Monday, December 20, 2004

It Ain't Just India Folks

Kevin Drum links to a report on a recent trip by a US congressional delegation to India, summed up as follows:
They spoke to a lot of Indian government people and the message from them was very clear, and in a nutshell it was this: We don't much care about America. He said they were very polite but almost indifferent. Maybe matter-of-fact is a better description. The conversation went something like this:

We consider ourselves as in competition with China for leadership in the new century. That's our focus and frankly, you have made it very difficult for us to deal with you. We find your approach to international affairs ridiculous. The invasion of Iraq was insane. You've encouraged the very things you say you were trying to fix — terrorism and instability. Your attitude to Iran is ridiculous. You need to engage with Iran. We are. We are bemused by your hypocrisy. You lecture the world about dealing with dictators and you deal with Pakistan. We are very sorry for your losses from the 9/11 terror attacks. Welcome to our world. You threaten us with sanctions for not signing the non-proliferation treaty, but you continue to be nuclear armed and to investigate new weapons. You expect us to neglect our own security because you want us to. We don't care about sanctions.

The meeting may be with India, but I doubt they're the only ones thinking along those lines. The world's tolerance for US hypocrisy on the global stage is rapidly waning, and the risk that either the EU or China could offer a challenge to US hegemony becomes more and more threatening as the US drives potential allies away.

The point isn't that the US can never assert itself unilaterally on the global stage. It can--and often it must. But the point is that that privilege comes with a responsibility to act multilaterally and within global institutions whenever possible. The US must build up a bank account of international credibility so that the world doesn't try to oppose the US at every opportunity. Christopher Layne, Associate Professor of International Politics at the University of Miami writes in the Spring 2002 edition of The Washington Quarterly that:
Being powerful is good in the international arena, but being too powerful is not. The reasoning behind this analysis is straightforward as well as the geopolitical equivalent to the law of physics that holds for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Simply put, the response to hegemony is the emergence of countervailing power. Because international politics is indeed a competitive, "self help" system, when too much power is concentrated in the hands of one state, others invariably fear for their own security. Each state fears that a hegemon will use its overwhelming power to aggrandize itself at that state's expense and will act defensively to offset the hegemon's power.

To prevent this occurrence, the US must be careful not to overreach. Other nation's concerns can be ameliorated if the US acts in a manner that is consistent with international norms and practices. But the US can no longer take their support for granted. The fear of unbridled US authority, coupled with the rise of alternative power spheres means the days of unrestricted US action are numbered.

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