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turn raise the costs of intervention while lowering the odds of success, further undermining public support for an engaged foreign policy. Political fragmentation and demagoguery, finally, pose yet another challenge to the United States’ ability to provide responsible international leadership, and the 2016 election revealed just how fragmented the American electorate is. The U.S. Senate, for example, has failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, despite the fact that the country is relying on it to help protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea against Chinese provocations. Congress failed for five years to fulfill an important U.S. commitment to support the reallocation of International Monetary Fund quotas from Europe to China, even though it would have cost almost nothing to do so. Congress has passed laws violating the international legal principle of sovereign immunity, a principle that protects not just foreign governmentsbut also American diplomatic and military personnel abroad. And domestic resistance to putting a price on carbon emissions makes it hard for the United States to lead the fight against climate change. The United States will remain the world’s leading military power for decades to come, and military force will remain an important component of U.S. power. A rising China and a declining Russia frighten their neighbors, and U.S. security guarantees in Asia and Europe provide critical reassurance for the stability that underlies the prosperity of the liberal order. Markets depend on a framework of security, and maintaining alliances is an important source of influence for the United States.
At the same time, military force is a blunt instrument unsuited to dealing with many situations. Trying to control the domestic politics of nationalist foreign populations is a recipe for failure, and force has little to offer in addressing issues such as climate change, financial stability, or Internet governance. Maintaining networks, working with other countries and international institutions, and helping establish norms to deal with new transnational issues are crucial. It is a mistake to equate globalization with trade agreements. Even if economic globalization were to slow, technology is creating ecological, political, and social globalization that will all require cooperative responses.Leadership is not the same as domination, and Washington’s role in helping stabilize the world and underwrite its continued progress may be even more important now than ever. Americans and others may not notice the security and prosperity that the liberal order provides until they are gone—but by then, it may be too late