Thursday, May 24, 2018

Great power politics vs. narrow self-interests

This is an interesting article that does a lot of things.  On the one hand it signals the increased relevance of Great Power conflicts and politics, as expressed in the latest National Defense Strategy.  It contrasts this official strategy with President Trump's foreign policy areas of focus, as captured for example in his 2018 State of the Union address, which seems to prioritize the supposed threat represented by immagrants and terrorism (and North Korea), while downplaying Chinese and Russian aggression.

More incisively, the article explores the contrast between the US's longstanding foreign policy of defining its interests in such a way that many other countries identify with and support our interests for us, and the Trump administration's narrow definition of US interests in zero-sum, all-or-nothing terms.

In summary, this article echoes a few themes I explored in my blog about the book Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.  Namely, the renewed relevance of Great Power politics in 2018 as opposed to the 90s and early 2000s.  More importantly though, I was and continue to be worried about the danger of defining US interests in such a narrow way that we antagonize the rest of the world and become a hegemon indistinguishable from Russia or China (or the British Empire or Napoleonic France), ripe for the overthrowing by a coalition of discontents.  In the Atlantic author's words:

"America’s unique advantage is that it defines its strategic interests in a way that is compatible with the strategic interests of dozens of other powerful states—meaning, they want the United States to succeed. By insisting that the international order be free, open, democratic, and cooperative, the United States is offering something that appeals to a wide swath of people across all nations. Yes, the United States shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden for decades, but this was precisely why other nations treated it differently than the great powers and empires of old...
"But if the United States follows the examples of Russia and China and elects to define its interests so narrowly, it reduces the appeal of the American model of international order. Little would differentiate America from the other great powers that aspired to leadership, either now or in the past."

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