It is the beginning of the end of Pax Americana.
For 71 years the world has sheltered under the wings of the American eagle. The result has been one of the longest periods of prolonged peace, prosperity and political advancement in world history.
The US created the United Nations; rebuilt a devastated Europe with the Marshall Plan; established NATO to defend Europe from Soviet aggression, pushed back the Chinese and Russian communists in Korea, protected Japan and the Philippines; provided billions of dollars in aid to help hundreds of nations emerging from centuries of colonialism and championed the cause of free trade which has led to unparalleled global growth.
Alright, it has not been perfect. Vietnam was a massive miscalculation. The rise of Jihadism has its roots in Washington’s Middle East policy. And world growth has been at the expense of American manufacturing jobs. The world pie has grown, but America’s slice of it—although still bigger than anyone else’s—has shrunk from its postwar heyday.
Has it been worth it? Well, the American electorate clearly don’t think so. They have voted in a president who wants to tear up trade agreements, build walls, impose tariffs, deport millions, end climate change agreements and shrink America’s defensive umbrella.
Why should the rest of the world care? Is it just because we don’t want the free ride to end?
No, because as flawed as it was, America was the best super power ever. Oh yes, it was overpowering, arrogant and determined to protect American interests. Any and every country does that. But its foreign policy was built on a domestic base of representative democracy and a strong will to do the right thing.
World leaders pose for a group photo at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, Sept. 4, 2016 – AP photo
Throughout history we have seen that the exit of a world power leads to uncertainty and war as the powers-in-waiting compete to take on the mantle of numero uno.
So who are the contenders? China, Russia, and possibly a European Union which is currently floundering in a post-Brexit sea.
China makes no secret of its ambitions. It believes that its top down authoritarian-style government is superior to bottom up western democracies. For proof they hold up the example of their economic success. Then they point their finger at the self-destructive presidential campaign which America has just endured—and will continue to suffer from for some time.
The Chinese are busily projecting their economic, political and growing military power. Africa is one example. The South China Sea is another. America’s nuclear umbrella and 72,500 US troops in Asia are a significant deterrent to Chinese dreams.
Russia is another authoritarian wannabe, if only because Moscow is bitter at losing the Cold War. The economic failure of Putin’s corrupt state capitalism has hindered him somewhat, but his willingness to compensate by flexing Russia’s residual military power has won the respect of President-elect Trump. Instead of trying to contain Russia, he talks of combining forces with the untrustworthy bear to fight ISIS at a time when the Jihadists appear to be on their knees.
For the time being, the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia have found common cause in offering themselves as alternatives to Western democracies. But it won‘t last.
The only democratic alternative is the EU. However, Brexit has exposed the weakness of its political institutions and eliminated the member with Europe’s longest and best-established democratic traditions, largest military and closest ties to the United States.
Britain was the balance that prevented either French or German dominance of the EU. At the moment economic powerhouse Germany is in the ascendant, but if Europe is to play a bigger international role then it needs a unified military establishment. France—with its nuclear arsenal—is best placed to play the defense role. This leaves the two European powerhouses competing for political supremacy.
So, America, rest in peace. I am afraid that the rest of the world will not.
Tom Arms is a broadcaster and columnist focused on world affairs. His regular wold affairs podcast can be heard at www.lookaheadnews.com. He is also available for lectures and speaking engagements.
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