Primacy and Liberal Internationalism: Perspectives in the Post Cold War World

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After the fall of the Soviet Union in nineteen eighty-nine the United States was faced with many new opportunities in foreign affairs. The stalemate of the Cold War had ended, allowing global development new opportunities to progress in the new era. Washington was faced with the problem of developing a new grand strategy for the United States to follow in the foreign arena, and it was a ripe opportunity for the United States to pursue the more vigorous spread of democracy throughout the world.

There were two views of the world after the fall of the Soviet Union:

1) that the United States had a major monopoly over force within the world and therefore should use the force to promote the nations national interest, which would in turn also benefit the entirety of the world, or

2) that the United States was just one of many formidable powers in the world and that the United Nations should now be used to fulfill its potential to encourage peace and prosperity throughout the world. These two approaches were called Primacy or Hegemony and Liberal Internationalism.

In order to fully explain the reasoning behind both of these foreign policy options, I need to explain the liberal and conservative philosophical understanding of war. Thomas Sowell, in his book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, he thoroughly examines both positions. He generalizes both positions throughout his book as constrained (conservative) and unconstrained (liberal). He explains that the constrained position of human nature is that of Thomas Hobbes, that human nature is evil, brutish, and short. War is the natural state of affairs and peace is constructed and maintained by the erection of institutions.

From the constrained perspective, the steps for a peace seeking nation to take to reduce the probability of war would be to

1) raise the cost of war to potential aggressors by military preparedness and military alliances,

2) arouse public awareness of dangers in times of threat,

3) promote patriotism and willingness to fight, as the costs of deterring an attack,

4) rely on your adversaries awareness of dangers, in times of threat,

5) negotiate only within the context of deterrent strength and avoid concessions to blackmail that would encourage further blackmail, and

6) rely more on the good sense and fortitude of the public at large than on moralists and intellectuals, who are more readily swayed by words and fashions. (Sowell 154)

The unconstrained position is almost diametrically opposite. The unconstrained vision believes that there must be a cause for evils, because the nature of humans is peaceful. Rousseau is one of the hallmark advocates for the unconstrained position. Rousseau believed that “men are not natural enemies”.

He considered that it is not nature that is the problem, but institutions that create the problem when he said, “men are born free” but “is everywhere in chains”. (Sowell 29)

The unconstrained position believes that steps for a peace-seeking nation to take to reduce the possibility of war include

(1) more influence for the intellectually or morally more advanced portions of the population,

(2) better communications between potential enemies,

(3) a muting of militant rhetoric,

(4) a restraint on armament production or military alliances, either of which might produce escalating counter-measures, (5) a de-emphasis of nationalism or patriotism, and (6) negotiating outstanding differences with potential adversaries as a means of reducing possible causes of war. (Sowell 153)

These views, as I stated, are generalizations, variances and hybrids do exist, but their general form is sufficient for the explanation of primacy and liberal internationalism. Primacy was a grand strategy that was aimed at preserving the gains of the Cold War through the assertion of American military might. The policy of primacy “presumed that an American withdrawal into an isolationist mode, or an open-ended campaign of global altruism, would tempt potential enemies to challenge America’s status as the worlds lone superpower,” therefore “The best hope – for both U. S. security and global stability – was for the United States to prolong its ‘unipolar movement’ by exploiting its military predominance, imposing itself in regional power struggles, and aggressively containing potential challengers. (Hook 249)

The policy may see arrogant, but its assumptions are based on the fact that American military might does not only benefit America, but it benefits the entirety of the world. The costs of war with the United States have even lead to certain nations under our security umbrella to disband their major military forces. They gave up on trying to compete militarily and done so willingly. This could only have been possible by extreme US credibility. For example, Japan has our promise to protect them if they are attacked by an outside force. Even though after WW II they were prohibited to construct a military, they eventually would have to if they felt that their security was being threatened.

They do not mind being in the American security bubble because they trust us and they know that our credibility to live up to commitments it sincere. This is also the case in Western Europe. They have virtually given up on creating a military force to compete with us, but they also trust us to protect them in the case of an attack. Pax Americana is the position of primacy. Samuel Huntington stated that “A world without American primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the Untied States continues to have more influence than any other county in shaping global affairs. ” (Hook 249)

Primacy believed Pax Americana to be maintained at great lengths, but also assumes that eventually there will be a rise to a rival power.

Many political scientists believed this case to be arriving sooner rather than latter. Charles Kupchan believed that our fall from power will be a result of our own, unwillingness to be the protector of the world. Kupchan believes that the American security umbrella will eventually begin to retract because the absence of the Soviet Union as a threat will leave the protection of these states to the United States as an unnecessary cost; therefore, we will encourage them to establish their own defense systems. (Kupchan) Kupchan wrote his article in late 1999 during the time of a widening power gap between the United States and the rest of the world, and no foreseeable enemy on the horizon.

He did though encourage the newly formed EU and East Asian nations to take the initiative to build their military forces so they would not be so much dependent on the United States military, but I think that even though it is a costly endeavor to provide protection for these areas of the world, they still can not be trusted with their own highly developed military. Peace is a fragile state of affairs, and the development of regional military machines can disrupt the continuity of peace among the great powers. There were two main arguments posed against the adoption of hegemony as a US foreign policy at the end of the Cold War. The first was the cost of being the world’s policeman. Even though it was never implemented as an actual policy, the United States was still the world hegemon and had vowed to protect much of the world militarily in light of an attack.

By 1999, I think Kupchan had enough of spending money to protect everyone and felt that other great powers will ultimatly rise, might as well let them rise now rather than later. What Kupchan did not realize is that the cost of maintaining the security umbrella is fairly cheap. The United States spends more money on defense than the top 15-20 defense spenders combine, and this only added up to 3. 5% of our GDP in 2003. (Brooks) So the ultimate cost of maintaining our primacy throughout Europe and South East Asia is cheap at 3. 5% compared to what it would cost to contain a hegemonic power growing in these areas. Historian Paul Kennedy was quoted saying that “being number one at great cost is one thing; being the worlds single superpower on the cheap is astonishing. (Brooks)

Paul Kennedy, just fourteen years earlier in nineteen eighty-nine, was found saying that America, like Britain, was declining in power. (Huntington) The second argument was that the unchecked application of American military power will definitively lead to the formation of countervailing alliances to deter the American expansion of power. This argument was assessed in American Primacy in Perspective by Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth. They suggest that historically the expanding powers are met by countervailing alliances that prevent their expansion such as was the case with Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon, but the situation is different in the case of the United States in the post Cold War era. First, the United States is not vulnerable.

We are surrounded by oceans on the east and west and “weak friendly” powers to the north and south. Also, the most likely powers to have the capability to challenge the United States would be China, Russia, Japan, and Germany. If any one of these powers were to begin a military buildup it would ignite a regional power struggle between that state and its neighbors. If Germany were to begin a massive military buildup in order to compete with the United States, it is almost definite that Russia and France will do the same. This, coupled with the power gap between these countries and the United States would deter any state from attempting the challenge. (Brooks)

At the end of the Cold War, primacy, as a foreign policy was not directly implemented; selective engagement and liberal internationalism were chosen by the Bush and Clinton administrations to deal with world events, but primacy indirectly would be maintained as these policies were implemented and new threats materialized. President George H. W. Bush implemented the policy of selective engagement, which he expressed in his “New World Order” speech. America and the world must defend common vital interests-and we will. America and the world must support the rule of law-and we will. America and the world must stand up to aggression-and we will And one more thing: In pursuit of these goals America will not be intimidated… Vital issues of principal are at stake…

Vital economic interests are at risk as well… We cannot permit a resource (oil) so vital to be dominated by one so ruthless. And we won’t… In the face of tyranny, let no one doubt American credibility and reliability. (Bush) President Clinton took this foreign policy and fused it with the liberal internationalism from the Jimmy Carter era to formulate his post Cold War foreign policy, assertive multilateralism. President Clinton refused to allow the United States to fall into isolationism, which was the call from many liberals; to remove the United States from the global arena, focus on domestic welfare, and limit United States world involvement to humanitarian issues.

Instead, America would “exploit and extend the advantages that derived from its privileged position in the unipolar world. In so doing, American leaders would look beyond the country’s immediate self-interests and collaborate actively with like-minded governments and transnational institutions. By behaving cooperatively in an unthreatening manner, the United States would engender trust among the second-tier powers… ” (Hook 251)

Clinton quickly continued the struggle of the liberal internationalist that were prominent in the Wilsonian and Carter eras. This emphasis on human rights and the expansion of interdependence among nations of the modern world were able to be applied in the “absence of superpower tensions”.

The policy of enlargement was adopted to facilitate the expansion of democracy around the world. Clinton’s democrazation crusade and his splurge on international agreements was eventually met by resistance from the American public in 1994 when the Republican Party took control of Congress and began to hold the President accountable for the large sums of money that he was spending on nations in the enlargement process that had no vital purpose to American security or economic interests. There are common problems with the use of liberal internationalism that arose during Clinton’s application of it. The first was liberal internationalism versus our national interests. Read questiona about force protection

The American public had a difficult time accepting the use of military force in a global democraztion campaign if there were not national interests involved. This was obvious from the Republican seizure of control of Congress in 1994. Second was liberal internationalism versus our economic interests. This was a double standard that America was forced to practice to implement this policy. Even though we were leading the crusade, even with the use of military force, to promote democracy, we still had dealings with China and Saudi Arabia, in which both countries severely imposed on the rights of their people. Finally, the third being liberal internationalism versus liberal ideals.

Enlargement required that in some circumstances the use of force be applied, which was an illiberal intrusion on national self-determination, a key philosophical priority in the liberal cannon. This was a paradox in liberal philosophy that violated both Locke’s “social contract” and Rousseau’s “General Will”. (Hoffmann)

These internal contradictions within the foreign policy of the Clinton administration required that a case by case decision needed to be made, in which many cases prompted a different solution. This made the United States appeal erratic and unpredictable in the application of our power around the world. This is obvious when you look at three major conflicts that were present in the 1990’s; Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda.

There were no national interests involved in Bosnia, it did not pose a threat to the United States, and it was clearly a European issue. If it was not for the United States attempts to please Europe in this time period, we would have never been involved in the conflict. Somalia began as a humanitarian mission that was not completely assessed. There was no United States national interest involved, it was simply a mission to stop famine. The United Nations did not however take into account that the famine was a man made famine, and our troops shortly learned that it would take a mission in nation building to completely solve the situation there.

After the mutilation of American troops in Somalia, Clinton felt pressure from the American public and removed our troops. Rwanda, which could have possibly been the worst violation of human rights out of these three, was a situation that prompted no action. Liberal internationalism and assertive multilateralism were policies that eventually imploded on themselves during the Clinton administration. Philosophical incongruities rendered them erratic, inconsistent, and unproductive. American military might was applied to situations that had very little significance to national interests and goals, which shook the foundation of our credibility among our allies because of our unpredictability in behavior.

Although, at the end of the Cold War, it looked as though it were the “End of History”, but the eruption of civil and ethnic wars throughout the world, coupled with the problem of failed states and the consequences of the United States ineffectiveness to deal with these problems, would only truly be introduced into the mainstream media after 9/11. 9/11 was the ultimate proof that liberal internationalism was noble in cause, but its results and unintended consequences did not reflex its intent. After the election of George W. Bush, the United States reverted back to a policy of selective engagement, which was a middle road; promoting national interests and security as the top priority, and the spread of democracy and globalization as important, but secondary. United States primacy still exists, especially among the great nations of the world; most nations, even though they sometimes disagree with its use, rely on American power as the ultimate source of peacekeeping in the world.

The United Nations, which in 1989, was looked at being the new tool for global security because its purpose could now be exercised in a world free from Cold War tensions. This would also prove to be a false assumption because the Untied Nations lacked the ability to back up its claims. Many times throughout the 1990’s and into the new millennium the United Nations made claims that they were unwilling or unable to back up by the use of force. Lee Harris addresses this issue in his book Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History. When a nation, person, or organization is not willing to back up their claims, they loose the right to make these claims. This is an unforeseen and unintended consequence of staking a claim: you are also claiming that you are willing to stand up for it; if you are not willing to do this, then you have no business staking the claim in the first place… if you are not willing to stand up for the claim you staked, then you are not the kind of person you claimed to be when you staked your original claim. ” (Harris 165)

This loss of credibility on behalf of the United Nations is now having global implications in its inability to deal with the threat of global terrorism. Foreign policy in the 1990’s can be characterized as the security of selective engagement and the disarray of liberal internationalism.

Both of these policies function during the 1990’s at different time period and sometimes together. The United States has now taken the policy of selective engagement in present times as the logical policy to follow, but the consequences of liberal internationalism, such as overextending the United Nations into a loss of credibility, are having major detrimental effects on America’s ability to fight terrorism. Fortunately, primacy has evolved from a proposed foreign policy to an underlying fact. Primacy has been the continuity that has preserved peace among the great power and made all of these foreign policies possible, and if you believe that American power is good for the world, as I do, the preservation of primacy is essential.

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