Predictions about America losing its superiority and changing the international order have been heard for a long time, the coronavirus only activated them with renewed vigor.
The world is struggling hard with coronavirus. Increasingly, we hear predictions of a new world order that a pandemic will leave behind. And in this world order, most likely there will be no superpower – the United States. Perhaps there will be no superpowers at all.
Political science professor at Barnard College and director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, Alexander Cooley, and associate professor at the Department of Public Administration and the School of Diplomatic Service named after Edmund A. Walsh of Georgetown University, Daniel Nekson, in their article for the American publication ForeignAffairs reflect on whether the USA is losing its position on world stage.
Correspondent.netcollected the main points of the article.
Coronavirus vs World Order
Numerous signs point to a crisis in the world order. The uncoordinated international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, the revival of nationalist politics and the strengthening of state borders – all this, apparently, portends the emergence of a less-prepared and more fragile international system. According to many observers, these events underscore the danger of US President Donald Trump’s policy based on the principle of “America – first of all,” and his rejection of global leadership.
Even before the pandemic, Trump was constantly critical of the importance and relevance of alliances and institutions such as NATO, supported the collapse of the European Union, and emerged from many international agreements. He questions the validity of the need for liberal values such as democracy and human rights to be at the center of foreign policy. Trump’s clear preference for an antagonistic mercantile business policy is further proof that the US is giving up its commitment to foster a liberal international order.
Not everything is lost
Some analysts believe that the United States can still make a difference by reintroducing strategies with which they, from the end of World War II to the post-Cold War period, create and maintain an effective international order.
If the United States after Trump could again assume the responsibility of a leading world power, then this era – including the pandemic, which will become its characteristic feature – could not be a step on the path to permanent chaos, but only a temporary deviation.
Be that as it may, the predictions about America losing its superiority and changing the international order have been heard for a long time – and every time they are wrong. In the mid-1980s, many analysts believed that America’s leadership was coming to an end. The Bretton Woods system collapsed in the 1970s, the United States faced growing competition from European and East Asian economies, especially West Germany and Japan, and the Soviet Union seemed an unchanging feature of world politics. However, by the end of 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, Japan entered its lost decade of economic stagnation, and the reunification of Germany was required to accomplish the costly task of integration. The United States has survived a decade of rapid technological innovation and unexpectedly rapid economic growth. The result is what many have called the “unipolar moment” of American hegemony.
But this time, everything is different. The very forces that used to ensure the stability of US hegemony today contribute to its weakening. The conditions for creating, after the Cold War, a world order led by the United States arose due to three circumstances. First, after the collapse of communism, there was no longer any serious ideology in the world opposed to the ideology that the United States preached. Secondly, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying infrastructure of institutions and partnerships, weaker states did not have serious alternatives to the United States and their Western allies in providing military, economic and political support. And thirdly, international activists and movements spread liberal values and norms that strengthened the liberal order.
Today, the same development of events, the same driving forces turned against the United States: after a vicious circle of favorable events that once helped strengthen the power of the United States, a vicious cycle of events began that undermined it. With the growing influence of such great powers as China and Russia, autocratic and illiberal projects compete with the US-led liberal international system.
Talking about decline and a permanent decrease in influence may seem strange, given that the United States spends more on its armed forces than the seven countries combined on the list and provide a network of military bases abroad that is unparalleled. Military power played an important role in creating and maintaining US superiority in the 1990s and early this century. No other country could give firm guarantees of security to the entire international system. But US military superiority was achieved not so much due to defense spending (in real terms, US military spending in the 1990s declined and grew only after the September 11 attacks), but due to a number of other factors. We are talking about the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a competitor, the growing technological advantage of the American armed forces and the willingness of most world powers of the second level to resort to help from the United States and be dependent on them, and not build up their own armed forces. If the US entry into the political arena as a power leading the unipolar world was made possible mainly as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the preservation of this unipolarity over the next decade was due to the fact that Asian and European allies agreed to support US hegemony.
The end of unipolarity
Developing (and even many developed) countries no longer need to depend on the generosity and support of the West, they can now choose alternative “patrons” for themselves. And the illiberal, often right-wing transnational networks oppose the norms and piety of a liberal international order that once seemed so unshakable. In short, US global leadership is not just weakening, it is collapsing. And this process of reducing influence is not cyclical, but constant.
The United States and its allies, which are briefly called the West, in a period of unipolarity together used the actual monopoly on the right to be a patron. With a few minor exceptions, they were the only significant source of security, economic benefits, political support, and legitimacy. Developing countries could no longer exert pressure on Washington, threatening to turn to Moscow or pointing out the danger of a communist coup to protect themselves from the need to carry out internal reforms. The scope of Western power and influence was so limitless that many politicians believed in the eternal triumph of liberalism. Most governments have not seen a real alternative.
Now, at least China, may well play the role of such an alternative.