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September 24, 2021

Pax Americana: The end or a new edition? (II)

One of the substantial conclusions of the mentioned Rand report shows that the U.S. must maintain the current global order or lose the benefits it has in relation to the costs entailed. Moreover, the report shows that neglecting to secure the benefits of a hegemon leads to the major risk of its own exhaustion through the outlays borne in order to maintain this unilateral and exclusive order.

The final part of the report also reveals the authors’ proposition for the maintenance and consolidation of ‘Pax Americana’ in the current context of the global political developments. “At a time of growing rivalry, nationalism, and uncertainty – the authors show –, a functioning multilateral order will be essential to provide stabilizing ballast to an increasingly unruly global environment.” In other words, the authors conclude – based on the calculations relative to the cost-benefit ratio of exercising systemic hegemony, a ratio that is favourable for U.S. interests – that the more promising outlook for Washington is promoting a multilateral order in the 21st Century. Of course, the authors show that, while this “equitable” multilateral order is demonstrably favourable to the attainment of American national interests, there are other factors too – such as U.S. leadership – that are obviously necessary for the continuation of the ‘Pax Americana.’ Thus, they say that “a multilateral order may have become a precondition for achieving individual national interests. This analysis does not suggest that it is sufficient—other factors, including U.S. leadership, are critical—but a working global order based on principles of equitable multilateralism may be a necessary condition for the achievement of essential U.S. national security interests in the 21st century.”

The analysis has revealed to the authors that there are at least three categories of factors which make it easy for the current institutions – namely the determinants of ‘Pax Americana,’ of its architecture, including the U.S. systemic predominance and leadership – to be able to continue their existence in this multilateral order for this century. Mentioned first among these categories of factors is the one which refers to the fact that the necessary counterweight in periods of high systemic tensions is thus being ensured. Stabilisation in such systemically tense periods can be achieved through the offer of already existing norms and regulations, backed by the U.S. and its allies, in situations such as: backsliding in international trade; in the case of aggression, the existence of a critical mass of a military alliance centred on the U.S. offers deterrence or even generally-accepted intervention; identifies ways and means to continue international cooperation, including between the U.S. and China, based on already tried-out patterns; offers China advantages through a leadership partnership superior to a “selfish Sinocentric” order.

The second category of factors is defined as the offer of already-existing systemic mechanisms of cooperation and coordination meant to address future challenges, without the need to imagine and devise others. Mentioned here is the fact that “the most significant such shared challenge is climate change, which threatens the health of the ecosystem on which all human life depends.”

But alongside this field, in which there is already a structured framework of cooperation, there is also the fact that the existence of the UN Security Council offers the possibility of creating a concert of great powers in case of massive challenges (such as the North Korean communist regime’s current violation of international norms in the nuclear domain). Similarly, the existing frameworks for combatting terrorism, piracy, or the ones currently being formulated – international standards in the cyber or artificial intelligence domains. Finally, the third category of factors has to do with the post-1945 existence of elements of international order established via use: cooperative processes, expectations, norms which – even if undertaken so as to answer national interests – have given shape to a set of actions or convictions: constant and continuous international support for the principle of non-aggression, or the deepening of cooperation between non-state actors and the members of the system, ensuring domestic support for key standards in areas such as human rights or good governance.

This multilateral order of the future that the authors of the report imagine – which they call “shared order” – can offer the expected results only in the conditions in which its formatting and action are linked to U.S. leadership and power, and to the main orientations of the strongest state of the system. The benefits of this shared order – which should become the framework of a new American grand strategy – are clear in contrast to the potential alternatives. The latter are two in number: “a highly unilateralist, nationalist approach” that would undermine the global economy; a return to the Cold War-like global fault lines chosen to contain the systemically revisionist powers (China in the 21st Century). The final conclusion of the mentioned report is that “an imperfect but meaningful shared order with the United States at its hub remains the best available ordering mechanism to achieve both short- and long-term U.S. objectives.”

What the Rand report analysed here tends to show is a solution – aforementioned – to the current fluidity of global politics, defined as a retrenchment of American power and China’s extraordinary rise in the system, fluidity that theoretically, but also in historical practice, has been settled through the so-called hegemonic war. It is not at all useless to mention here that there are great powers that are analysing the current situation precisely from this outlook, as demonstrated by the significant interest, shown by experts, in some historical situations such as the July 1914 crisis that resulted in the first systemic conflagration, or the attempts made to identify whether wars between great powers (basically a general hegemonic war) are still possible today.

A second trait of this repot is that it expressly mentions that the U.S. must maintain its systemic leadership and pre-eminence in this “shared order.” This way, the U.S. would keep the benefits of the Pax Americana established in 1945 without the outlays required to prolong it if Washington were to promote it in a unilateral and exclusive way.


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