Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Colossus in Need: America the Peacemaker

President George W. Bush welcomes Mrs. Sakie Yokota, mother of Megumi Yokota, and her son representing family members of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea to the Oval Office Friday, April 28, 2006. White House photo by Paul Morse


Those who are critical to US foreign policy need to remember that America is the colossus in need. Since the Iraq War, leftists around the world try to prevail negative images on US leadership, saying that the United States is the greatest threat to world peace. Apparently, this is wrong. The real threats are terrorists and rogue states. Imagine the world without America. Orthodox theory of international politics says US hegemony provides global public goods of liberal world order and democracy.

I have to mention two recent events. See the photo above. President Bush met Sakie Yokota, a mother of Japanese abductee to North Korea on April 28. Her daughter was kidnapped by North Korean agents nearly 30 years ago. It is estimated that hundreds of Japanese are abducted to North Korea. More South Koreans are believed to be abducted by North Korea. The Kim regime use Japanese and South Korean abdustees to train North Korean secret agents. President Bush sent a much clearer message than Japanese and South Korean leaders that he stood firmly against the North Korean autocrat. This has encouraged abductees’ families. (See the video.)

Another event is the Darfur Rally on April 30 in front of the White House. In face of Arab attack against Africans in Darfur, global civil network such as NGOs and bloggers launched a campaign to ask the President to stop genocide in this region. Since Sudan is a member of the Arab league, Arab nations are the most important stakeholders to resolve this issue. Also, the United Nations is expected to play a key role to introduce a peace agreement between Arabs and Africans. However, none of these organizations act sufficiently as a peacemaker. Therefore, bloggers and NGOs regarded a petition to the United States as the last resort.

Two examples indicate that when humanitarian problems come out in the global community, US involvement is vital. Neither international nor regional organizations can intervene effectively, because they do not have enough hard power, nor do they have strong will to bring peace.

In order to understand why American involvement is necessary for world peace and stability, let me review “Still the Colossus” by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington Post, January 15, 2006). Despite the rift on Iraq, Europe is willing to cooperate with the United States on Eastern and Central Europe, Afghanistan and Iran. Japan needs US presence to deal with Chinese threats. Why does the world need America so much?

One reason is America’s strength.

The truth is, America retains enormous advantages in the international arena. Its liberal, democratic ideology remains appealing in a world that is more democratic than ever. Its potent economy remains the driving wheel of the international economy. Compared with these powerful forces, the unpopularity of recent actions will prove ephemeral, just as it did after the nadir of American Cold War popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Another reason I have to mention is international balance of power.

There are also structural reasons why American indispensability can survive even the unpopularity of recent years. The political scientist William Wohlforth argued a decade ago that the American unipolar era is durable not because of any love for the United States but because of the basic structure of the international system. The problem for any nation attempting to balance American power, even in that power's own region, is that long before it becomes strong enough to balance the United States, it may frighten its neighbors into balancing against it. Europe would be the exception to this rule were it increasing its power, but it is not. Both Russia and China face this problem as they attempt to exert greater influence even in their traditional spheres of influence.

Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, global civil movements requested US pressure on Liberia and Burma. Substantial portion of activists blamed US lead war against Iraq. Some of them even condemned the war in Afghanistan, although it was a direct response against 9-11 terrorist attack. I wonder whether they hate or love America. It seems that people all over the world have a mixed feeling to American power. Then, when do they turn toward pro-American or anti-American?

Anti-American sentiments become rampant when people feel overwhelmed by US dominance from culture, politics, and economy to security, and their identity is endangered. This is typical in the Islamic world. Another case is that when people see US foreign policy power-dependent and arrogant. The Iraq War is a notable example. Also, when people associate US image with an authoritarian regime, they turn toward anti-Americanism. In South Korea, the United States sponsored the military regime during the Cold War. This is one of the reasons why anti-Americanism is widespread among South Koreans.

On the other hand, people turn toward pro-Americanism when they face imminent humanitarian challenges, and a petition to the United States appears the last resort. Examples mentioned in this post are such cases. Also, when people are under a repressive government, they become pro-American. Student movements in Iran and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine are typical cases.

In view of such trends, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argues that US leadership in the world will be tested whether American predominance turns into international consensus, and American norms are universally accepted. Rome and Britain succeeded in achieving these goals. (“Our Nearsighted World Vision”, Washington Post, January 10, 2000)

Yet, despite this, Kagan says as follows.

The American position in the world has not deteriorated as much as people think. America still "stands alone as the world's indispensable nation," as Clinton so humbly put it in 1997. It can resume an effective leadership role in the world in fairly short order, even during the present administration and certainly after the 2008 election, regardless of which party wins. That is a good thing, because given the growing dangers in the world, the intelligent and effective exercise of America's benevolent global hegemony is as important as ever.

Leftists and global civil societies should bear it in mind.