The previous post offered a set of strategies that America's competitors could be using to shorten its preeminence and usher in an era of multipolarity. This post offers the counterpoint: a set of strategies that could lengthen its tenure as the world's hegemonic power.
Continued American preeminence is not inevitable, but neither is American decline imminent. American grand strategy can create the conditions for long-term primacy. The following strategies form the core of an American grand strategy of creating the conditions for its sustained global leadership.
Define a clear vision of America in the world.
American grand strategy has lacked a set of unifying goals since failed efforts at creating a New World Order following the Cold War. Once regarded as a city on a hill and a shining beacon of freedom, the United States has tarnished its image in the eyes of the world with a series of policies and actions that contradict these values. First and foremost is its abandonment of Geneva Convention principles of humane treatment of prisoners. However, American unwillingness to lead on global issues such as genocide in Darfur, climate change, and the development of international society and law have contributed significantly to this perception.
The next administration must set forth a clear and detailed plan for restoring American exceptionalism. This requires a clear articulation of the reasons the world has shown a preference for American-style democratic, republican, and free-market values. This must be followed by a series of confidence-building measures that demonstrate a renewed American commitment to the principles and policies that placed the United States atop the international system. These measures must incur a cost to short-term American power in order to be credible.
Rebuild military power.
The U.S. military has been decimated by chronic overreach. Extended deployments and unwillingness by the successive administrations and Congress to expand its size significantly to meet them have strained and exhausted military personnel and equipment.
Shortfalls in readiness strength and projection capability are coupled with a lack of international support for American military actions. The second Gulf War took place in the midst of lukewarm international opposition, and attempts to quell sectarian violence in the years that followed worsened have international opinion of the American military presence in the region. U.S. armed forces have gained little international credibility for their efforts to improve the lives of foreign citizens by building infrastructure and providing security. The consensus view of the American military is “generally good soldiers implementing almost universally bad policy.”
The period in which the ability of American leaders to rest, strengthen, expand, and equip U.S. armed forces will not last for more than a few decades at best. The Federal budget regards social programs such as Medicare and Social Security as mandatory and unalterable, while the supporting the U.S. military falls under discretionary funds. Entitlement programs already form the majority of the Federal budget and will grow significantly in the near and long term, reducing the discretionary funds available for military spending, as well as other programs. Absent major changes to the entitlement system, within the next several decades the Federal government will have little left to spend on improving the U.S. military. Substantial investments to repair and strengthen the U.S. military must be made now, for they will become impossible at a later date.
Invest for economic growth.
U.S. economic output will vary significantly according to the willingness of government and corporate leaders to create the conditions for productivity. The availability of educated workforces, mid-career training, favorable tax policy and regulations, finance, and business infrastructure will dictate the level of investment and growth. American economic strength will depend on the effectiveness of its economy in developing these factors.
The development of a global economy began with development of transportation methods that opened foreign markets to American raw materials and finished products. Following upon this was accessibility of foreign labor markets and investment capital, and, subsequently, the growth of foreign competition and trade deficits. The global economy now has the ability to transfer not only finished goods and finance between nations, but services, infrastructure, education, and innovation as well. American economic policy must recognize that it is not protection of any particular factor of economic potential that matters, but whether the United States provides an overall combination of factors that is attractive to economic growth. Investment in the conditions for economic growth must be made in areas where they will take advantage of American competitiveness, while maintaining a sufficient mix of factors to prevent against single-factor vulnerability.
Redefine terrorism as an international crime.
The United States has a long history of ambiguity over its approach to the issue of terrorism. At times it has defined terrorism as a form of armed conflict that falls into the category of non-traditional wars such as guerilla warfare, insurrections, revolutions, rebellions, and insurgencies. At other times it has regarded terrorism as a law enforcement issue that falls into the category of international crimes such as slavery or piracy. This has resulted in a policy that falls somewhere between the two approaches. The United States has been vulnerable to criticism that it applies each view haphazardly, according to the dictates of interest and convenience.
The next administration has an opportunity to gain international moral authority by articulating a clear definition of terrorism as a crime against humanity. The President must lead development of a structural response to terrorism, including giving jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court to refer cases of terrorism to the United Nations Security Council for a collective security response to breaches of international peace and security. The United States must then solidify this effort by becoming a signatory, which will require negotiating modifications of the Court’s procedures to protect American soldiers.
Develop and implement a final settlement of Iraq.
The Bush administration has placed weight behind the importance of improving the security situation in Iraq. Any actual or apparent success in the area can be leveraged to call for a regional peace conference to settle the political future of Iraq. Preparations for calling the conference must seek involvement by the leadership of all major factions in Iraq, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al Sadr, and major regional powers, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Every effort should be made to create the sense among invited parties that this will be the sole and authoritative conference, and it will create the documents upon which the political future of Iraq will be based. Regardless of the success of the conference in meeting its objectives, its conclusion will set the stage for a drawdown of the American military presence.
The continuation of American international supremacy is unlikely without significant course corrections to the currently adrift American grand strategy. Implementing these strategies will avert prevailing trends toward American long-term decline and help sustain American preeminence in the international system.