The global strategic landscape is clearly evolving beyond U.S. hegemony, presenting both challenges and opportunities for our national leaders.
With growing economies and/or formidable military might and a desire to play on the world stage, China, India, and Russia are on the rise and they offer the other nearly 200 nations around the world alternatives as they seek trading partners, economic aid, and security arrangements. For over the past 25 years, the United States has enjoyed a near monopolistic position in these areas, but increasingly these emerging global powers are contesting us in that space. Consequently, preserving our desired relationships will be more difficult.
Yet with these challenges, there is enormous opportunity. Indeed, even though America has benefitted greatly from the global security arrangements we put in place after World War II, benefits that only increased after the fall of the Soviet Union, the costs associated with hegemony have weighed heavily on the American people and contributed significantly to the current populist political environment demanding our leaders now put “America First.” The emerging multi-polarity offers opportunity to cross-level some of the burdens of maintaining global stability onto the other emerging powers and to address some of the adverse economic impacts of globalization on American companies and workers.
If the United States does not want to be the world’s policemen, and I for one agree with that position, then other emerging global powers will need to step up to do their part to help preserve stability. The transformation of the global security environment will not happen, however, without American leadership.
To lead the world towards a more stable and sustainable future, we must first take some steps to put our own house in order. We need to strengthen deterrence by bolstering our military capabilities (restoring full spectrum joint force readiness, modernizing the nuclear arsenal, and enhancing national missile and cyber defenses), improving our economy (adopting policies that promote GDP growth of 3+%), and by getting back to a balanced budget. By taking these steps we will be in a stronger position to help influence the emerging global powers to work towards our mutual interests.
In terms of foreign policy priorities to shape the new security environment, I nominate the following: First, we should work with Russia to defeat jihadists and to stabilize the Middle East, focusing on an interim peace agreement in Syria and fostering a regional balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. By helping to ease Sunni-Shia tensions, we increase the possibility for more regional economic development, which in turn, could also lead to constructive steps towards Arab-Israeli peace. By working together with Russia in the Middle East, we could also change the political dynamic in Europe, potentially leading to new trade, diplomatic, and security agreements between Russia and NATO/Europe.
Second, we should work with China and Japan to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which could promote more regional and global economic development. Likewise, working with India, we could tap into another billion-person market, potentially benefitting U.S. companies seeking new customers. Such a move would likely lead to Pakistan getting closer to China, but that is not necessarily a bad thing for us. Because those developments would leave our position in Afghanistan vulnerable, we would first need to bring closure to our military presence there. That too, would be a welcomed development in my view.
With strong American leadership, we can once again help transform the global security environment, this time to a multi-polar arrangement that could help make the world more peaceful and prosperous at less of a cost to the American taxpayer. The corresponding changes to U.S. trade and economic policies could help American companies and workers, and promote more unity here at home. We are better off pursuing this course, which presents greater opportunities and potential benefits and is befitting of our Republic, then the futile course of empire, attempting to block the rise of these emerging global powers—a road that will lead to failure and the demise of American exceptionalism.
Chris Gibson is the Stanley Kaplan Distinguished Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy at Williams College. Previously he served 29 years in the U.S. Army, including 4 combat tours in Iraq, and 6 years as a Member in the U.S. House of Representatives from NY. He is the author of Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream, a book published by Twelve in October 2017.