- 03 Jul 2017 11:36
I can't fault realism. The international order that has been developing since the Napoleonic Wars seems like a reasonable edifice for managing global crisis, although clearly the UN structure is itself a compromise based in part on (realistic) recognition of the military power of the great powers. The goal of foreign policy in the post-colonial era seems to be to manage ethnic, national and environmental crisis through multilateral diplomacy. Outright warfare has clearly failed to achieve anything without raising tensions or generating self-reflecting crisis that proceed to spiral out of control. However, the international order is evolving and as power continues to shift towards multipolarity the tendency for state actors to resort to violence to "solve" local affairs seems to have risen (look at Saudi in Yemen and Qatar right now), a dangerous development.
The division of the world into "blocs" is also a startling development, the largest and most powerful of these is the European-Atlantic alliance, NATO, which has retained the superstructure of the Supreme Allied HQ since WW2, no doubt one wonders who the enemy is now that the Soviet Union has collapsed. Plus Japan and the former SEATO partners, the US retains a strong position globally, with any rising power invariably finding themselves trampling on US or US allies toes somewhere or other. The United States and Europe are in a position to manage the growing power of Russia and China, however, neither of these states expends enough on defence to make them a serious competitor to the United States, nor is that likely to change for several decades.
Caught in the middle is pretty much everyone else, who in a kind of neo-colonial fashion are invariably exploited for resources, the case of Africa, South America, and South East Asia are the most obvious. The large states of India and Brazil are wild cards here, both hugely important economic and demographic powerhouses, but neither military significant, despite the former possessing nuclear weapons.
Let's just cut it right down: clearly, if you are a nation-state that is currently allied with or is the United States, your objective should be to retain your position which is currently very favourable having been constructed so as to be beneficial over the last 100 years of conflict. On the other hand, if you are a country, say Russia or China, that aspires to challenge the existing order, you have to do it very carefully to avoid repercussions from sanctions to cyber attack or international marginalization. The current international order is very concerned about the rise of nationalism which threatens to reverse the successes of the global system, but I don't see it happening. If anything, nationalism will weaken the challengers who will be more likely to struggle for regional goals than try to overturn the entire system.
The danger to our current situation is that the system is highly complex, tightly interdependent, and moving ever faster towards tighter integration. Although the rising powers have tried to control this rate of change (say, China cutting off foreign internet access, or Russia cyberattacking the US), I don't think in the long run the technological trajectory that we are on can be aborted. So long as there is no major crisis that actaully fractures the global order, the process of globalization should continue as it in the interest of the dominate powers that it do so. Nationalist reactionaries will not stop technological innovation for the simple reason that the world is far too interconnected for a competitor nation to benefit from arresting progress. Falling behind technologically is tantamount to economic suicide, so everyone is racing to keep their economies "competitive".
Now, US policy really since 1991 has been disastrous. America has pulled out in several occasions (especially during Clinton's presidency) when it should have been committing to uphold the order, think Somalia, Yugoslavia or Rawanda. On the other hand, the US policy since George W. Bush has been a litany of disastrous interventions that has cost trillions of dollars and achieved nothing so far as benefiting the order is concerned. If anything, the challenger powers have been emboldened by US stupidity in this regard. Now that Trump is in charge I can't imagine anything useful happening for the next four years, since Trump really has no policy, nor the means to execute a policy if he had one. If anything, Trump has delegated more authority to the allies (Japan, Korea, Europe, etc) which means burdening them with national defence that they cannot really maintain without US/coalition support. This seems like god-given opportunity for the challengers and they are exploiting it. Look at Russia in Syria and China in East Asia.
What the US should be doing is building new alliances while offering the competitors a way to improve their position without undermining the international order. Starting trade wars and shredding international agreements is not how you achieve this, and I think the Republicans are being very foolish right now.
The concepts "WAR" and "PROGRESS" are now obsolete.