Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The United States and Coalition Building in the New International Order

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The United States and Coalition Building in the New International Order

Article excerpt


In the new international order of the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, the United States, now the hyperpower of the world, has embarked upon a unilateralist policy in defense of its national security interests. Such an approach is flawed in the new international order, as American military might and diplomatic arrogance threatens to sideline multilateral frameworks and marginalize well-established alliance systems. The United States must rethink its approach to world affairs, reevaluate its use of hard power, and consider utilizing soft power strategies in order to maintain its national security.


The purpose of this Oxford Round Table is to examine the new international order through the lens of history--to see how the United States can cope in this new international order, one in which China and Europe loom large as major economic, military, and diplomatic players, and American national security policy is filtered through the sieve of the War on Terror. The Oxford Roundtable is well known for its provocative presentations and vigorous discussion--it is my hope that my remarks this morning will contribute to that tradition.

In 2002, Oxford University Press published a methodical yet modest volume by Joseph Nye, an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, titled The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone. Nye argued that in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 international order, in which the United States reigns as the sole superpower, or as some suggest, a hyperpower, the United States faces such a broad range of security threats and foreign policy issues that it cannot isolate itself from the world community by embracing unilateralist strategies in pursuit of national security. These threats and issues are varied--terrorism, failed states, environmental issues, world trade, energy security, cultural extremism, among many others. Indeed, global stability itself has become an objective key to the national security of the United States. For Nye, such an objective in the face of such threats requires multilateral approaches to international relations--alliances, coalitions, transnational organizations, regional security organizations. The paradox lies in the notion that as the supreme world power, with the only military capable of effective global reach, the United States ironically cannot rely solely upon that "hard power" to assure its national security. The United States must embrace multilateralism in the new international order of the 21st century. (1)

How can the United States break its recent reliance upon unilateralism and its own military power so that it can embrace a shared, multilateral military and non-military national security strategy in the hope of securing world stability, and thereby attain national security? The American experience with coalitions shows how difficult this is. If the United States can truly accept multilateralism, it would be a major paradigm shift in the American strategic and diplomatic tradition.

Historical Background of American Coalition Building

The United States spent the first century of its history avoiding alliances and coalitions of any sort, save for the brief alliance with France in the War for Independence. Then, isolationism slowly gave way to a rather comfortable role as hemispheric policeman in the latter third of the 19th century, as the growing nation embraced strategic commercial expansion, the modernization of its military, and made the largely forgotten Monroe Doctrine something more real. When the United States finally and very reluctantly broke with diplomatic tradition and "associated" itself with the Allies in the Great War, it crossed the Rubicon, as it were, to being receptive, if not willing, to engage in alliances and coalitions. The Grand Alliance of World War II, the Cold War alliances like NATO and SEATO, and even the coalitions that participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars would have made George Washington, et al, roll in their graves for a variety of reasons. …

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