From an email I received. Sorry, but I don't have a link.
WORLD POLITICS REVIEW
12 Mar 2010
The Realist Prism: Time Running Out to Rethink American Power?
One of the strengths of the Naval War College is that it constantly reviews and assesses its curriculum. In support of that effort, I have been reacquainting myself with E. H. Carr's seminal work "The Twenty Years' Crisis," which got me to thinking: Will we look back on the period of time between 1991 and 2011 as another two-decade interregnum marked by crisis and opportunity?
This isn't an entirely original thought. James Goldgeier and Derek Chollet opened this discussion two years ago when they published, "America Between the Wars: >From 11/9 to 9/11." But I wanted to focus on the opportunities the United States had to fundamentally shape the global order that emerged after the end of the Cold War and why each attempt hasn't "taken."
The first opportunity came circa 1992, when the United States cast a long shadow over the entire international system, not dissimilar to its position in 1945. The Soviet Union had collapsed; Deng Xiaoping had yet to undertake his famed "southern tour," which started the boom that took China out of its post-Tiananmen Square malaise; the European Union was still in the process of being mid-wifed; and India, Brazil and Indonesia had not yet begun their ascent.
The famed draft of the 1994-99 Defense Policy Guidance drawn up in late 1991, which called for the maintenance of U.S. primacy, was not unrealistic in some of its assessments about the global balance of power at that time. The problem lay in the fact that constructing and maintaining a "new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests" would require an enormous sacrifice from the American people. In a year where the election was dominated by the mantra, "It's the economy, stupid," and at a time when the American people were eagerly awaiting the "peace dividend" that came with the end of the Cold War, there was little enthusiasm among politicians to undertake such a task. And if this was true in the United States, it was even truer in Western Europe, where the existential threat to the European way of life had evaporated along with the threat of Soviet tanks rolling across the Fulda Gap.
Beyond that, though, the world envisioned by the DPG could not last. Sooner or later powers would resurge or rise to a degree that would make its vision even more expensive to implement. Indeed, when the drafters of the DPG returned to government, the balance of power in the world had already shifted dramatically.
So the U.S. decided it would not fundamentally reshape the world so much as tidy it up around the edges, to clear away some of the rubble of the Cold War collapse. Setbacks in Somalia and Haiti showed clearly that the electorate was not interested in new crusades around the world. So what we ended up with as the decade progressed was a dangerous imbalance: Policymakers proclaimed the U.S. to be the "indispensable nation" in global affairs, but settled for bare-bones efforts that would satisfy voters more responsive to the "Come Home America" themes that percolated in the political discourse. The United States did intervene around the globe, as the DPG called for, but only if the costs could be kept as low as possible (Kosovo), or the expenditure of blood and treasure could be justified by a direct threat to vital U.S. interests (the first Gulf War).
The attacks of Sept. 11 created a second opportunity. In the wake of the collapse of the Twin Towers and the destruction at the Pentagon, governments around the world were stunned -- the fruits of globalization, which had so advanced the cause of prosperity, could also be utilized by those who would seek to bring down the state. What's more, all governments were vulnerable -- democracies and non-democracies, developed and developing states alike. The shock to supply chains around the world in the attacks' aftermath, when interruptions in air travel and new security procedures impeded the flow of goods and services, made many realize how vulnerable the international system really was. And because the rising and resurgent powers had harnessed their chariots to the horses of global economic growth, they were amenable to finding common ground.
As a result, the anti-terrorist coalition could have become the basis for a new concert of powers. But the give-and-take of the classic concert system, in which a series of quid pro quos set the basis for collective decisions, was a mindset largely alien (http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=17642) to both the Bush administration and Congress. With a new concert not in the making, and with the U.S. making clear it would act unilaterally in order to secure its own interests, other states began to find ways not to openly challenge the United States (which is what the DPG had assumed would happen) but instead to find ways "to take what they need from the West while routing around [an] American-led world order," as Steven Weber, Naazneen Barma and Ely Ratner have observed (http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/NewEra/pdfs/Barma_WorldWithout2007.pdf). So the idea that the P-5, or the G-8, or even the G-20 can somehow function as a "steering committee for the world" under American guidance seems quite remote.
Has the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 created a third opportunity? I was intrigued by the perspective offered by Parag Khanna, my co-panelist this past week at a "Rise of the Rest" panel sponsored by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. As I understood it, Khanna outlined a strategy for maintaining America's "indispensability," not by taking direct action all over the globe, but by convening a series of informal global networks designed to tackle specific problems. This fits in nicely with his advocacy of a strategy of promoting "equilibrium." But it requires the U.S. being able to come to terms with the reality of multipolarity (http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=3298) -- about which I have my doubts, as I expressed in last week's column.
One of my other co-panelists this week, pollster Craig Charney, noted that in many parts of the world, people would still prefer that the U.S. take the lead (http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=4571) in shaping the global order, as opposed to China. The window still is open -- but for how much longer?
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the former editor of the National Interest, and a frequent foreign policy commentator in both the print and broadcast media. He is currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government. His weekly WPR column, The Realist Prism, appears every Friday.