Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Review of the Economist’s Assessment on American Hegemony

It is the Independence Day today. I would like to talk about the Economist’s review on challenges to American leadership in the world and the consequence of the Iraq War to US foreign policy. I mention two articles in June 28 issue. Despite bitter fights with insurgents in Iraq, American primacy has not been eroded. Among rivals, China will pose the most critical challenge to American supremacy.

In the article of “Still No.1”, the Economist mentions so many disturbances to America’s predominance in the world. Currently, the United States is at war with Islamic radicals in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. China emerges as a potential rival to American preeminence. Russia is returning toward authoritarian nationalism. North Korea and Iran are defiant to non-proliferation demands.

Also, relations between the United States its allies are turbulent. Kantian Europe and Hobbesian America are often at odds with the way to deal with global threats like terrorists and rogue regimes. Arab allies are reluctant to accept US initiatives for democracy in the Middle East. In addition, I have to mention Japan, which craves for becoming a normal country, is willing to act on its own. Defense Minister Akio Kyuma’s remark to accept US Atomic bomb attack to Hiroshima and Nagasaki has infuriated the Japanese public.

Despite these difficulties, American hard and soft power is not eroding. Hardships in Iraq come from wrong strategies designed by Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as often pointed out. He sent too few troops for the regime change in Iraq. Moreover, he disbanded the Iraqi Army. The Economist is critical to the Bush administration regarding these points, and comments that future American administrations will not repeat the same mistake when they pursue regime change.

On the other hand the Economist refutes Democrats’ viewpoint that President George W. Bush has undermined American supremacy. Iran and North Korea have been antagonistic to the United States for decades. People around the world complain that the spread of American pop culture endangers their identity and traditions. Ironically, due to America’s overwhelming hard power, both its allies and citizens think light of threat they face. Only the United States can prevent Iran and North Korea from committing to adventurism behavior. From Palestine Peace Talks to global warming, the world needs America. As to soft power, the Economist criticizes mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo and restriction of immigrants, because they have damaged American ideal of freedom and openness.

Overall, the Economist evaluates America “a stock to buy”, because the Bush administration shifts toward multilateralism. The United States succeeded in bouncing back from Vietnam damages. However buoyant Chinese economy may be, its politics are fragile.

In the other article, “The Hobbled Hegemon”, the Economist assesses American power further in detail by using four charts. Six year war on terror poses more strains to the army and marines, because of longer deployments overseas while shorter dwelling time at home. Andrew Krepinevich, President of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, warns that American forces are like dead “canaries in the mineshaft.” The outgoing military chief, General Peter Pace worries that American response to a series of conflicts, from Korea, Taiwan, Cuba, to Iran, would be slower and bloodier. They are concerned that US forces are too small for sweeping operations. The United States has the most sophisticated high-tech military power, and as shown in Chart 1 and 2, its military budget is by far the largest.

Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Zbignew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under the Carter administration, warn of American decline. However, strategists wonder whether the Iraq War has damaged American supremacy so much as they say.

Rumsfeld’s idea of speedy, stealthy, and accurate army was inappropriate in Iraq. In his article to Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling denounces this strategy, and compares hardships in Iraq and Vietnam. Currently, the US military is adapting itself to guerrilla warfare in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces the decision to expand ground forces. The air force and navy can deter rogue regimes, but not enough to stop their nuclear programs and overthrowing those governments.

Among America’s rivals, the Economist focuses extensively on China, because Russia and India are not serious challengers. Russia is becoming increasingly authoritarian nationalist, and initiating energy diplomacy. However, Andrew Krepinevich points out Russian oil and gas production is declining. Despite huge possession of nuclear weapons, its conventional forces are ill-equipped to project power globally. India is more willing to become a strategic partner to the United States rather than a challenger. On the other hand, China causes some critical concerns.

At present, China explores regional dominance. However, its defense spending increases rapidly as the economy grows. Quoting GDP forecast by Goldman Sachs in Chart 3, the Economist warns that China could overtake the United States by 2027. Apparently, China is ambitious of rivaling US military supremacy. It develops long range anti-ship missiles against US aircraft carriers, anti-satellite missiles, and so forth. Moreover, I would like to mention that the Chinese government conducts international press conferences in Chinese, instead of English.

Regarding soft power, the Economist comments that the United States could boast success in prevailing its open culture and liberal democracy for two years after toppling Saddam Hussein. American influence spread widely throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was spectacular. However, instability in Iraq undermines American credibility. Multilateralism as shown in negotiations with North Korea and Iran can be one of the ways to manage this difficulty. But more importantly, I quote a comment by one senior marine, “Will America stay strong? Yes. But can it use its power? That's a different question.”

In my view, whether the United States can renew its leadership depends on its relations with allies. The media do not to mention misery that anti Iraq War leaders in Europe, such as Jacques Chirac, Dominique de Villepain, and Gerhard Schröder, failed to exert influence but simply damaged their relationship with America. The transatlantic rift is repairing. Just as it happened in the Iraq War, missile defense highlighted disagreements between the US-UK-New Europe Group and the Franco-German-Old Europe Group. But both groups reached an agreement to deploy anti-nuclear missile systems at NATO defense ministers meeting last time.

Transpacific relations seem more worrisome, and I feel it pity that the Economist does not mention Pacific allies, notably Japan and Australia. Currently, Japan is re-asserting its national identity, and more equal relationship with the United States. Recent outburst against Defense Minister Kyuma’s remark on atomic bomb illustrates deep-rooted sentiments among Japanese people: Americans should repent their wartime deeds as much as Japanese do. Right or wrong, I worry that failure to deal with this emotion might damage US-Japanese relations in the future.

In conclusion, I agree to the comment by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “A superpower can lose a war—in Vietnam or in Iraq—without ceasing to be a superpower, so long as the American public continues to support American predominance, and so long as potential challengers inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbors.” As shown in Chart 4, US defense spending is just 4% of its GDP. This is because Niall Ferguson, Professor of Harvard University, says the United States does not suffer from imperial overstretch.