Back to the Cold War
Trump’s new security doctrine longs for simpler times at the expense of reality
The U.S. administration outlined its new national security doctrine in a policy paper published on December 18. It was, unsurprisingly, a continuation of President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda. Making America great again, from Trump’s perspective, appears to be a last ditch grasp at renewing the old world order, where American might shaped the relationships between nations. But the world has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. A new world disorder is emerging where no one nation can claim the right to world dominance. What will be the consequences of the Trump administration’s backward-looking agenda?
►What are some of the bas c d fferences between Trump’s secur ty doctr ne and h s predecessor’s?
It was rumoured that during the U.S. administration under Barack Obama, the State Department defined one of its challenges as managing decline. This may, in fact, be an inaccurate depiction of the situation. The State Department was probably trying to manage the policy adjustments to changing world conditions. In the old formulation, the US was the leader of a community of democratic nations that had market economies. After the end of the Cold War, the general atmosphere was that we had come now to a stage when of entering a period of economic prosperity and democratic peace during which all countries would be cooperating with each other. In retrospect, this appears to have been wishful thinking in that the end of the Soviet Union did not necessarily mean the end of competitive relations among major powers in the world.
In the new American policy, the US sees itself as a nation state that pursues exclusively its own national interests without taking into consideration the interests of the community it is trying to lead. And this of course marks a fundamental shift. The security document appears to be a continuation of the return to an exclusively nationalist line.
►Is the Trump v ew of the world accurate? Is U.S. dom nance the path to world peace and secur ty?
No. Definitely not. The system of world governance that was built after the second world war with the United Nations at the helm on the political side and a set of organizations like the World Bank and the IMF on the economic side, along with other institutions, including the World Health Organization, FAO etc was designed for the most part by the US and was serving the interests of the so-called free world. But it also gave the US the tools to run this world. This system is no longer serving the interests of the global community well. The best example is the UN Security Council. Any one of the five permanent members can stop what the UN can do. The US is a superpower, fine. Russia is a security power, let us also accept that. China is there but there should be others. What are England and France doing there? They should no longer belong there according to the current world realities. Reform is needed.
The United States was used to dominating the free world during the Cold War. When it came to an end, for a moment, the US thought it was the only global power. There was talk of a unipolar world but it soon became evident that a unipolar world was difficult to sustain. When you had two competing camps – the Americans and the Soviet Union - the members of the camps felt more pressured to comply with the wishes of the camp’s leader. But once you had a unipolar world, all countries decided to conduct experiments in their foreign policies and pursue independent lines in their economic policies. The US expectation to dominate the world did not materialize.
When we examine the policies the US was following prior to the announcement of this security doctrine, what we observe is essentially the destruction of an economic order that the Obama administration was trying to build both through the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the partnership with Europe – the TTIP. But it seems the Trump administration found this to be harmful. Similarly, Trump is attacking the agreement with Iran as the worst deal that the US has ever made. This all marks a transition in the mindset of how the US leadership views the world. It seems that the US has begun to view the world in the same light as the Russians: that is, the only way they can assure their dominant position in the world is through securitized relationships rather than more open and multi-dimensional interactions among societies.
The problem is that, once behaving in terms of narrowly defined national interests becomes fashionable, all countries begin to behave this way. This is probably not a very useful way of approaching international relations. I feel that international cooperation and setting up international regulatory frameworks tend to serve the interests of all countries better in the long run because they lead to the building of a more predictable international environment. They also constitute a check against uncontrolled reactions of some countries against others. When you have the United States and Russia behaving along exclusively nationalistic lines, this pushes other powers to do the same.
►Essent ally, you’re referr ng to a return to mult -polar ty, as opposed to mult lateral sm. Is th s nev table?
I’m inclined to think that what will emerge in the long run is a multilateral disorder the initial stage of which is unbridled nationalisms competing against each other. It’s interesting that this development is fanned by domestic political developments in many countries where we find popular right-wing parties achieving power. These parties often tend to be xenophobic, strongly anti-immigration, and often have racist and other bigoted overtones in their thinking. Such domestic developments also make it difficult for societies to cooperate in the international domain. But let us hope that this is simply what we might call General Custer’s last stand.