The liberal international order that emerged after 1945 was a loose array of multilateral institutions in which the United States provided global public goods such as freer trade and freedom of the seas and weaker states were given institutional access to the exercise of U.S. power, notes Harvard’s Joseph S. Nye, Jr:
The Bretton Woods institutions were set up while the war was still in progress. When other countries proved too poor or weak to fend for themselves afterward, the Truman administration decided to break with U.S. tradition and make open-ended alliances, provide substantial aid to other countries, and deploy U.S. military forces abroad. Washington gave the United Kingdom a major loan in 1946, took responsibility for supporting pro-Western governments in Greece and Turkey in 1947, invested heavily in European recovery with the Marshall Plan in 1948, created NATO in 1949, led a military coalition to protect South Korea from invasion in 1950, and signed a new security treaty with Japan in 1960.
These and other actions both bolstered the order and contained Soviet power, he writes for Foreign Affairs.
For 70 years, US international problem-solving has taken place within the framework that the US created after the second world war and then adapted. That framework is now at risk, notes Robert Zoellick, a former president of the World Bank, US trade representative and deputy secretary of state [and a current board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO]:
States created in the Middle East in 1916 have broken down into a life-and-death struggle among sects and tribes, manipulated by local would-be hegemons. The new battleground supplies a cause and base from which radical Islamic terrorists reach around the world. The chaos has triggered a destabilising migration to the EU. Furthermore, countries in the region — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran — have struggled unsuccessfully to transition to modern market economies, raising the risk of an even larger upheaval.
History offers insights into the strategic framework needed to reflect US interest and leadership, (right) writes for The Financial Times:
- First, the US needs continental security. In the 19th century, the US expanded its territory to assure safety. For the past 80 years, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy”, the US has worked to build a stronger North America with Canada and Mexico — as a continental base for global power projection.
- Second, the US relies on strong, resilient and confident alliances across the Atlantic and Pacific. These ties enable the US to safeguard interests on the western and eastern shores of the vast Eurasian expanse. Nato and the evolving Pacific alliance network encompass America’s closest partners. The US also enjoys special ties to Israel and states in the Gulf, and has been building a partnership with India.
- Third, America needs to modernise international economic ties to advance both national interests and global growth. The US needs rules on trade, capital flows, investment, exchange rates, the digital economy and intellectual property that will enable America’s private sector dynamism to shape the world’s economic system.
- Fourth, the US should be alert to changes in the western hemisphere, in concert with Latin American friends. Since the 1820s, the US vision of a New World of republics that can shape the Old has waxed and waned. In coming years, new leadership in Brazil and Argentina offers opportunities. Cuba and Venezuela are also ripe for change.
- Fifth, the US needs to invest in superior military punch and technology, while following Theodore Roosevelt’s guidance on defence diplomacy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
- Finally, history recounts how the American Experiment became American Exceptionalism. Across different eras, the US has stood as a “Shining City on the Hill”: an architect of open doors for private sector initiative, a voice for liberty and human rights and the leader of the free world.