Globalist Perspective

The Networking of U.S. Foreign Policy

How are the realities of globalization forcing the United States to adopt a new foreign policy?

Takeaways


  • One could argue that the Iraq war and late-2000s economic crash provided the pressure for the United States to share global responsibility. But it is also as likely that this pressure would have occurred anyway.
  • In today's world, each power is economically connected and dependent on the others to the point where major constituencies in each country could be threatened if the relationships dissolved.
  • The realities of globalization's economic web are forcing the United States, in various areas of the world, to adopt a new foreign policy — one of mutuality.

Never before in history had the leading power purposely worked to share the secrets of its wealth, or saw as its mission the creation of a democratic/capitalist world of plenty. Yet this is exactly what America has very successfully done over the past 65 years.

Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of Time magazine, described this mission in his famous 1941 “American Century” essay in which he imagined America as the “dynamic center of ever-widening spheres of enterprise [and] the training center of the skillful servants of mankind.”

The United States saw as part of its post-World War II mandate the need to create a world full of opportunities that would lift other nations up on a rising tide of democracy, capitalism and entrepreneurialism.

This was true of the Marshall Plan’s directive that European aid recipients jointly play a prominent role in how those dollars were spent, a directive that gave impetus to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community and eventually the European Union. And it was true of U.S. support for free trade, the IMF and the World Bank, and of Nixon’s engagement of China.

Yes, not all of the United States’ actions were altruistic — and many policies that later became so successful were originally intended to build an economic bulwark against the Soviet Union. But the very success of these policies, combined with the economic strain caused by globalization, has now forced U.S. foreign policy onto a new course, away from the dominant role the United States has been used to playing since the end of World War II.

Nations and blocs that have prospered and grown under the United States’ role as the “policeman of globalization” now are chafing to share some of that role. One could argue that the Iraq war and late-2000s economic crash provided the impetus for this pressure to share global responsibility. But it is also as likely that this pressure would have occurred anyway.

The United States’ embrace of globalization created an economic interconnectedness among the leading economic powers that few could have predicted when Luce wrote about widening spheres of enterprise.

Unlike in the first modern era of globalization immediately preceding World War I, when each major power saw the other as an economic and territorial rival, in today’s world each power is economically connected and dependent on the others to the point where major constituencies in each country could be threatened if the relationships dissolved.

The EU is the largest trading partner of the United States, with an almost equal trade balance and similar levels of foreign direct investment. As an example of the latter, the German company Siemens employs some 60,000 people in the United States, while General Electric employs approximately 70,000 people in the EU.

This interconnectedness is also found in the U.S.-China relationship, where beyond the debt issue there are U.S. agricultural shipments to China, U.S. retail jobs dependent on Chinese production, airplane orders and so forth. There is a similar linkage on the Chinese side, with a major portion of its coastal manufacturing base and labor pool employed in producing U.S.-bound goods.

Even though the United States and Russia have less-significant economic ties (U.S.-Russia trade accounts for only about 1% of each other’s exports and imports), the web of globalization ensnares them both. Russia is a main energy supplier to the EU — and is thus connected to U.S. economic interests.

This interconnectedness calls into question the logic of the United States as the ultimate guarantor of the economic security of the world. It has also raised questions that are politically threatening to the American people, who have been enculturated since the end of World War II to believe that the United States has the power — and the right — to act independently in its foreign policy.

Why, for example, should the Chinese navy not share the responsibility with the United States of guarding the Strait of Malacca, the narrow body of water below Singapore through which pass more than 50% of Chinese crude oil shipments? Yet the very idea of a larger Chinese navy that would have the ability to do so threatens the belief that post-World War II U.S. foreign policy is relevant in a networked world.

President Obama has clearly recognized this new paradigm when he formulated a precedent-setting policy in response to the uprising in Libya. Rather than acting singularly or as the effective leader of the coalition, President Obama chose to work as a political and military minority partner with other nations, particularly European nations, whose economic interests are more directly impacted by instability in Libya. But their interests, although subordinated, are important to the United States in a new, networked world.

Of course, such a policy does not mean that the United States will not act to protect its own interests. It is just that the realities of globalization’s economic web are forcing the United States, in various areas of the world, to adopt a new foreign policy — one of mutuality.

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About Edward Goldberg

Edward Goldberg is the president of Annisa Group, a firm that advises business on global issues.

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