The Ukraine Crisis alerted the West to the “nationalist” sentiments among Russians that the Putin government has used to further its domineering ambitions. In doing so, Russia has revived the threat of war between major world powers and threatened internationalist dreams of an International Community devoted to international governance. Similarly, Chinese aggression, which is most apparent in the South China Sea Crisis, has upset the power dynamic of the region by straining ties with its neighbors. Rhetoric of the 2016 US Presidential Election, especially Donald Trump’s “America First” platform, has further exasperated fears that international governance is doomed.
The prosperity of the Twentieth Century was made possible thanks to US global ambitions for a world made safe for democracy and the willingness of most nations within the International Community to cooperate on global security, to pursue internationally brokered diplomatic engagement instead of armed conflict, and to build the global economy. The internationalist mindset that embraced global governance was the fruits of a new world order where strong and weak nations alike enjoyed equal sovereign rights. Strong nations benefited from the stability of a successful International Community and weaker nations were protected from their stronger revivals.
Not only did US leadership in global governance establish standards for the rights of nations and Peoples, the US served as a symbol of hope and offered its strength to empower the weak. Although US foreign policy has long toggled back and forth between engagement and disengagement, the internationalists of the world now fear that America’s newfound “nationalistic” impulses mean the US is turning inward away from its internationalist ideals to become more of a self-serving traditional state like Russia or China. While the US is poised for a massive correction in its policies to better assert the interests of its People, the reality is that America has always been a traditional state.
US moral superiority and generosity as the world sees it was America’s way of recognizing and addressing the broad, long-term interests and unforeseen costs of US power. Like all traditional states, however, the US has acted in its perceived interests. Unfortunately, US public policies have been hijacked by special interest groups to the point that many US public policies no longer reflect the views or address the interests of the American People. Faced with the crushing burden of dysfunctional, unresponsive governance, the American political system faces great upheaval that can only be settled by recalibrating US policies to better address the interests of the American People.
From the perspective of pro-American foreigners, the US is often considered to be a “benevolent empire” and very generous when it comes to sustaining international security and stability with the US military. Meanwhile, foreign critics look to the US as a morally superior world leader that often falls short of the standards it set. Albeit sometimes poor investors, America’s internationalist mentality has always been rooted in our nature as enterprising investors. Americans viewed internationalist pursuits and globalization as a means to build a self-sustaining democratic order that would help maintain our Nation with the indirect return of a better world.
In many respects, the American People now struggle to see the benefits of globalization and an internationalist agenda, which is why Donald Trump’s demands for US allies to pay more to support the US military resonates among Americans. Despite targeting Japan and South Korea, Trump's comments address overall military spending by allied nations as compared to US spending. US partners help alleviate the US military budget, but US military infrastructure is sized to help shield our allies from threats and maintain global stability. Instead of US allies fully funding their own security needs, the US is subsidizing the majority of their security and not charging them for that service.
The American People also distrust international governing bodies. The European Union, for example, is a threat to democracy, despite European views that support open borders in order to foster free and open societies. The reason Americans hold this view is that distance creates a lack of access to representation. That is, the more layers of government that exist, the less responsive governments become to the needs of individuals and individual communities. In providing for the common defense and economic welfare of EU members, indirectly chosen officials of EU institutions are rapidly superseding the authority and influence of democratically elected national leaders of EU countries.
Furthermore, the US is not immune to international trends of democratization and resovereignization. In the post Cold War era, the US was the hegemonic power of a monopolar world. Relative US power and influence has waned with the strengthening of the multipolar democratizing International Community of democratizing nation-states. Democratization means all governments must be increasingly responsive to the needs and wants of their Peoples in order to maintain stability and sustain peace, but it also means the International Community as a collective must represent the views and address the interests of individual nations as near equals.
Under resovereignization and the democratization of the International Community, the US is not an unquestioned hegemonic dictator of global affairs. It is one nation among many that must express and address the interests of its Peoples while balancing those national interests with the interests of other nations and Peoples. Not only must countries pursue their own national interests, they must act as coequal partners with the United States and take on greater responsibility in maintaining the International Community. Just as the governments of the Middle East are learning to provide for their own regional security, the rest of the world must take on more responsibility in global affairs.
This is the realization of the internationalist dream. Unfortunately, people and countries do not just react; they tend to overreact. Instead of rebalancing our relationships with allies to better serve our own and mutual interests, we tend to either over engage or completely disengage from the world. This is why policy makers should proactively push a recalibration of diplomatic engagement, trade relations, and military cooperation instead of allowing civil discontent to push governments to the extremes, which is harmful to all parties. To avoid US disengagement and an abusive pursuit of its interests, America must be able to properly recalibrate and assert its interests.
Read old posts