From Philip Stephens, the Financial Times: What is true is that, as Washington’s will is increasingly contested, the US-led international system established after 1945 is cracking. The globalising world of the last decades of the 20th century is giving way to one in which states are turning inward.
The isolationism of Ron Paul in the Republican presidential primaries amplifies a tune heard pretty much everywhere around the world. The rising states of the east and south cherish narrow definitions of national interest, and resent the intrusions on sovereignty of a rules-based system. Even in the European Union, the home of postmodern integration, the euro crisis has sorely tested a long assumed merger of national and mutual interests. For its part, the US is retrenching. It has grown tired of wars and has been piling up deficits and debts. Barack Obama has announced big cuts in the Pentagon’s budget. America will be more sparing in its deployment of military might. Europe will have to look after itself and much of the greater Middle East will be left to itself. Resources are to be concentrated on sustaining America’s Pacific primacy
As Washington steps back from the role of global policeman, US foreign policy is looking to its role as a convener of regional alliances and ad hoc coalitions of the willing. Europe has all but abandoned its global pretensions to the struggle to save the euro. The emerging multipolar world, in other words, is becoming less multilateral. . . .
For all its present problems, the US starts with the immense advantage of being the richest and most stable of the great powers. Geographically it is the most secure – unless one imagines it might one day be invaded by Mexico or Canada.
It is rich in natural resources. New technology in oil and gas extraction has transformed the energy industry. The US is heading for self-sufficiency in energy and, by some accounts, could become a significant net exporter. Unfair as it might seem given its record on carbon emissions, it is much less vulnerable than say, China or India, to the depredations of climate change.
Some of the other advantages were set out recently in a paper prepared by Uri Dadush of the Carnegie Endowment as part of the US National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 project. To take a few: America’s high per capita income reflects high productivity, the single best measure of competitiveness; with 5 per cent of the world’s population, the US accounts for 28 per cent of all patent applications; it has 40 per cent of the world’s top universities; an open, innovative and flexible society leaves it uniquely placed to benefit from technological advances. Oh, and it has a great demographic profile.
All this before we get to US military power. . . .
None of the above suggests that the US would gain from retreating into its continental fortress. To the contrary, its economy has become progressively more integrated into the global system; and, for the moment, it relies on foreigners to finance its consumption. A world of everyone for themselves would leave everyone poorer.