Having emerged from the Cold War, the United States is the preeminent superpower. However, with the last decade mired in wars, and especially with the 2008 financial crisis, America is full of doubt. With China registering another 9% GDP growth in 2011, America is fearful of being overtaken. PEW Research conducted two global attitude surveys across 18 countries in 2009 and 2011 and concludes there is a robust growing sentiment that China will eventually overtake the United States. 1 To be sure, only 47% in the 2011 survey believed China will eventually overtake, so it is not a majority opinion yet.
That growing sentiment has prompted Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter, to argue that a world without the United States at the helm would be “dangerously unstable.” The Chinese leadership recognized this reality too as he demonstrated with a quote from a high-ranking Chinese official, “But, please, let America not decline too quickly.” 2
Brzezinski went on to argue there is no power today strong enough to take America’s place should there be a sudden and massive crisis to the American system. Once that occurs, he argued, what is more “probable would be a protracted phase of rather inconclusive realignments of both global and regional power, with no grand winners and many more losers, in a setting of international uncertainty and even of potentially fatal risks to global well-being.”
In this context, where the United States is the sole superpower, a certain order persisting under America’s hegemonic watch is to be welcomed. Some may argue, many of the world’s conflicts are a result of American hegemony. That may very well be true too. However, no one can conclude what the world would be like should the Soviet Union have won the Cold War.
Nevertheless, empirical evidence has shown, despite headlines in the news of war and violence, worldwide armed conflict is on the decline. 3 This was argued by Joshua Goldstein lately. Much of this trend has been attributed to United Nations peace keepers for helping to stem blood feud in regional conflicts. While the United States hold the largest number of vetoes in the Security Council, the explicit or implied approval of U.N. interventions that have actually taken place have made a huge difference.
Obviously, Goldstein’s study took into account of death and destruction from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other recent wars. Still, it showed empirically that armed conflict between nation states on the whole have declined. America as a hegemony deserves credit, because this phenomenon has taken place under her watch. For a “friendly” country to invade another, it will need explicit American approval. For a non-“friendly” country to invade another, it risks being invaded by America. Her hegemony offers the world a truce, notwithstanding specific nation states America deem enemies.
China clearly embraces the current world-order too. She seeks to expand her involvement in international affairs through embracing WHO, World Bank, IMF, and WTO. If otherwise, China would form competitive organizations and align other countries against the existing ones. 4
Brzezinski then cautioned, “And as the world after America would be increasingly complicated and chaotic, it is imperative that the United States pursue a new, timely strategic vision for its foreign policy — or start bracing itself for a dangerous slide into global turmoil.” He in fact dedicated a new book precisely on this point. After reading it, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Strategic Vision is a much-needed wake-up call regarding the international repercussions if America fails to address its multiple domestic crises successfully. A realist but not a pessimist, Brzezinski offers a thoughtful—and, as usual, provocative and timely—must-read for all who are concerned about the future of our country at home and abroad.” 5
Naturally, Brzezinski espouses a strategy where America would retain her dominant position in perpetuity. That is expected of a patriot. Americans can hardly be faulted for expecting their leaders to think this way. As in any sports league, one expects all teams to compete hard and fairly. In that spirit, America has every right to work towards retaining her hegemonic position.
While Brzezinski has not explicitly stated this goal, it is also America’s responsibility, especially while still the hegemon, to ensure our current world-order is organized such a way should America decline, another hegemon can peacefully take her place. Without a mechanism allowing for this peaceful transition, we are all condemned to a possibility of the very chaos he warns us of.
While America is the top dog, it is convenient to not have to consider a world-order dominated by two or more players. The Cold War was marred with proxy wars. Having two hegemons fighting for preeminence already seemed like more dangerous than today’s arrangement. What about a more powerful U.N. with peace keepers armed and resourced to a similar degree like NATO is? After all, Goldstein proved that it has been precisely U.N. peace keeping missions that resulted in the least violence in our history.
a. America fixes her domestic problems (and in combination perhaps rearrange the world) so she continues her dominance.
b. At the same time find a mechanism which allows for a new hegemon to take her place should that day arrive.
c. Or, build U.N. version 3.0. If the League of Nations was version 1, then the current U.N. is version 2. The current U.N. is really toothless in restraining the United States, so logically, it would mean the United States would have to abdicate her reign and help lead the world in creating a stronger U.N..
America should pursue “a” in earnest, but I would advise any American president to also pursue “b” or “c” concurrently.
- Richard Wike, “From Hyperpower to Declining Power, Changing Global Perceptions of the U.S. in the Post-Sept. 11 Era.” Pew Research Center. September 7, 2011. http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/09/07/from-hyperpower-to-declining-power/ ↩
- Zbigniew Brzezinski, “After America – How does the world look in an age of U.S. decline? Dangerously unstable.” Foreign Policy. JAN/FEB 2012 http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/01/03/after_america ↩
- Joshua S. Goldstein, “Winning the War on War,” Dutton/Penguin, Sept. 2011 http://winningthewaronwar.com/ ↩
- Information Office of the State Council, “China’s Peaceful Development.” The People’s Republic of China. September 2011, Beijing http://www.gov.cn/english/official/2011-09/06/content_1941354.htm ↩
- Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/Strategic-Vision-America-Crisis-Global/dp/046502954X ↩