Sunday, March 22, 2009
Two Reads on Foreign Policy
Chinese Congress Hall
Great Powers by Thomas Barnett
The Bellum: A Stanford Review Blog. since it's launch in February has become a must read blog that never fails to raise the level of attention on important issues as diverse as food, Fungi Don’t Know Borders and interviews, John Nagl on the Media and COIN. In this next post they turn their attention to U.S. foreign policy and the direction it should take in the coming meeting of the G20.
They begin by citing:
Esteemed strategist Leslie Gelb’s Sunday editorial, It’s Time to ‘Go to Strength’ on Foreign Policy, recommends that US foreign policy focus on areas of comparative strength, steadily withdrawing from those arenas where regional complexities prevent American force from being a “sure thing”. Gelb’s argument hinges on the idea that US foreign relations require a black-and-white decision—either leaders can focus on hotspots like Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran at the expense of developing “greater power” alliances or they can engage fully in proven modes of diplomacy in a way that avoids unilateral involvement. Parsing this construction, unilateralism is weakness and US-directed multilateralism is strength.
Gelb’s underlying thesis– that “this is the worst time to link our fate to crises beyond our control [and] our strategy has to focus on anchors that provide stability”—is well-received.
Bellum then poses this question.
But is the United States’ present choice really equivalent to 1946 as Gelb seems to suggest?
And counters with this opinion.
Bellum takes exception with the implication that international terrorism can be fenced in using the same tools—“containment and deterrence”—that were used against the Soviet Union.
The final analysis from Bellum follows:
It’s understandably unsettling for a man whose career has spanned a period characterized by unquestionably dominant US power, but the financial crisis requires that we sit and wait. Certainly, China’s no Soviet Union and cooperation offers mutual benefits, but it’s not apparent that the US has the flexibility to take charge in a coalition-forming process. Before we can pursue multilateralism, it’s critical that we first ensure our affairs are in order within the G-2. China is likely to multiply its influence through the course of the global economic recovery, but if US policymakers are selectively deferential to Chinese preferences, America can remain at the strategic forefront of geopolitics.
In a related post Tom Barnett column this week, takes on the the threat of great power war and deftly deflates some of the pressure being pumped up by the big war planners.
While difficult to keep in mind amidst today's economic nationalism, a global middle class of unprecedented size rises in the emerging markets of the East and South. This accomplishment logically ensures the continuation of great-power peace, as America's grand strategy of spreading its liberal trade order reaches its global apogee.
Countering this view is a growing cohort of academics and analysts who insist that such rising consumer demand will inevitably trigger "resource wars" among the world's great powers, with climate change as an unforgiving accelerant.
Barnett's answer to this rhetorical opinion.
A little secret here: A good portion of America's defense establishment desperately needs the long-term specter of resource wars to continue justifying the big-war-centric structure of our armed forces. It needs to sell this vision of future conflict because, without it, the small-wars community will triumph in a looming budgetary battle that will define the Obama administration's legacy in national security affairs.
To find out why read the whole column linked below. Here is Barnett's conclusion based on the evidence that awaits your perusal.
Don't believe me? Imagine a world where there's no Chinese demand for U.S. debt or no U.S. demand for Chinese exports.
Dreaming up future "resource wars" to obviate our military's necessary adjustment to this era's security tasks will not render them moot. Indeed, like Somalia's recent pirate epidemic, they invariably attract the collaborative efforts of other great powers, like China and India, which have no choice but to defend their growing economic networks.