Thursday, January 15, 2009

Get ready for a multipolar world

Last November's report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World," got some press attention, but it would have gotten more had it been released in a non-election year and month. In the current Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz, an articulate proponent of a substantially smaller American global military-political footprint (a/k/a offshore balancing), reminds people of the report's forecast of a large shift in relative power from West to East, as China and India come to take more prominent positions on the world stage. Schwarz also points out that Pres.-elect Obama's foreign-policy statements to date are in many respects consistent with the established approach of trying to maintain U.S. leadership/hegemony and resist the onset of genuine multipolarity. Such resistance, Schwarz suggests, will prove both futile and counterproductive.

Here are his concluding paragraphs:
"'Global Trends 2025' should shake Obama's confidence in the wisdom of embracing a hegemonic foreign policy.... [T]he report concludes, in the words of the NIC chairman, Thomas Fingar, that over the next 16 years 'American dominance will be much diminished... The overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjoyed in the international eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace....' A multipolar world -- a world of autonomous great powers that American global strategy has sought to avert for 60 years -- will inevitably emerge.

"If the NIC is correct, this president, elected on a promise of change, will be presiding over the country as it begins to come to terms with the most significant transformation in international politics since the Second World War (and that includes the Cold War). Among the other momentous tasks that confront him, he must help create a new American stance toward the world. Maybe now isn't the time to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. And why insist that the United States cling to a prerogative that history is about to snatch away?"


Anonymous said...

wait, so the idea is that multi-polarity is a given automatically? Is it an inevitable outcome?
Thanks for the post - I will go look at the piece.

LFC said...

N. --
"Inevitable" is a tricky word, but I do think the basic trend-lines are fairly clear.

The question is whether, in the face of them, the U.S. will fundamentally adjust its policies or instead persist in its basic post-WWII strategy, consistently pursued by every president from Truman to G.W. Bush, of maintaining "military protectorates" (in Schwarz's phrase) over certain (supposedly) key parts of Europe and E Asia. Well over 60 yrs after the end of WW2, the US has more than 50,000 troops in Germany -- and at a time when there are not enough soldiers available to serve in the Iraq/Afghan war zones. Well over 50 years after the end of the Korean War, the US has more than 25,000 troops in S Korea. Some analysts (and bloggers, for that matter) believe that these deployments and the security arrangements (or de facto military protectorates) that they anchor promote stability. I think they are pointless anachronisms that reflect an inability to understand the emergent geopolitical context. Under no definition of the national interest or the global interest that I can conceive, is there any persuasive justification for the US to have more than 50,000 soldiers in a region of the world where is there no prospect of major war, or even much serious security competition, among states. The notion that if US allies were to develop larger militaries of their own and take more genuinely autonomous roles in the world, that would somehow threaten US or global security is illogical, anti-empirical, and lacking in any convincing theoretical foundation.
Mearsheimer's contrary argument in the conclusion of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics makes no sense to me.

The issue is summed up in the subtitle of Peter Katzenstein's 2005 book (which I haven't read) A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium. In my view, we should look forward to the day when the last four words of that subtitle no longer have any empirical referent. The notion that American nuclear and security umbrellas are what is keeping most of the world relatively peaceful is, in my opinion, a delusion.

OK, to quote Hank in a previous thread: I'll get off my soapbox now.