The Globalization of Politics: American Foreign Policy for a New Century

By Daalder, Ivo H.; Lindsay, James M. | Brookings Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Globalization of Politics: American Foreign Policy for a New Century


Daalder, Ivo H., Lindsay, James M., Brookings Review


September 11 signaled the end of the age of geopolitics and the advent of a new age--the era of global politics. The challenge U.S. policymakers face today is to recognize that fundamental change in world politics and to use America's unrivaled military, economic, and political power to fashion an international environment conducive to its interests and values.

For much of the 20th century, geopolitics drove American foreign policy. Successive presidents sought to prevent any single country from dominating the centers of strategic power in Europe and Asia. To that end the United States fought two world wars and carried on its four-decade-long Cold War with the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet empire ended the last serious challenge for territorial dominion over Eurasia. The primary goal of American foreign policy was achieved.

During the 1990s, American foreign policy focused on consolidating its success. Together with its European allies, the United States set out to create, for the first time in history, a peaceful, undivided, and democratic Europe. That effort is now all but complete. The European Union--which will encompass most of Europe with the expected accession of 10 new members in 2004--has become the focal point for European policy on a wide range of issues. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has evolved from a collective defense alliance into Europe's main security institution. A new relationship with Russia is being forged.

Progress has been slower, though still significant, in Asia. U.S. relations with its two key regional partners, Japan and South Korea, remain the foundation of regional stability. Democracy is taking root in South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan. U.S. engagement with China is slowly tying an economically surging Beijing into the global economy.

The success of American policy over the past decade means that no power--not Russia, not Germany, not a united Europe, and not China or Japan--today poses a hegemonic threat to Eurasia. In this new era, American foreign policy will no longer pivot on geography. Instead, it will be defined by the combination of America's unrivaled power in world affairs and the extensive and growing globalization of world politics.

The Sole Global Power

The United States is today the only truly global power. Its military reach--whether on land, at sea, or in the air--extends to every point on the globe. Its economic prowess fuels world trade and industry. Its political and cultural appeal--what Joseph Nye has called soft power--is so extensive that most international institutions reflect American interests. America's position in the world is unique--no other country in history has ever come close.

But is America's exalted position sustainable? Militarily, the vast gap between the United States and everyone else is growing. Whereas defense spending in most other countries is falling, U.S. defense spending is rising rapidly. This year's requested increase in defense spending is greater than the entire Chinese defense budget. Most remarkably, America can afford to spend more. Defense spending takes a smaller share of the U.S. gross domestic product than it did a decade ago--and even the Bush administration's projected increases will produce an overall budget equal to only about 3.5 percent of GDP, about half of Cold War highs. There is little prospect of any country or group of countries devoting the resources necessary to begin competing with the United States militarily, let alone surpassing it.

Economically, the United States may not widen its edge over its competitors, but neither is it likely to fall behind. The U.S. economy has proved itself at least as adept as its major competitors in realizing the productivity gains made possible by information technology. Europe and Japan face severe demographic challenges as their populations rapidly age, creating likely labor shortages and severe budgetary pressures. …

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