The Role Of The United States In The World Order?

Jan 15th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

The Economist commented in early December that “Unfortunately, America is tiring of its role as guarantor of the liberal order. The giant has not exactly fallen asleep again, but its resolve is faltering and its enemies are testing it. Vladimir Putin is massing troops on the border with Ukraine and could soon invade. China is buzzing Taiwan’s airspace with fighter jets, using mock-ups of American aircraft-carriers for target practice and trying out hypersonic weapons. Iran has taken such a maximalist stance at nuclear talks that many observers expect them to collapse. Thus, two autocratic powers threaten to seize land currently under democratic control, and a third threatens to violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty by building a nuclear bomb. How far would America go to prevent such reckless acts? . . . America has become reluctant to use hard power across much of the world. A coalition of hawks and doves in Washington is calling for ‘restraint.’ The doves say that by attempting to police the world, America inevitably gets sucked into needless conflicts abroad that it cannot win. The hawks say that America must not be distracted from the only task that counts: standing up to China.”

The editorial continues: “America is no longer the confident hegemon of the 1990s. Its relative power has waned, even if it remains unmatched. After Iraq and Afghanistan, voters have grown weary of foreign adventures. Partisan politics, which once stopped at the water’s edge, paralyses most aspects of policy. Over 90 ambassadorial posts remain vacant, blocked by Congress. America has refused to join a trade pact that would have complemented its military ties in Asia with economic ones. The relentless drama of politics, including over such things as disputed elections and mask-wearing, makes America seem too divided at home to show sustained purpose abroad.”

Bret Stephens posits a far more frightening scenario about the growing confusion over the role of the US in the world order.  He sees a resemblance between the world of the late 1930s and early 1940s and 2021-22:  On the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, “we are losing our capacity for surprise that could help us anticipate or avert a similar catastrophe.”  He cites five resemblances:

  1. In three separate theaters, the US faces formidable adversaries with aggressive territorial designs.  “Russia, which may soon invade Ukraine in almost cheery defiance of the Biden administration; China, which is building a war machine to seize Taiwan and, if necessary, defeat the United States in open warfare; and Iran, which has turned Lebanon, Syria, parts of Iraq, Gaza and Yemen into client states or satrapies while getting closer to being a threshold nuclear states.”
  2. In each case territory is not the only issue; ideology is as well.  “Russia, China and Iran fundamentally reject the notion of a liberal international order.  They reject democracy and human rights as political ideals.  They see a West in which personal freedoms lead to moral decadence and a diminished capacity for collective sacrifice.”
  3. The direct targets of their aggression (mentioned in #1) are relatively weak.
  4. The US—like Britain, France and America in the 1930s—is an “ambivalent, wounded and inwardly focused power, unsure as to whether it wants to remain the guarantor of the safety of threatened nations.”
  5. The balance of power is increasingly shifting against the West.

Let’s examine the case of Vladimir Putin and Ukraine more closely.  Putin has modernized Russia’s military, which now dominates the post-Soviet space and threatens Europe.  NATO’s eastward expansion has stopped.  And though Western sanctions have put a dent in the Russian economy, there is no appetite in Western capitals for blocking the flow of Russian oil and gas, which are crucial to the global economy and have made Russian elites fantastically rich.  “The Kremlin has crushed domestic political opponents like Alexei Navalny, and though ordinary Russian may be grumpy about their lot in life, they are largely disengaged from politics.”

In this context, it is important to understand Putin’s mindset.  Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, both of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, demonstrate that “Putin is particularly aggravated by the absence of Ukraine from Russia’s sphere and sees it as a singular failure of his long tenure.  He bears the distinction of having lost Ukraine twice.  In 2004, the popular uprising known as the ‘Orange Revolution’ rejected Russian meddling in Ukrainian politics and dealt Mr. Putin a defeat from which he has never recovered.  In 2014, Russian political interference inspired another spontaneous street revolution, which became known in Ukraine as ‘the Revolution of Dignity’ and set the country decisively on the path of integration with the West and away from Russia.”  But Putin will not accept this.  He has long held that the ties between Ukraine and Russia cannot be severed.  This past July he published a 7,000 word article denying Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent country, asserting that the Ukrainian people are not separate and distinct from Russians and claiming that Ukraine can prosper and realize its full potential only as a part of greater Russia.   He therefore sees any NATO presence in Ukraine as a threat to the security and integrity of Russia.

Finally, it is important to also understand the technological threat China poses to the US.  Graham Allison of Harvard and Eric Schmidt formerly CEO of Google, argue that China poses “the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century” and that the “main arena for competition and rivalry” between China and the US will be in advanced technologies.”  Here are the major concerns they cite:

  1. In each of the advanced technologies of the 21st century—artificial intelligence, semiconductors, 5G wireless, quantum information science, biotechnology and green energy—China could soon be the global leader. In some areas, it is already No. 1.
  2. Last year China produced 50% of the world’s computers and mobile phones; the US produced only 6%.  China produces 70 solar panels for each one produced in the US, sells four times the number of electrical vehicles, and has nine times as many 5G base stations, with network speeds five times as fast as American equivalents.
  3. China is poised to overtake the US as global leader in AI by 2030.
  4. China’s production of semiconductors has surpassed America’s with its share of global production rising to 15% from less than 1% in 1990, while the US share has fallen from 37% to 12%.
  5. By the end of last year, 150 million Chinese were using 5G mobile phones with average speeds of 300 megabits a second, while only six million Americans had access to 5G speeds of 60 megabits second.  America’s 5G service providers have put more focus on advertising their capabilities than on building infrastructure.
  6. The celebrated “Made in China 2025” program, relentlessly promoted by President Xi, seeks to dominate domestic production of 10 emerging technologies, including 5G, AI and electric vehicles.

Allison and Schmidt conclude that “unless the US can organize a national response analogous to the mobilization that created the technologies that won World War II, China could soon dominate the technology of the future and the opportunities they will create.”

In short, as we begin 2022, the US faces significant challenges in multiple spheres.  The toxic politics, the politicization of almost everything in American culture and the absence of any commitment to the common good, demonstrates to Russia, China and Iran that democracy does not work.  Each of these nations could thereby feel emboldened to challenge the supremacy of the US in these multiple spheres.  It is quite frankly difficult to be positive about the future. Bold, innovative and unified leadership at the national leave is needed now more than ever.  There is no foreseeable possibility that this will occur.  Those of us who love the US need to fervently pray for God’s mercy.

See “If the United States Pulls Back, the World Will Become More Dangerous” in The Economist; Bret Stephens in the New York Times (8 December 2021); Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss in the Wall Street Journal (20-21 November 2021); and Graham Allison and Eric Schmidt in the Wall Street Journal (8 December 2021).

2 Comments to “The Role Of The United States In The World Order?”

  1. Peter Wiebe says:

    These threats are very concerning and need to be taken seriously. We had someone in the White House that did have an understanding of the world moving towards One World Government and did put some bumps into that process. One problem was that too many Americans were too concerned about not liking his tweets, his manner, his ego although he was going a fantastic job, both in domestic affairs and in world affairs. Too many were too busy criticizing him, making it look like everything he did was deplorable when in reality, he was doing a fantastic job under the circumstances. The media was relentless in hounding and ridiculing him and many private citizens who should have known better jumped onto the bandwagon because “I have the right to point out what I disagree with!” Look what we have now. Someone who is completely incompetent and the world leaders see this as their opportunity to do as they wish because there will be no opposition from America. As incompetent as our leader is, we shield him and refrain from addressing this sad state of affairs with no leadership from the current president not from the vice-president who is equally incompetent. We need to take seriously the last statement “Those of us who love the US need to fervently pray for God’s mercy.” However, for God to help us and answer our prayers, we need to do our part as well and this is where we have failed miserably. Did we “fervently pray for God’s” guidance when we voted? Did we really and truly decipher and compare the possibilities of events unfolding under the leadership of both candidates and then ask God for wisdom in our voting? I’m afraid too many voters based their bias decision while thinking about their personal hatred, and I believe God said, “Yes, I’ll allow for you to have your wish. You deserve what you ask for.” Don’t blame God. Let’s blame ourselves and learn from our mistakes.

    • Jim Eckman says:

      Thank you for your opinion. Several comments:
      1. In your comments about how Americans voted, you acknowledge that President Trump lost the election. Thank you for not believing the “Big Lie.”
      2. You seem to place Biden’s victory on the backs of evangelical Christians who did not seek God’s direction when they voted. But 81% of white evangelicals did vote for Trump. I assume you believe they were following God’s direction in doing so. Thus, I am not certain to whom you are referring.
      3. Now that the election is over, it is important for evangelical Christians to re-read Daniel 4:17, 25 and Romans 13:1-7, as well as Titus 3:1-7. God’s purposes are still being worked out.
      4. It is also imperative that evangelical Christians obey the command of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-3. It is in the spirit of that verse that I asked Christians “to pray fervently.” I am curious as to how many evangelical Christians are actually praying for the current president and vice president? That is part of our duty and responsibility to God, Paul argues, as we walk in loving obedience with Him.
      5. Finally, I am hardly an advocate of President Biden, but it is important to remember that the various crises I cite did not just develop in the last year. Most of them stretch back at least 10 years, if not more. It is intellectually dishonest to blame all these crises on one person. The US has struggled for years with how to respond to the aggressive policies of Vladimir Putin. His methods and his policies have been manifesting themselves at least since 2008. And the US has not had a consistent, uniform policy in responding to him. Biden is not the author of this confusion. Responding to President XI of China has not been much better. A coherent economic, financial, military and diplomatic response to China has not characterized the US since he came to power nearly a decade ago. That is why we need to pray for the president of the US we have now. That is obeying the command of 1 Timothy 2!

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