American Gulliver and Lilliputian World Bodies

It is the special responsibility of America to create a world system that encompasses more than military power and translates cooperation into action. It must show to the world that it does not just seek its own interest but the interest of others as well. America is still the most powerful nation in the world with an annual defense spending of 800 billion USD, eight times that of China, and totaling the combined defense spending of the world. Its economy is the largest in the world with an astounding Gross Domestic Product of 14.3 trillion USD, a fraction less than the EU common markets combined. Though it rivals the might of the Roman Empire, it is not an empire but an imperial republic based on egalitarian principles of mutual coexistence. Recently America has been called in Nietzschean terms the 'berpower or giant Gulliver striding the post-war world order, designing global institutions, framing international laws and seeking world consensus. However in the last decade it has deviated from its communitarian concerns and pursued unilateralist diplomacy. There are fears that it may lose its legitimacy to shape the world order unless it empowers international organizations it once created and works through them to gain cooperation of other nations. Obama's 2009 Cairo speech campaigning for cooperation and mutual respect amongst the US and Islamic nations is a bold initiative in this direction.

With the retreat of the British Empire in the early twentieth century, the American Gulliver shaping world order has replaced the British Gulliver resolving European, African and Asian affairs. Though the American Gulliver has escaped the control of Lilliputian organizations like the UN, NATO or WTO it still faces the barbs of Brobdingnagian world opinion unwilling to endorse its diplomatic and military moves. In recent years the altruistic motives of the American Gulliver have become highly suspect, something that American foreign policy makers cannot ignore for long. America has been the global capital bringing peoples from different races and countries together within its democratic orbit. It has been a beacon of enlightenment ideas, an exemplar nation that the world has looked up to. Once the epithet 'Gulliver's Travels' was used by travel agencies around the world to advertise their charisma and global reach, but today it is a term used by foreign policy experts to refer to American national strength, economy and military involvement in different parts of the world. Incidentally the map printed in Jonathan Swift's early eighteenth century novel Gulliver's Travels shows Brobdingnag on the northwest coast of California. This could give multicultural California the symbolic status of representing world opinion that America must respect.

It is not that America has not respected world opinion. On the contrary creating and endorsing world opinion has been the cornerstone of its liberal ideology. But in recent years its impatience with the slow deliberations of world organizations has forced it to do things unilaterally, seeking only a hurried coalition of the willing. America must once more rededicate itself to the rebuilding and empowering of international organizations and through them to reshape the postmodern world order.

The Consensus Model

In the late 1940s American historian Richard Hofstadter argued in his book The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (1948) that the central aspect of American political thought was an emphasis on European liberalism which endorsed the right to property, economic individualism and belief in competition. According to Hofstadter the politics pursued by the American conservatives was not in line with the grand tradition of American thought and diplomacy. On the contrary the 'psychological disorders' and 'character flaws of the conservatives reflected in their 'paranoid style' in politics abroad and 'status anxiety,' at home did great damage to the ideals of universal American democracy. Hofstadter pointed out that though in the past there have been paradoxes and clashes in American political thought, it is not conflict but consensus that has emerged as its hallmark. Understandably his liberal consensus model has irritated the conservatives who see in it both criticism and condescension of their parochial politics. Over the decades Hofstadter's model has become the indubitable attribute of American diplomacy. Throughout the Cold War the US gave great credence to its allies by adopting a policy of consensus in world affairs thereby legitimizing its preeminent position as a world leader. As Hofstadter might agree, the last eight years of conservative foreign policy has undermined America's position as an undisputed leader of the world. The 'imperial republic' of America, to use Raymond Aron's soubriquet, has created the impression of an American Empire out to crush the world.

The After Victory Model

Neo-liberal analyst G. John Ikenberry in his book After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (2001) argues that 'rare historical junctures' occur in international relations after major wars are fought, wars such as the Thirty Years War (1648), The French Revolution (1713), Napoleonic Wars (1815), The First World War (1919) and The Second World War (1945). Nations that emerge victorious after such wars, find themselves at a historical juncture where they acquire unprecedented power to reconstruct world politics. They are able to formulate new rules governing international order based on global stability and cooperation. These junctures come when the old order has been completely ruined by war and victorious states enunciate new rules to create a new world order. However yet another struggle amongst the victorious nations occur that is their competition for world supremacy. After the Second World War the United States, Russia and Britain found themselves in positions of paramount importance but it was only the United States, which emerged at the top. Both Britain and Russia were devastated by the war and did not have enough industries and resources to convert wartime production to peacetime manufacture. Only the United States could do this most successfully, as the war was not fought on its soil. This allowed its industries to remain in tact. After World War II America acquired the legitimacy to design rules governing world order, sometimes tailoring them to suit its own needs. Once again after 1989, that marked the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of bipolar world, a new historical juncture emerged for the United States to reconstruct an international order, which due to one reason or the other the US missed.

We must remember that another neo-liberal thinker Robert O. Keohane had earlier argued in his book After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984) against the hegemonic stability theory (HST). He pointed out that it may be necessary for a hegemon to facilitate international cooperation, but once the cooperation has been initiated the hegemon loses its importance. Using examples from trade, money and oil, Keohane explained how American hegemony became eroded after the decline of American institutions in 1970. However even after the US declined cooperation amongst international regimes continued to increase. This is not to deny the fact that during this time as economic interdependence amongst nations grew friction amongst them also increased. But these frictions were invariably contained within the common interest of world political economy. Ikenberry takes us on the same path of international cooperation, as did Keohane earlier, but in a somewhat grandiose manner. Both admit the need for consensus and cooperation if America is to succeed in world affairs.

Conservative foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger in his book American Foreign Policy: Three Essays (1969) saw military bipolarity of the 1960s represented by the US and Russia as giving rise to a rigid international situation which lacked the nuance of political and military accommodation. During this time every issue became a matter of survival for the United States. Political multi-polarity on the other hand brought about a reduction in rigidity and introduced an element of an agreed 'concept of order' in an international system. Kissinger believed that America had a special responsibility to create a world system that encompassed more than military power and translated 'power into action.'

Though there is reason to believe that US legitimacy has been under attack right through the Cold War and after the Euro-missile Crisis of the 1980, it has never been so deeply assailed as after Vietnam and Iraq. Communitarian theorist Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (1977) sees both the Vietnam and Iraq wars as illegitimate wars as there was insufficient reason for the US to believe that it was under imminent attack from these countries. The moral ground to go to war is important if you are going to use moral arguments to declare countries evil. Declaring countries evil has been the business of some US leaders right from Ronald Reagan who called Soviet Union an empire of evil in 1975 to George Bush calling Iraq, Iran and North Korea as axis of evil in 2002. The antediluvian Christian notion of locating evil in real politick always lurks below the surface of a sane American foreign policy, destabilizing its enlightenment model and tarnishing its liberal image. However the power of 'ber America or the strength of its liberal tradition cannot be destroyed by such abrasive pronouncements. In spite of the lack of US legitimacy in the world during the time of George Bush, the US made significant improvements in bilateral relations with France, Germany and India. These nations felt that though they disagreed with the US on certain issues they were still willing to cooperate with it on other issues for mutual benefit.

Epochs of International Law

German diplomat and academic Wilhelm Grewe in The Epochs of International Law (2000), originally published in 1984 under the German title Epochen der Voelkerrechstgeschichte, points out that states like Spain, France and the UK could design laws to legitimize their conquest of the Americas, create state borders and justify colonialism by using questionable methods such as bribes, coercion or false promises because they dominated international systems at different periods in history. America can do the same, if it is not doing so already. It can frame rules on international terrorism and the behavior of rogue states to serve its interests and the interest of the global community at large.

Though the American epoch still continues, much of the epoch-making power has lost its moral sheen revealing the problem of legitimacy hidden below it. Some see the notion of legitimacy as a onetime problem that does not carry wider moral implications. They argue that though some of the stands taken by the US may not have been above reproach, it nevertheless continues to influence world politics in a positive manner. They further argue that the US continues to be at the top of the world and there is no realistic coalition that can challenge this hegemony in the near future.

American Gulliver Unbound

The neo-conservatives saw the US as a Gulliver in a land of confused Lilliputians who were forcing it to act unilaterally against non-democratic nations or non-state players. The US understood the role as its manifest destiny or bitter destiny, showing the world that it can do what other nations shirked from doing. Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe in his book Gulliver Unbound-Can America Rule the World? (2003) believes that the US emerged as the predominant economic, political, military and cultural power in the world after World War Two and this is not going to end soon. In a more recent book 'berpower: the Imperial Temptation of America (2007) he carries this argument forward by highlighting that in the last few years there has been a growing anti-American feeling in the world based on stereotyping, demonizing and cultural inferiority. He cautions that the hyper power status enjoyed by America cannot last forever. He warns America that the time of unilateralism is over. He advises that a new post-war era of multilateralism must begin, if the United States wants to guide the world and usher in the golden age of American diplomacy.

It is not difficult for the American Gulliver to reformulate the tenets of its foreign policy. It only needs to return to the original ideals of its foreign policy enunciated long time ago in the Fourteen Points speech by Woodrow Wilson in 1918 calling for liberal democratic internationalism, free trade, open agreements, and self-determination. This is a propitious time for the US to reinvigorate its foreign policy as it gains both kudos and sympathy for electing its first black president, blurring, if not erasing, the color line of discrimination. All it needs to do is to cooperate meaningfully with world bodies on issues related to maintaining the global order. If it can get the cooperation of international bodies then America would once again become the real Gulliver of post-Enlightenment world, the giant 'ber Gulliver as Josef Joffe calls it and shape the world as it did immediately after World War II. The world needs a paramount undisputed leader to control its belligerent energy and give shape and direction to its national and global politics. America is most suited for this job.

Post-War Communitarian Politics

After World War Two the United States emerged as the most powerful nation in the world, outstripping even the Roman Empire, creating a world order organized around international organizations and international principles like the League of Nations, NATO and Bretton Woods organizations such as the IMF and IBRD. In the post-war era until the end of the Cold War, the US employed the power of international organizations quite effectively thereby acquiring legitimacy and authority to direct world politics. But a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union the US began to grow impatient with the slow speed of lumbering international bodies and undertook international missions unilaterally eroding its legitimacy and moral justification. President Barack Obama is once again set to restore the importance of international bodies and use them to garner legitimacy for the US deeply eroded in the last decade.

Obviously every nation works to preserve its self-interest and so should the United States. As interdependence amongst nations based on trade and strategic defense has grown, the problems arising from them have also acquired global dimensions. No one single nation including the US can resolve these problems alone. Modern-day issues connected to terrorism, pandemics, piracy, economic immigrants or environmental refugees require a robust foreign policy, strategic global partnerships and a vigilant domestic policy. Nation states require the establishment of international safeguards relating to national borders, urban hygiene, capital transportation, monitoring gas emission levels and movement of peoples. These safeguards cannot be legislated internationally from the outset, but initiated through the examples of developed nations. And though countries like the United States may set examples they cannot implement or monitor them alone.

In a world becoming increasingly interconnected on many issues, international organizations are needed more than ever before. And just as nations need treaties and reliability, international organizations need rules and authority. Though these institutions are in urgent need of reform, their power to bring about a peaceful world order cannot be understated. It is true that international organizations cannot become a substitute for direct interaction between two nation states, nevertheless international organizations can help nations, or a consortium of nations, to evaluate a global need and then distribute the burden of that need commensurate with the wealth and power of each nation. Unilateral action, coercion or force by any single nation pushes other nations into a binary opposite choice of either cooperating or not cooperating on an issue. If the US adopts the reasoning of working within international organizations it would have to worry less with trying to convince nation states like France, Germany or other NATO states to support its endeavors in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine or Pakistan and work more to resolve global issues. Cooperation would create a willingness amongst nations to support the US thereby helping it to save on economic and infrastructure resources.

Hegemonic Ideas and Unilateralism

Grand hegemonic ideas in foreign policy such as 'coalition of the willing,' unilateralism, triumphalism, spreading democracy, evil empire, rogue states, 'axis of evil,' or 'outposts of tyranny' are not universally accepted. They create enough friction amongst nations and peoples to derail a well-though agenda or program. The Economist derisively stated in the article 'The end of the Bush-Blair era' (May 11, 2006 edition) that the 'axis of evil' has now turned into the 'axis of feeble.' Working through international organizations, creating an international culture of cooperation amongst nations and developing habits of consensus amongst its foreign policy negotiators can help to resolve tendentious issues now and in the future. International cooperation allows for information sharing, less duplication of data and providing a more complete picture of security issues than doing it alone. America can spread democracy and push for economic reforms in other nations gradually without making grand statements and perhaps achieve better results in the long run.

Most of us are aware that in the last decade, American unilateralist approach has squandered enough taxpayer's money, which it can ill afford to do so now in a period of economic meltdown and global recession. Though even today the organizational apparatus of the American government is quite strong, it would be futile to handle global issues like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, piracy or pandemics like a Gulliveresque magpie. If, for example, the United States were to use information gathered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the clandestine nuclear development of Iran, North Korea or Pakistan it would help cut down governmental spending and decrease global resentment of US as an intervening belligerent nation. Global networks are reasonably powerful and can help to provide information to the US on a range of thorny issues such as demographic movements, clandestine nuclear programs, illegal banking channels, and Internet routes. The US must use them ingeniously.

Former US President George Bush always argued that working within and through international security organizations was rather time-consuming and placed more restrictions on the US. It was not in the interest of the United States to use the international institutions that slowed down military mobilization, cost more and placed greater restrictions of the choices it could make. Undoubtedly from an organizational point of view this complaint was largely justified but working within international organizations could offer more benefits to the United States than working from the outside. The neo-conservatives hyped the cost of working through organizations and underwrote the benefits arising from them. Now the US foreign policy must undergo a paradigm shift by focusing on reforming international institutions and working along communitarian lines.

Fears of America Losing its Gulliver Status

Apocalyptic visions of America losing its Gulliver status has been advanced either through the failure of its military engagements or the challenging rise of other nations or groups of nations in future. There have been many panic calls that America is about to lose its Gulliver status to the EU, resurgent Russia or BRIC nations. However it must be remembered that in FY 2008 US defense spending was USD 800 billion about eight times that of China and equal to the rest of the world combined defense budget. A few years ago there was talk of American empire in denial and till very recently we have talked about American empire in assertion. We must remember that America is not an empire but a democratic republic, howsoever imperial it may seem. It may behave like an empire but it cannot function like one.

The early successes in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq from 1999-2003 has made America believe in its invincibility but later problems made it doubt this superiority. However there have been arguments that with the rise of the Soviet Union the unipolar world order is coming to an end and a Second Cold War has begun. The US is losing its position of paramount importance. Based on the traditional notion of power the United States is still the most powerful nation in the world. Half the defense spending of the world and one fourth of the economic power in the world comes from the US. Failures in international skirmishes during the 1960s such as Cuba and Vietnam did not displace America as the most powerful nation in the world. Though health care is dismal, the demographic resilience and technology far outweighs US disadvantages.

There is a strong belief both within and outside America that in the coming years the rising economic and nuclear power of China and India or European Union would offer a stiff challenge to US hegemony. These are ill-founded psychological fears not a real assessment of the situation. In 2008 US economy was the largest in the world with an astounding GDP of 14.3 trillion USD, about a fraction less than the GDP of the European Union common market combined. The Chinese economy in the same year was 7.8 trillion USD, while Japan was 4.5 trillion, Brazil 1.9 trillion and India 1.2 trillion. Before 1991 Soviet military growth and Japanese burgeoning economy were considered a major threat to US power in the future, but this projection ignored the economic instability in the Soviet Union and the demographic and military constraints of Japan. During this period the Soviet Union was struggling with economic and social reforms while Japanese economy, though rather huge, was not open enough to survive the rigors of future globalization. The US still has the strongest muscles in military, economy and mass culture.

Empowering International Organizations

The benefits of working through international organizations for the United States are far greater than working unilaterally. If its cooperation with other nations fails it still possess the power to follow its agenda alone. When negotiations with the United States over Afghanistan failed, both France and Germany still continued to negotiate with the United States at the WTO. Most countries are aware that reprimanding the United States over a policy issue will invite retaliation whose consequences will be far greater for them to handle or absorb. But it is not from other nations that American foreign policy is in danger. It is threatened from the American pragmatists and liberals from within. The pragmatists in the United States welcome the use of military power but are skeptical of organizational bureaucracy of international organizations, while the liberals appreciate the use of international institutions but are unconvinced about using state power to reform them. With a new and bold leadership in Barrack Obama out to woo the Arab world, it is now imperative for both the pragmatists and liberals to review their strategies and empower international systems to gain greater credibility for the United States.

The Threat of Non-state Actors and BRIC Nations

There is an increasing fear that non-state actors like the Al Qaeda or developing economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC nations) would offer stiff resistance to US supremacy in the areas of global defense, global economy and global energy industries. The report prepared by the US think tank, the National Intelligence Council called 'Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,' predicts that in the coming 15 years the international system created after World War II would change radically providing greater international power and wealth to BRIC nations and potentially increasing population and conflicts in the Middle East. Though these fears may not just be crystal gazing they nevertheless offer yet another reason for the US to work within international systems to maintain its superiority and control both non-state actors and BRIC nations.

With the rise of international economic order and non-state actors, the power of nation states is perceived to have weakened. But we must remember that even today the nation state remains central to organizing or revitalizing international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union. Amongst the modern nations of the world the United States remains the most influential both in terms of assets and economic production. The post-war world order is still organized around the US against the 'rest of the world' though erstwhile colonial nations like Britain, France or Russia still exert a sizable influence.

Reforming the World Order

America can reform the world order through the consensus model by not only highlighting cooperation but also mutual benefit through the production of public goods. It should convince other nations within international bodies to endorse its agenda by overcoming objections and promising benefits or concessions. There are instances in international diplomacy when a proposed order lacked clear justification but since it embodied the interests of other nations it was quickly accepted. In 1945 Harry Truman hit upon a novel though an illegal idea of extending American rights over the continental shelf near its territorial waters. Though this move violated international law, other coastal nations quickly adopted it and it became law. In recent history The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) drafted by the US to destroy weapons of mass destruction on sea, air or land began to be seen as a profitable global initiative, though it was most advantageous to the US.

Nations can be convinced of a US-backed agenda if a change in global order brings forward the production of public goods, creation of intellectual capital or the revitalization of the economy. If a specific US plan attempts to radically alter or threaten the status quo it may face objections. The US bodies must conduct more research to support their arguments and counter objections and show communitarian benefit and relevance, if they wish to carry forward their agenda or program within the framework of international bodies. Therefore the aim of American diplomacy should not be to supplant the existing order but carry it forward with some changes. In 2001 the US carefully mounted its arguments in the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1373 to fight terrorism by offering generous support to weaker nations to fight terrorism and at the same time highlighting the untenable and inconsistent arguments of opposing nations.

The American Gulliver has always been a role model for the rest of the world and it still occupies a preeminent position in the world as it did when it initiated the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan to contain communism. America stands at another historical juncture when it can use its egalitarian principles and enlightened leadership to shape the postmodern world order to benefit all. The US foreign policy can be both communitarian and particularistic. It can help to develop world economy without losing sight of its own, create world markets where its own markets find a central place, initiate information sharing to counter threats, and engage other nations in dialogue and opinion making. America has shown through the Obama moment its capacity to overcome its internal prejudices and contradictions. It possesses the power to realign its foreign policy and surprise the world.


More by :  Mukesh Williams

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