March 19, 2019
The Need for a Concert of Power
By Jason Sibert
This story points out the errors of post-Cold War foreign policy and advocates a concert of power.
The citizens of the United States are currently living under a foreign policy where their government is defined as a hegemon to their own danger and the danger of the world.
Since the end of the Cold War, our foreign policy under administrations of both political parties has sought to dominate the four corners of the globe, what's called a hegemon in foreign policy. After the collapse of Soviet Russia, we kept a network of military bases alive that were designed to contain the Soviet Union, despite the dissipation of the Soviet threat.
Our county kept bases in Japan after World War II to contain Soviet communism. Why are we there now? The stated reason is to contain China, which left the Soviet orbit in the Sino-Soviet split. China reacted in building up its military and acting in a belligerent manner in the South Sea. Similarly, we remained in the North American Treaty Alliance and expanded it to eastern Europe in the administration of Bill Clinton. George Keenan, a former State Department official who defined the doctrine of containment at the beginning of the Cold War, said the move would start another Cold War. He was right! The move gave a demagogue like Vladimir Putin a chance to tell his own people that the west was encircling Russia, empowering Putin instead of damaging him and alienating the Russian people from the rest of the world.
Current President Donald Trump certainly has little interest in making our country one that works for the security of the world via arms-control treaties. He's withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. President Trump is exasperating the tensions between our country and the other power centers in the world. Whenever a power tries to dominate an international system, other powers emerge to stop it. We are seeing this now with China and Russia seeking to carve out spheres of influence in their respective corners of the globe.
Under the administration of George W. Bush, our country invaded a sovereign power, Iraq, in violation of the United Nations Treaty of 1945 and withdrew from the Nixon-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In the administration of Barack Obama, we engaged in a "pivot to Asia" to contain China and we are still feeling the pushback.
Why do we not want what's termed spheres of influence? When various spheres of influence emerge in an international system, they work to balance each other and spend lots of military dollars doing so. We can see the balancing act occurring right now with exploding defense budgets in our country, China, and Russia.
However, there is good news! We are living in a time that writer, futurist, technologist, and environmentalist Stewart Brand calls the long peace. Humanity has witnessed the long decline of violence over the years.
Brand states that since the end of the destructive World War II there has been just one war between great powers (the Korean War) and no wars between major powers to extend their borders. The trend toward less violence was impacted by the rise of the nation-state. As soon as the nation-state rose in the 1700s, it declared sovereignty over a wide group of people and kept them from killing each other. The eras of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance were also very influential in the long peace because humanity saw an expansion of rights for women, children, non-whites, and people of various religions. In primitive societies, 15 percent of the population died in violence; now .03 percent of people do.
Renaissance thinker Hugo Grotius played a big role in defining international law, as he thought nation-states should work together to establish laws that make violence less common. The attempts to establish international law sought to expand the violence-preventing impact of the nation-state to the international sphere. Our country has followed his vision at times in the establishment of international organizations (UN) and the signing of treaties. International law is important because weapons have become more lethal in time nuclear weapons are a good example. On that thought, more dangerous weapons are in the pipeline, as artificial intelligence, autonomous-weapons systems, hypersonic weapons, and cyberattacks promise to make war even more deadly.
As suggested by writer Michael Lind, the power centers of the world, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States, need to form what's termed a concert of power in foreign affairs (power sharing) and work to control the most dangerous of weapons. Let's also keep the ideological battle between authoritarian political systems and liberal democracies in the non-military sphere and keep the long peace alive!
Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area as a staff writer for a decade. His work has been published in a variety of publications since then and he is currently the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.