Is US abdicating its global role?

ByFahad Ali

Associated with maritime trade


September 16, 2022

Fahad Ali talks about a crucial issue

There is hardly any doubt that the global equilibrium is changing and this change is clearly perceptive. This development is partly due to the disinterest exhibited by the US itself that probably is in line with its legacy of isolationism that is as fascinating as American exceptionalism. The signs of American abdication of its global leadership are now quite visible and this process is in play since some time. To many observers it may appear to be part of the attempts to decentralise the global governance, and instead of following leadership of a particular country a system of alliances of like-minded countries, may take a lead in international affairs. This possible change may usher in many alterations in the international scenario that may take some time to materialise and accepted. Like any deep-seated change, this possibility is not yet clear as it is essentially evolutionary in nature and may take many twists and turns before something of this nature may emerge.

It may be taken into consideration that this line of argument is against the realist principle of international relations though this is not entirely a new concept as many aspects of international law already function on this principle that is based upon the reality of shared interests and decentralised enforcement. Reality principle suggests that a democratic world and free international trade would need a dominant state to ensure compliance of these requirements. Such state is mandated to frame rules and devise processes that are followed by the anarchic international system primarily through the coercive mechanism possessed by it. It is considered widely acceptable that realist point of view are convinced quite firmly that in case such a hegemon declines then the international arena becomes untenable and may collapse with time.

However, it is now perceived that the alteration of this nature is round the corner and this change is validated by the US attitude that is now known to consciously disown its responsibility as it has exhibited unease with global institutions and has exhibited a marked tendency to go its own way. This question has resulted in visible unease within the international policy makers as they do not see any other credible hegemon taking the American place. The signs of US increasing alienation have now clearly emerged but the problem goes deeper pertaining to the intention part of the issue. America has always given the impression of being not fully involved and very touchy about its perceived exceptionalism. Moreover it has the tendency to view its policy making imperatives as advanced and superior than the rest of the world and it is also proud of its unprecedented technical superiority. While these attributes may be justified from many angles yet there is a need of flexibility in a hegemon that has become quite difficult for the US to show indicating an overdeveloped sensitivity about its status.

While a hegemon is expected to be forthright but America is blunt to an unbearable degree with a singular lack of intense spirit of adjustment popularly defined as political correctness. Unfortunately, Americans take pride in adhering to such tendency with the conviction running deep that they harbour well-meaning intentions about global issues conveniently ignoring that many problems have emerged due to their wrong reading of situation. This attitude was exhibited by mis-timed American withdrawal from the WHO right in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic resulting in a setback to the efforts of the organisation as the US catered to ten per cent of its budget. This problematic withdrawal exhibited unbelievable insensitivity on part of the Americans and this act spoke volumes about the tendency to pursue matters on their own.

Another instance is the running trade war between the US and China that is quite clearly hurting global economy and has also provided opportunity to many regional contentions to re-emerge causing widespread concerns. Despite the possible damages this conflict it was strange to witness the complete silence exhibited by the United Nations. More worrying was the almost tacit acceptance of this matter by the EU nations. The banning by the western world of the Chinese technical giant Huawei on suspected espionage charges without realising that the parts of the gadgetry manufactured by this firm was in global use since decades and it was inexplicable to justify this action at a particular juncture. Quite intriguingly, the viciousness of the action taken against Huawei was borne out by the incarceration of its CFO of Huawei who is also the daughter of the owner and she languished in Canada for quite long before being released.

The hastiness exhibited by the US administration in withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan also indicated that America is no more interested in viewing global problems in their wider perspective. The lack of uniformity in the policies pursued by the US may well end up in a repeat of ignominious abandonment of Vietnam that caused serious harm to its international prestige. Though war in Afghanistan was waged on bipartisan basis by America yet the deep disagreement between the political policy makers and the American military establishment manifested the ongoing struggle between the decision-making segments that appear to have become wary of the continued US involvement in global affairs and the other that wants to keep on pursuing the past practice. It is quite well known that confusion in strategic decision making negates all advantages gained from a situation and not only encourages adversary but also alienates the partners.

By all accounts the US abdication of global leadership may create a huge void in respect of the functioning of the international affairs. Many observers opine that such an eventuality will seriously harm the current equilibrium however wobbly it may be. The seriousness of the issue has ushered in a debate about the possible alternative scenarios once the US finally decides to go back to its isolation. The optimist opinion, however, is of the view that the waning of US hegemony may open up new possibilities for more decentralised, democratic systems of global governance involving genuine cooperation among a critical mass of nations. The alternatives suggested in this respect are multifarious and may take time to firm up into appropriate solutions.

It is however known that the most discussed about option is to club efforts aimed at devising types of governance that may be voluntary in nature in essence yet geared towards operating on certain conditions. Such arrangement may represent consensual decision making and may follow already laid down rules that have evolved over centuries. It is also proposed that such an arrangement may consist of like-minded countries on the pattern of NATO or other similar organisations. It is also mentioned in this context that already many regional organisations are operating on such principles though the kind of political orientation exhibited by NATO are often found missing in them or are not appropriately exercised.

The cardinal difference would be that instead of enforcing collective decisions through a hegemon, such arrangement would enforce such decisions collectively. At the moment it is opined that such arrangements may encounter difficulties in formulating policies but the element of broad consensus underpinning such decisions may prove long lasting as they would not be dependent upon the political changes of specific nature in member countries. It is also opined that such arrangement may be dicey but many observers are of the view that the policies followed by hegemonic America were also quite uncertain in the wider sense. TW


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