At a time when the United States grapples with domestic and international challenges, what does the future for the nation look like? Frank G Wisner, Former US Ambassador to India, spoke at the Synergia Conclave-2019 about the future of Pax Americana.
After World War II, Pax Americana established a rules-based multilateralism that brought peace and prosperity to the world. Its finest hour was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise of liberal democracies in the decades that followed. In the past few years, this rules-based multilateralism has begun to crumble due to a series of onslaughts including global terrorism, the power of technology platforms, climate change, and the rise of China.
The world is indeed changing, in some cases, rapidly. Despite this, there has been one constant since the end of the second world war -Pax Americana. A New World Order must now be fashioned in a multi-polar world and India is playing a shaping role. But there are many challenges as well as opportunities for India as it works with other great powers to architect a New World Order.
Frank Wisner described the present state of US, at the start point of an election year, as raucous at best. US too faces a host of challenges which are identical to those being faced by other countries- climate change, cybersecurity, regional issues, terror threats and great power issues. Regional issues and Islamic inspired terrorism are also serious concerns.
Internally, US is in a period of extraordinary change of different sorts. It is in the midst of multiple crises that include a constitutional one and democratic fragmentations. There is a loss of confidence in the common public both in respect of democracy and international institutions. This had occurred in part because many Americans did not see any economic growth as a result of these institutions, and this has seriously undermined US foreign policy.
The path to future is messy as there is a constitutional mess with the speaker of House of Representative pushing for the impeachment of the President. Till as long as the smoking gun is not found, Trump may be able to pull through. Notwithstanding the outcome of the impeachment inquiry, the political process is in a gridlock till the next President is sworn in.
US has to come to term with the realization that the era of American supremacy is over. Since 1945 and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, US was the global hegemon. History shows that no hegemon stays at the top for very long- others try to balance that nation and often conspire towards that outcome. Economy and technology play a role in this regard. US is no longer the dominant power – repeated use of its military instrument in Iraq, Afghanistan and other corners of the globe, sanctions and its consequent economic fallout, the overreach of its power has left it drained. Under pressure of domestic compulsions, it is losing its will to preserve human rights, free markets, international institutions like UN and WTO. The world is seeing an end to the American dream and a foreign policy that is undermined by what is happening in the US heartland.
Wisner was critical of the current US President Donald Trump and called his actions “ill-conceived”. He also criticized him for his lack of principles and his “narrow views” on national interests. Under Trump administration, the end goal remains unclear. This has its own collateral damage in the rule-based institutional world. The global power balance today is diffused, and US hegemony is being challenged in almost every sphere. Yet amongst all this, US shows a distinct lack of collective grasp as to how to manage the evolving crisis.
There is little doubt that a new international order will emerge with a change in the balance of power, although we are not sure what shape it will take. However, until the new order is established, there is a lot of flux in the existing vacuum. The Westphalia concept of sovereignty sees a new assertiveness of national interests. However, the world has to ensure that until the new world order takes shape, in the interim national supremacy and interests got to be measured according to global rules else we are headed to Hobbesian world of mayhem. Respect for the internal order of other nations is also crucial. We have to be smart in addressing questions like climate change which is a borderless and limitless concern. We need to work out better arrangements between great powers and more importantly, involve key regional powers.
There is a breakdown of important strategic arms treaties which helped maintain strategic equilibrium- INF treaty and the search for a fresh START. Open skies and freedom of navigation in the world’s oceans are being challenged.
The Middle East remains a hydra-headed problem- Iran is profoundly dangerous, and its quest for security breeds insecurity in other nations. This must be understood in the contemporary world of advanced technology. In a troubled world, no right answers are available
Wisner warned that the world was now in a dangerous period. He stated that be it Americans or Indians; the approach ahead was to make smart decisions. He said this would be reflected in how the world tackles climate change and the rise of China as a rising power. “We need to work out better arrangements between world powers.” Here Nixon’s words must be recalled- no world order to be stable can exclude China. He further added, “This is a troubled world, and we don’t have the right answers.”
On an optimistic note, Wisner spoke of a favourable relationship between India and the United States. He cited the recent successful visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US as an example of this strengthened relationship. He also stated that there was a huge Indian caucus on both sides of the political divide in America, and there is now a desire to seek a shared identity between the two nations. He said that the time was now right to rebuild sinews of Indian power and influence- economic, military and intelligence. A strong India is good for US
Finally, he noted that in this new global order, America has to recognize that it can no longer stand as a hegemon. The nation has to realize that within the new power structure, America has to be a partner, and it must contend with this new reality. He said that the emerging world order would be about sharing of power. And the balance between the powers will be critical in the safety of the world.
- The world has to prepare itself for a period of extended deterrence. The United States has shifted its focus from European Security during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and more recently with the Asian re-balance. This has led to the raising of following pertinent questions:-
- Are NATO`s mutual security commitments strong enough today to deter all adversaries?
- Is the current nuclear umbrella as credible as it was during the Cold War?
- What will be the implications of the US decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty to develop its own warheads after Russian refused to destroy their new missiles?
- The US Shale revolution has altered the US energy profile, contributing to the globalization of the LNG market while upending the global oil market.
- The US in the short term will have reduced presence abroad due to domestic political divisions. These political divisions compounded with the Trump administrations preference for unilateral action continues to isolate the US diplomatically
- Both Moscow and Beijing will seek to lock in competitive advantages and also to correct what they perceive as historical wrongs
- As power diffuses world-wide, seats at the table of global decision making will undergo changes.
- India, by its sheer size and potential, can play a far more pivotal role than it does now. Sadly, it is tethered to its immediate neighbourhood and cannot grow into a regional level and beyond unless it settles its own house and earns a measure of acceptability from its neighbours for a larger extra-regional role.