Many decades ago, the American journalist, presidential adviser, and foreign policy expert Walter Lippmann wrote:
“The United States is now at the center of the Western world. If we accept the responsibilities which result from this fact, we with our allies can secure a long peace. Otherwise, Western civilization will become a disorganized fringe around the Soviet Union and the rising peoples of Asia.”
Lippmann’s admonition remains pertinent even in this present day. At a time of economic instability and uncertainty at home and abroad due to the recent coronavirus epidemic, how should the United States formulate its foreign policy so that Western civilization remains a coherent entity and global order and peace is preserved?
First, perhaps, comes the issue of global organization. Now that the American unipolar moment has receded, there is always the possibility of traditional “spheres of influence” emerging within the emerging global order. As Walter Lippmann wrote many decades ago, it is very much likely that “the world will be divided up into spheres of influence each dominated by a great power, that within these spheres the smaller and the weaker states will come under the influence of the great power, and that the huge constellations of states may become rivals and enemies.” Lippmann also suggested that regionalism and spheres of influence could also be a prelude to a “universal society” characterized by a “world council” where cooperation and consultation supersedes conflict and interference in one’s local affairs. By relating the different regional units to one another through a “world council” and a “universal society,” conflict and social strife between the different regional units may be avoidable.
Next is the question of how one is to formulate a foreign policy amidst the emerging global order based on regionalism and spheres of influence. Policy requires a coherent and synchronistic organization of the military, economic, diplomatic, and propagandistic tools that are at the disposal of a statesman and his or her staff. For the most part, the public remains aloof in terms of the details and nuances of foreign policy. Thus, the onus is on the statesman and his or her staff to formulate a detailed and nuanced foreign policy that best suits an emerging global order. To a large extent, American foreign policy is still up in the air, with little continuity from one administration to another in the 21st century. It should be up to the best and the brightest in the foreign policy realm to formulate policy in a collective and collaborative manner.
In some ways, the emerging global order is a response to a foreign policy principle that has long eluded America’s foreign policy establishment, which is that power must match international commitments, to borrow from Walter Lippmann. With the United States wielding only 4 percent of the world’s population and 15 percent of the world’s GDP, the other 96 percent of the world’s population and 85 percent of global GDP must step up to the plate and contribute to the maintenance of global order and stability. In sum, the ends of foreign policy must be balanced with the means. Adjustments to hard power deployments should be accompanied by a novel soft power approach. To accomplish this delicate balancing act, there are concrete measures that can be taken. For one, the downsizing of conventional forces in areas of strategic importance such as Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Northeast Asia and replacing these conventional forces with nuclear deployments should be complemented with a diplomatic and propagandistic strategy that compensates the downsizing efforts from a hard power standpoint.
For instance, an acknowledgment of British sovereignty must be matched with an emphasis on the importance of a “Trans-Atlantic Alliance” that is kept together through a trade agreement between Britain and the European Union. If possible, the United States should also lay the groundwork for possible Russian and Turkish integration into the European Union sometime in the future. Also, through brokering a peace agreement between Middle Eastern adversaries such as Israel and Iran, the United States should stress that all states in the Middle East have a common interest in developing both economic ties and security cooperation in the face of climate change, environmental degradation, water scarcity, and transnational terrorism. From an American standpoint, there was a disproportionate focus on Afghanistan and Iraq over the last two decades or so. Now, the energy and focus should be placed on areas of vital interest to the United States while providing minimal financial support to Afghan and Iraqi security forces over the long run.
The United States should also develop an economic strategy vis-à-vis China alongside foreign partners, through which the top priority for the United States should be bringing back manufacturing jobs home and opening markets overseas for American exports to spur American economic productivity. Also, the United States should push the envelope against major polluters such as China and India to address existential issues such as climate change and environmental degradation. What is at stake is not only the economic and physical security of the United States, but also the existence of Western civilization along with global order and peace in the years and decades to come. As a result, the United States – which happens to be the linchpin of Western civilization and the anchor of global order and peace – must develop a foreign policy which suits this existential purpose.
With all our economic and technological advancements over the last few decades, we cannot afford an outbreak of war. We risk the continuity of humanity if war is to break out on a global scale, along with Western civilization and global order. As the economist Jeffrey Sachs wisely put it: “This is a time for all countries, especially the major powers, to work cooperatively to raise well-being, protect the environment, end the remnants of extreme poverty, and guard against hatred, fear, and a senseless descent into violence.” Due to novel material and psychological circumstances resulting from economic and technological evolutions in the 21st century, any foreign policy that is formulated has to be unconventional in nature due to the existential issues which are at stake lest we resort yet again to conventional means of formulating policy.