The dawning of the twenty-first century brings a new set of challenges for today’s countries. Perhaps the country that currently faces the toughest challenges is the United States. After nearly five hundred years of European dominance (period during which Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain enjoyed spells of relative dominance), the United States has relegated the old continent and by doing so managed to become the world’s most powerful and rich country. In the following years, however, it is highly unlikely that the rest of the world will simply conform to today’s world order. Instead, it is expected that other powers will group into coalitions in order to contain (and if possible, control) the United States. Such attempts will be continuous but are highly likely to fail.
The reason behind this lies in the fact that the United States’ military power is unparalleled, particularly given the fact that it dominates the seas with its immense navy. No country has either the strength or the resources to match the United States’ military power. It will be virtually impossible for any other country (including the Chinese juggernaut economy and population) to displace the balance of power that the United States currently favors. Furthermore, matters will become even more complicated since the United States is committed to a strategy that revolves around containment, order, and stability via a blatant disrespect of other states’ sovereignty.
Following the end of World War II, the United States managed to fill a gap that remained after the collapse of the waning British Empire. The world needed a new leader to guide the reconstruction efforts (particularly in Europe), and even though there was more than one contender for that top spot, the United States reigned above all others (including the former Soviet Union). In accounting for the country’s success in ascending as the most powerful country in the world, it is important to highlight the international policy that the country assumed following WWII.
”The strategy was realist in orientation, organized around containment, deterrence, and the maintenance of the global balance of power… The touchstone of this strategy was containment, which sought to deny the Soviet Union the ability to expand its sphere of influence. Order was maintained by managing the bipolar balance between the American and Soviet camps. Stability was achieved through nuclear deterrence.”.
The United States invented the concept of nuclear deterrence; they did so by dropping two nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending WWII. Throughout the rest of the twentieth century, this nuclear deterrent allowed the United States to maintain its stronghold in the field of international relations. Moreover, its military and naval dominance allowed the country to diffuse any situation, in which there appeared to be a challenge on the country’s power and/or interests. This, however, has come at a cost to the United States, since “an American policy that leaves the United States alone to decide which states are threats and how best to deny them weapons of mass destruction will lead to a diminishment of multilateral mechanisms— most important of which is the nonproliferation regime”.
A new world is rapidly consolidating. Leadership changes have occurred throughout the world, and American WMD no longer intimidates governments that pledged allegiance, or feared, the United States. This has ultimately driven the United States to more blatantly disregard other states’ sovereignty, particularly during the Bush administration, which “elevated the threat of WMD to the top of its security agenda without investing its power or prestige in fostering, monitoring, and enforcing nonproliferation commitments”.
Another clear-cut characteristic of the twenty-first century (one that is already being experienced, primarily in Europe) is the world’s declining population. With the oncoming population decline, there is no question that the world will have to rearrange itself. It is likely that there will be a confrontation between conservatives and progressives; the former will attempt to retain traditional family values and moral principles while the latter will probably seek to redefine such values and principles. In other words, once the population decreases significantly, the current conception of the family unity, and society, as a whole, will have changed fundamentally, in a manner that is consistent with the world’s new demographic reality.
Clearly, this is another factor that drives the United States to be concerned about the courses of action being pursued by other states (especially in matters concerning politics and the military). In the United States labor shortages will become the norm; this will prompt the country to modify its immigration laws in order to attract foreign labor. This is a notion that truly diverges from the current stance that the United States has in matters concerning immigration and labor. Specifically, this is something that Republicans will probably not welcome, but then again, should the country require to open its borders and welcome immigrants to compensate domestic labor shortages, this move will have to be done. Changing demographic patterns may also create renewed incentives for war. Relatively weaker countries (in terms of population, labor, industrial output, etc) may find themselves being targeted by larger countries that recognize the possibility of relatively economically beneficial and simple expansion. This is consistent with reality. WMD have proliferated, and today various countries challenge the United States’ nuclear deterrent capabilities by funding research programs that attempt to harness nuclear capabilities (one prime example being North Korea).
One final point to consider is that of “fault lines” which is a term used to refer to the areas where the conflict is most likely to develop (at least initially). In analyzing the current situation and past dynamics between countries in specific geographic locations, it is highly probable that Asia and Eastern Europe are the two regions in which conflict will develop. Specifically, conflicts are most likely to develop in the Middle East (region in which conflicts between Arab nations have been the norm for centuries), in the former Iron Curtain (territory comprising former soviet republics), and in China. Out of these possible candidates China might seem a surprising inclusion. However, considering that the country has nearly one billion peasants, and these peasants live in conditions of inequality and generalized poverty, a civil uprising might develop in the country. On the other hand, the seemingly peaceful Eastern European nations could come into conflict with one another, especially in cases that the economic conditions continue to worsen towards the future.
The United States recognizes the potential threat that China poses to its leadership position; therefore, following a policy of preemptive action, containment, and an overall disregard of other states’ sovereignty, it has already started modifying its military strategy in the area. At the same time, it is important to note that, at present, the United States no longer has any real strongholds in the Pacific. In Past years, the United States provided protection to Japan; it also knew that it could count with the allegiance of countries such as South Korea. Furthermore, in instances when there was any country in the Pacific seeking to challenge the United States’ authority, the country could always count on its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which was aimed to serve an effective deterrent against any real challenge.
Militarily, the United States is hedging its bets with the most extensive realignment of U.S. power in half a century. Part of this realignment is the opening of a second front in Asia. No longer is the United States poised with several large, toehold bases on the Pacific rim of the Asian continent; today, it has made significant moves into the heart of Asia itself, building a network of smaller, jumping-off bases in Central Asia.
In understanding why it is that the United States continues to exercise a strategy that seeks to closely monitor foreign states, and disrespect foreign sovereignty through preemptive strikes, it is important to mention a concept that now seems to be the sole determinant of the United States’ international policy: national security. The truth of the matter is that, throughout its history, the United States has been overzealous about its national security. In fact, there have been numerous instances in which the interest of national security has been used as a justification for transgressing the sovereignty of other countries for no reason different than pursuing a specific interest. For example, in the 1800s the country went to war with Mexico and took more than 50% of its territory. In recent years, the country has intervened in Libya, Kosovo, and Sudan; these interventions have been justified using the humanitarian flag. However, this flag begins to rend, especially when it becomes increasingly clear that the country’s transgression of other states’ sovereignty ultimately benefits no one other than the United States. This indicates that the country must revisit its international policies and focus more on reinvigorating multilateral allegiances of the past. Today, countries (especially in Asia) are growing more rapidly than the United States. With every passing days, threats and challenges on the power and sovereignty of the United States increase and multiply. This is time for the country to realize that the world is smaller and that power may not be the only way of securing leadership, nor may it necessarily be the best one.