US needs to con­sider the rip­ple ef­fects of its ac­tions

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - Siphamandla Zondi is from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria’s In­sti­tute for Strate­gic and Po­lit­i­cal Af­fairs. SIPHAMANDLA ZONDI

DON­ALD Trump has swept into the US pres­i­dency with aplomb, declar­ing that he would make Amer­ica great again, which was also his cam­paign pay-off line. What does this im­ply for the rest of the world?

Will mak­ing the US great also make the world great or will it be di­min­ished so that the US stands out as the lone su­per­power?

These ques­tions should trou­ble all those who un­der­stand that what hap­pens in the US af­fects the world sys­tem which the US and the West con­trol.

When the US drinks poi­son and falls ill, the world suf­fers as we saw when the US fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions made reck­less trade de­ci­sions that trig­gered the fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2009, which then trans­formed into a global eco­nomic cri­sis we are yet to re­cover from.

When the US de­cided the mil­i­tary was a crit­i­cal strat­egy for manag­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, the world was mil­i­tarised. When it put its power be­hind spread­ing a lib­eral brand of democ­racy, it be­came a global trend.

The US isn’t an or­di­nary state. It isn’t just an­other global power. It is a state with a wide in­ter­na­tional char­ac­ter that mil­lions in the world feel through the force of US com­merce, the in­flu­ence of the dol­lar and Coca-Cola, the vi­o­lence of regime-change de­signs and the war on ter­ror.

Ev­ery twist and turn in US con­duct and for­eign pol­icy af­fects us all. The mod­ern world the West be­gan build­ing in the late 15th cen­tury – us­ing im­pe­rial trade and com­merce, colo­nial­ism, slave trade and wars – had its cus­to­di­an­ship shift from Por­tu­gal and Spain in the early stages to Hol­land, Ger­many, Britain and France, and ended up be­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the US af­ter World War II to this day.

This gives the US im­mense power and in­flu­ence on global af­fairs as a leader of the West and hence the mod­ern world as a power sys­tem.

With this power comes re­spon­si­bil­ity. The US has the bur­den to act re­spon­si­bly and with con­sid­er­a­tion for what rip­ple ef­fects its ac­tions have on the glob­alised world un­der its care.

It is a re­spon­si­bil­ity that ob­li­gates Wash­ing­ton to un­der­stand and con­sider the in­ter­ests of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem by which the world sys­tem op­er­ates, from the UN to re­gional or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­ter­na­tional fi­nance in­sti­tu­tions.

It has, over the years, grown aware of the fact that it doesn’t have pure na­tional in­ter­ests be­cause what it does af­fects oth­ers in real ways.

Trump was elected on the ba­sis of his prom­ise to re­store the US na­tional in­ter­est. It’s to fix the in­ter­nal prob­lems re­lated to the ef­fects of glob­al­i­sa­tion on jobs and in­ter­na­tional trade links on its man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try.

This nar­ra­tive is about a great US in the mak­ing. It’s put Amer­ica and its peo­ple first, which can im­ply putting the world sec­ond.

At his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Trump de­clared that he would put the na­tional in­ter­est of the US above other con­sid­er­a­tions. He said it was no longer ac­cept­able for the US to do for oth­ers what US cit­i­zens also needed such as se­cu­rity and jobs.

He im­plied that there would be less al­tru­ism. It’s about putting the poor, un­em­ployed in the US be­fore what the US can do for oth­ers.

He has promised to fo­cus on build­ing Amer­ica while main­tain­ing re­la­tions with other coun­tries. This can im­ply that the US will want to act like a nor­mal or typ­i­cal na­tion state.

It won’t take on more re­spon­si­bil­ity than a nor­mal state does. Trump’s promis­ing a dif­fer­ent Amer­ica from the one we’ve known for the past 70 years.

If he keeps his prom­ise, we can ex­pect a US that pulls back to its na­tional shell. It can be a pull back from the dam­ag­ing role of a mil­i­tary power or im­pe­rial power in­ter­fer­ing in the af­fairs of var­i­ous coun­tries in or­der to im­pose US ideals on oth­ers, es­tab­lish­ing mil­i­tary bases ev­ery­where and pok­ing its nose in re­gional ri­val­ries.

This is pos­i­tive for a world that must al­low var­i­ous coun­tries and re­gions to de­cide their des­tiny.

But this could also mean a US that will be re­luc­tant to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity aris­ing from global agree­ments on is­sues like cli­mate change, sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, mul­ti­lat­eral trade and other mat­ters of global good.

This will be bad for the rest of us. It might mean a US that is less en­thu­si­as­tic to sup­port and strengthen mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, but one that is will­ing to un­der­mine global con­sen­sus on pub­lic goods when it isn’t in its na­tional in­ter­est.

The in­ter­na­tional sys­tem works on the ba­sis of the will­ing­ness to build re­la­tions, strengthen in­ter­na­tional co-op­er­a­tion and keep di­a­logue go­ing in search of global con­sen­sus.

A US that be­comes a spoiler, a stum­bling block or a by­stander will have a neg­a­tive bear­ing on global di­a­logue and the search for con­sen­sus.

Trump might ac­cel­er­ate the un­rav­el­ling of the “Amer­i­can World” as a cur­rent ver­sion of the older “Western World”, thus bring­ing us closer to the mo­ment of reck­on­ing where the world might be forced to fash­ion a world for all. It might ac­cel­er­ate the de­coloni­sa­tion of the global sys­tem.

But it might also just sow more con­fu­sion as the US main­tains its hege­monic power and uses it for na­tional in­ter­est.

The pro­gres­sive forces hop­ing for trans­for­ma­tion of world af­fairs in­clud­ing the re­la­tions be­tween their coun­tries and the US, have to seize upon this mo­ment to build links across the globe in or­der to build a pluriver­sal world in place of the univer­sal (one ver­sion) mul­ti­po­lar one of Western dom­i­nance now.

It has im­mense power and in­flu­ence on global af­fairs

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