Sunday, December 1, 2013

American pragmatism in a world of shifting powers, resources and definitions of security and safety

Writing in The Guardian, Peter Foster asks whether the world  is safer,  both today and tomorrow, now that the U.S. has shifted its focus from strong muscular support for former allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, to a more restrained approach, based on less military action and more on diplomacy.
Foster quotes Ian Bremmer, head of the Eurasia Group, in calling the new order a "G-Zero" world where every nation must fend for itself and rely less on America.(See excerpt from the Foster piece below)
Bremmer foresees a higher risk of smaller conflicts in a world in which the U.S. is much less heavily invested, in support of its traditional allies, and much more focused on diplomacy with those it has considered its prime enemies, like Iran and Syria's chemical weapons.
Of course, the hawks in the Republican party, and even some in the Democratic party will view Obama's pivots as weak, and as diminishing American influence on the world stage, given their definition of power as "hard power" and their continuing disdain for anything analogous to what they continue to see as American decline, as it occurred under Democratic President, Jimmy Carter.
Nevertheless, the U.S. population is weary and sickened of war, having lost thousands of young men and women in conflicts over the last decades, without securing a lasting peace either in Iraq or in Afghanistan. The U.S. Treasury is also depleted from the fiscal burden placed on the national budget. And even amid that gestalt, there are still many in Washington who argue for more U.S. deployment of hard power to bring Assad down, or to make the Israelis feel more secure by attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities and destroying their capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.
Obama has, instead, negotiated with Russia and American allies to bring Syria's chemical weapons out of the closet and into the destruction bin of history; currently his Secretary of State is also engaged in a long-term negotiation to bend Iran's nuclear ambitions exclusively toward the production of energy, and not a  bomb.
Obama has, for those who would consider his administration spineless, nevertheless, sent U.S. bombers over the South China Sea, just to remind both Japan (the American ally) and China, the burgeoning and threatening power in the region, that the U.S. will not stand idly by while China provokes a conflict with Japan, or even while she tests how far she can push her influence over rocky outcroppings which Japan has consider part of her territory for decades. However, there is reported to be a considerable oil reservoir under those disputed islands, and there is a mountain of evidence that China will go to extreme lengths to acquire more energy sources to fuel her political and economic and social and industrial growth, including her seismic shift from an agrarian economy to an industrial/military/technology-based power, funded by her considerable wealth.
Having to live with second or third-rate conflicts, as compared with the overblown conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be a less turbulent period of geopolitical history, while we all know that most of the competitive edge in world dominance will take the form of financial and informational power...both through investments in the best industrial and commercial ventures in energy, and in consumer production as well as in cyber-technology and intelligence gathering.
So we could conceivably all be sleeping soundly while our national secrets and our real influence are being vacuumed out from under our noses, without a shot being fired over any bow of any ship, or a missile targeting any fighter jet, and we might not even know the agency or agencies of our demise.
As the technology consumes more and more of our national and international economies and our political systems' energies, our definitions of power, influence, hegemony and trust will take on new faces, and new postures and new assumptions.
And our capacity and willingness to adjust both our defence resources and our offensive weapons, not to mention our diplomatic and negotiating skills, will be much more determinative of our future security. And the pace required by our adjustments to the new realities continues also to increase exponentially as our obsolescent hard power and our obsolete definitions of what makes us feel secure and safe will have to give way to a new world order, physically, mentally, and militarily, if we are to pass a more secure and stable and less conflicted world onto our grandchildren.

By Peter Foster, The Guardian, December 1, 2013
Ian Bremmer, the head of the Eurasia Group, one of the world’s leading risk consultancies, is among those who look at the US’s relative withdrawal from the world and does not feel reassured.
The US and Britain may be safer, but for citizens of Middle Eastern countries, or those now living in the shadow of China, the world is less safe.
“The deals in Iran and Syria might not affect Americans directly, given the strength of the American economy, but it absolutely does matter for US influence abroad,” adds Mr Bremmer. “Mr Obama speaks like an exceptionalist, but there has been little willingness from the Obama administration to say: 'The buck stops here.’ ”
The result is what Mr Bremmer calls a “G-Zero” world, where every nation must fend for itself and rely less on America — a world that, as Israel and Saudi Arabia have discovered, has been abruptly fast-forwarded by accommodations with Iran and Syria.
Economically, the globe was torn apart by the 2008 financial crisis, but it is now on the road to recovery, says Mr Bremmer, with a stabilised eurozone and the US back on a growth track. However, order is breaking down geopolitically, with consequences that are difficult to predict.
Suddenly old allies are questioning relationships that had been taken for granted — whether between Britain and Germany and the US; the US with Israel and Saudi, or smaller, south-east Asian countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore or Malaysia, which look at Mr Obama’s treatment of his Middle Eastern allies and wonder where they might stand if US strategic priorities should change.
“In place [of the Cold War] we face a much greater risk of more significant second- and third-order conflagrations,” argues Mr Bremmer.
“It is a riskier world in which the US will do comparatively well simply because of its size. But if you’re an investor or a corporation and you ask me which world you want to invest in, a US-led world or G-Zero, the answer is clear: it’s a US-led world.”
The new American pragmatism may make us feel safer today, but it is not yet clear that it will yield a more stable and prosperous tomorrow.

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