing Amer­ica’s al­liances, the likely re­sult of Trump’s poli­cies, is hardly the way to “make Amer­ica great again”.

Amer­ica will face an in­creas­ing num­ber of new transna­tional is­sues that re­quire it to ex­er­cise power with oth­ers as much as over oth­ers. And, in a world of grow­ing com­plex­ity, the most con­nected states are the most pow­er­ful. As Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter has put it, “di­plo­macy is so­cial cap­i­tal; it de­pends on the den­sity and reach of a na­tion’s diplo­matic con­tacts”.

The US, ac­cord­ing to Aus­tralia’s Lowy In­sti­tute, tops the rank­ing of coun­tries by num­ber of em­bassies, con­sulates and mis­sions. The US has some 60 treaty al­lies; China has few.

The Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine es­ti­mates that of the world’s 150 largest coun­tries, nearly 100 lean to­wards the US, while 21 lean against it. Con­trary to claims that the “Chi­nese cen­tury” is at hand, we have not en­tered a post-Amer­i­can world. The US re­mains cen­tral to the work­ings of the global bal­ance of power, and to the pro­vi­sion of global pub­lic goods.

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