The ‘indispensable nation’ | Pakistan Today

The ‘indispensable nation’

Why America must lead

The US aid to foreign countries, which may seem a lot of wasteful expenditure to many, is just a fraction of one percent of her gross domestic product (GDP) and this spending also includes the budget for diplomacy while its benefit is huge as it provides jobs to approximately 40 million Americans

Nations rise…decline…fall…and rise again. Some nations are powerful than others. The powerful dominate the weak. The second half of the last century witnessed an intense struggle between two superpowers, the US and the erstwhile Soviet Russia, for the mastery of the world. With the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991, America became the sole superpower. It heralded a New World Order that has lasted for about a quarter of a century. The supporters of America’s role as the leading global power dreamed of a whole century of American dominance while its critics think that the 21st century would be an Asian Century. A great debate has ensued in the US whether America should continue to lead the world or not.

The opponents of America’s role as the global leader raise several pertinent questions: Doesn’t the cost of America’s international involvement outweigh the benefits? Hasn’t the world got tired of the US leadership? Is the US unnecessarily imposing its values on other nations? Isn’t the US competency in managing its overseas involvements questionable? Has not America too often played the world’s policeman? These and several other allied questions are being raised by those Americans who think that the costs of US involvements in foreign military adventures such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq far outweigh the benefits. Those who want the US to disengage from the Middle East point out that the North American energy boom evens out the dependence on the Arabian oil. Other critics argue that there is no need for the US to spend its limited precious resources in foreign lands when many Americans have been struggling with their lives at home particularly after the Great Recession.

Those who believe that America should continue to lead the world builda strong case in their own way. They think that America is not just like other nations rather it is a ‘unique’ nation with a mission to act as the ‘beacon’ and ‘standard-bearer’ of freedom in the world. Its founding fathers thought that “The world has its eye on America;” it was a liberated nation and so had a “duty to share with the rest of the mankind” this gift of freedom; and that it also had a responsibility “to renovate the condition of mankind.” There is a clear hint of messianism in this American mission that is not just restricted to the spread of liberty in the world but also pledges to renovate and improve the conditions of the humankind at large by fighting against poverty, disease, etc. This messianism is not resonating just today rather its echoes could also be heard decades back in the 1960s in the words of President John F Kennedy: “Now the trumpet summons us again… [to] struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself” and in the words of President Ronald Regan in the 1980s: “The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on [will be]… the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated.” It was the same Reagan who lampooned the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire”: the idea being that the US stood for ‘good’ whereas its enemies represented ‘evil.’ America takes pride in making significant efforts and achievements in combating diseases and epidemics such as polio, HIV, Ebola, etc. Similarly, before World War II, famines took away lives of millions but thanks to the American-led “Green Revolution” in the 1950s and ‘60s that raised the crops yields, it was possible to save lives of about a billion souls from starvation in Asia and Africa. To continue to do the ‘good’ around the world, the US must continue to lead.

Somewhat similar argument goes about the American involvements in foreign lands which are advocated to be more beneficial than the costs incurred and South Korea is touted as a living example. In the aftermath of the Korean War in the 1950s, the US gave a total of $35 billion in aid to South Korea to prop it up against the communist threat. Now, to that very South Korea, the US exports goods worth $38 billion annually and these exports provide jobs to nearly 200,000 Americans. The point is that the American aid to foreign countries is not a dead investment for America at all because her current fifteen largest trading partners are those very countries that have been the recipientsof some form of American aid in the past. The US aid to foreign countries, which may seem a lot of wasteful expenditure to many, is just a fraction of one percent of her gross domestic product (GDP) and this spending also includes the budget for diplomacy while its benefit is huge as it provides jobs to approximately 40 million Americans. There is a strong case for the continued American involvement with the outside world because 95 percent of the world’s population resides outside the US and Americans can reap windfallas the consumer demand of the global middle-class is expected to grow from $21 trillion in 2009 to $56 trillion in 2030.

If the US will forfeit its leadership by disengaging from the world then the vacuum will be filled by the countries that are perceived hostile to its interests. The advocates of the US role as a “global cop” look upon Russia as a threat in Europe; China as a menace in South East Asia, Central Asia and Africa, and Iran as a trouble-maker in the Mideast not forgetting the non-state actors like ISIS, Qaeda and Hezbollah that threaten the New World Order. The American strategy of ‘forward deployment’ since World War II has enabled her to confront her enemies on their ground rather than fighting them on the US territory. As a result of this ‘forward deployment’, the US was able to forge alliances and partnerships with other countries in the wake of the 9/11 terror helping her to prevent at least 11 of the 60 planned terrorist attacks against her homeland. Her partners have also helped in maintaining security in different parts of the world from the US perspective such as Australia in Southwest Asia, Japan in Africa and France in combating Qaeda in Mali, to name a few; however, more than often these countries commit to action because of the US power to mobilise them into action and when the US shirks from action, nothing happens. That is why an ex-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright perceptibly observed that America is truly the ‘indispensable nation.’ The case to convince the world in general and the Americans in particular that the US must continue to lead the world from the front has been forcefully presented in a report released by an influential American think tank.