The wind of new unilateral politics in the US
Since the beginning of the debates on the transformation of the international system there have been different questions in regards to the future of the world order – if there is one. In this period, on the one hand, the U.S. administration started to raise their voices about the burden sharing and, one after another, presidential elections started becoming the American public’s arena for questioning the global leadership role that the U.S. has been playing since the end of World War II. The candidates that supported the light foot print and less international involvement have gained more attraction among some segments of society.
On the other hand, the rising powers from different continents started to question the existing international system. These countries endorsed a revision in the current system which they believe was not fair in the current state of affairs and balance of power.
For the last decade now, the U.S. has not been able to figure out its role in the changing international system. On the contrary, some of the policies that were adopted by the U.S. administrations resulted in the damage of the current system. For instance, the lack of an action to the use of chemical weapons generated major damage to one of the most significant international norms about the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Later with the trade wars, the free trade regime and the U.S. support for this norm was weakened. In the meantime, the rising powers could not find a chance to revise the institutions and norms of the existing international system. It was understood that the system formed by the U.S. and its allies following WWII had made it really hard to transform the system when it was necessary. This deadlock has generated one of the most significant crises of the international system in recent decades.In this environment, a terrorist group formed a state, a dictator killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and used weapons of mass destruction, the territory of Europe changed by using force for the first time since the end of the WWII, the dormant territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region started to be revived, some countries started to leave the European Union, the most significant humanitarian crisis since WWII is taking place, failed states started to emerge in different parts of the world and a regime in Asia started to threaten to nuke its neighbors.
All of these problems and failures of the international community to resolve them showed the extent of the crisis. Although most of these problems were considered as regional problems and the Western countries expected the neighboring countries to resolve them, they were in fact systemic problems that need to be handled by the broader international community.
For the last few years, due to the foreign policy of the U.S. in some areas, the concern about the emergence of similar problems rose dramatically. Some of the actions of the U.S. policies have been direct contradictions with the foreign policy of the U.S. in previous periods and sometimes intended to target the very institutions and mechanisms that it helped to build. Some started to interpret this situation as a return to the power politics of the interwar years between World War I and WWII.
In the last month, the most significant experts in U.S. foreign policy, including Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Robert Kagan, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, published books and gave talks on this significant transformation taking place in the world.
There is an increasing concern about the U.S. change of mind about the liberal international system. Robert Kagan describes the situation of the emerging of the “normal” by referring to the growing back of the jungle in the international arena whereas Daalder and Lindsay describe the situation more straightforwardly as the U.S.’ abdication of global leadership. There is a question about the potential future scenarios on the direction of the U.S.’ foreign policy.
If the U.S. continues its path toward the destruction of some of institutions these concerns and worst scenarios of some of these authors may come through. As the current administration in the U.S. has become a more ardent critic of the U.S.’ former role around the world, the rising powers and the “rest” of the world need to work together to fill that potential void and share responsibility. This sharing would definitely bring a privilege for these countries to have more say about the reform process and more clout during the transition. Because of that, following these books on the current state of U.S. foreign policy and direction, it will be interesting to read the foreign policies of the rising powers and their approach to the reform of the international system.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on November 27, 2018.