Aug 4, 2010

Global Perspectives of the International Team at AAI: Part 2

Director’s Introduction - Albert Santoli

Asia America Initiative is devoted to global peacebuilding, especially in the Asia Pacific region. In our field programs, such as the Philippines, we emphasize interfaith efforts between Muslims, Christians, and tribal peoples. In our Washington office, our intern research teams are comprised of students from many countries and cultures. At the conclusion of our summer session, AAI’s Washington interns that hail from Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, the Philippines, and the United States share their perspectives on the current global milieu and their hopes for the future. This is the 2nd installment of the series.

Commentary Part 2 by Amanda Leong

At the end of the 20th Century, the U.S. stood as the world’s sole superpower after having brought the former Soviet Union to its knees with its military and economic prowess. Europe was forming its unified financial markets and China had only just begun its economic and military transformation. Other big powers today like India and Brazil were also still developing then. At that time, the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success in ending the Cold War centered on: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and a national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

Unfortunately, today’s world demands that these elements be reconsidered to ensure democracy and equity within the world’s nations, as well as U.S. influence on global peace and security. Until post 9/11, America has played a vital role as the world’s policeman in maintaining peace and security outside its territories, mainly Europe, Asia and the Middle East. However, in view of burgeoning new threats such as terrorism, nuclear warfare and climate change in an increasingly porous world, it is imperative that the U.S. exercises its power prudently.

Joseph Nye and Richard Armitage’s “smart power” concept proves useful here as it involves picking the right tool or combination of tools –military, economic, political, social and/or cultural diplomacy – at the right time. With that, the onus of bringing about global peace and security lies no longer lies on state governments, but also on non-conventional actors such as international bodies, NGOs, business councils, schools and religious organizations etc. This helps to ensure that power and influence are projected in ways that are cost-effective as well as politically and socially legitimate.

With an increment of more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently announced that only a “small portion of the U.S. force…will begin to return home next year when an Obama administration deadline for the start of a troop pullout goes into effect.” While set at July 2011, Gates added that the rate of withdrawal is contingent on the security conditions in the country. Yet, as anti-American protests continue to surge in Kabul over the rising civilian death toll oftentimes caused by American or NATO military exercises, the administration ought to quickly relook and modify its strategy before the backlash spins out of control.

On the Korean Peninsula, there is also major instability based on potential aggression by North Korea in response to the South’s claim that the former was responsible for the March 2010 Cheonan sinking incident, The latter’s recent military exercises with the U.S, aimed at projecting a strong combined defense posture against the North has but also heightened the risk of belligerence from the nuclear state. Unfortunately, the U.S. government’s tightening of economic sanctions, alongside Secretary Clinton’s ruling out of any negotiations with the regime until it agreed to relinquish it nuclear weapons is likely to perpetuate this vicious cycle of antagonism, mistrust and non-cooperation, not forgetting how it has already pushed the regime further into alliances with other nuclear states such as China and Pakistan. With former President Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy” to open relations with the North also having failed to bring the Communist regime to the democratic roadmap, one really wonders what possible track might be left that will bring respite to the country, economy and its people.

Theodore Roosevelt once contended that the U.S. is obliged to stop “chronic wrongdoing” for the simple reason that nobody else will do the job. At that time however, America was on the rise to becoming a world power, riding on its natural resources and industrial production might. Its system of democratic capitalism was also a shining model for the world, while Western Europe’s power was on the decline. Today, while many in the world may still regard America as “the indispensible nation” as Madeleine Albright puts it, the country seems to be in a similar situation that overstretched Europe had been in a century ago. As a world power with a historical legacy of democracy based on rule of law, I argue that the U.S. ought to diversify its foreign policy or risk losing its moral leadership stature in addition to the significant economic clout it has lost due to the recent financial crisis and its many prolonged global wars.

Here, I recommend that the U.S. consider engaging more non-state actors to help failed states progress towards the democratic roadmap, albeit one that the recipient countries must decide and come to a consensus based on their political beliefs and cultural identities. Unless the administration devotes more attention to civil society development and human empowerment, whether directly or indirectly, international peace and security will continue to remain as nebulous as it is now.

Amanda Leong
AAI Intern, Summer 2010

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