Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

THE AMERICAN CENTURY: In Retrospect and Prospect

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

THE AMERICAN CENTURY: In Retrospect and Prospect

Article excerpt

Ian McGibbon reports on the 35th Otago Foreign Policy School held in Dunedin from 30 June to 3 July.

At the end of the twentieth century the United States bestrides the world like a colossus. The only power capable of fighting two major conflicts simultaneously, it has outstripped all its competitors in terms of military power. Its nuclear arsenal and its twelve naval battle groups give it the capability to exert this power anywhere on the planet. All this immense military force rests on the solid foundation of an economy which for a century has been the world's most dynamic and which has in the last decade experienced an astonishing and unprecedented boom, perhaps the longest sustained in its history. The influence of American culture has never been greater.

This outcome alone validates the description of the twentieth century as the American century, but the roots of the United States' pre-eminence are deep. American military power had a decisive impact on the two world wars and the Cold War -- the three conflicts which dominated the century. American thinking, especially the ideas propounded by President Woodrow Wilson during and after the First World War, set the world on a new path, just as American practices and initiative changed the face of business and society.

The end of the century provides an appropriate time to reflect on the nature of the United States role in the `American century', and its implications for the future. This task was taken up by the Otago Foreign Policy School. Now in its thirty-fifth year, the school has long since established itself as a key forum for the consideration of the world and New Zealand's role in it, and this year's gathering, directed by diplomatic historian Dr Roberto Rabel, more than upheld the school's reputation for bringing together a range of experts from

New Zealand and overseas who could speak authoritatively on the topic at hand. Held as usual at Salmond Hall, the school opened on the evening of Friday, 30 June with about a hundred in attendance.

The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don McKinnon, was conspicuous by his support for the school, almost invariably making the journey south to open the proceedings during his decade in office. Unfortunately his successor, Phil Goff, was absent from the country and could not carry on the tradition. Nevertheless he sent a very effective substitute in the form of Derek Leask, the Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Americas Division.

In his address Leask focused on the elements the two counties have in common. He noted that they were `part of the same great flow of emigration', pointing to the experience of William Evans Turner, who served afloat in both the American Civil War and the New Zealand Wars, as evidence of the movement of people between the two countries in the nineteenth century. The current generation, he suggested, was more likely to be influenced by American culture than foreign policy -- a difference perhaps from the previous generation. The United States, he emphasised, would shape the world we live in. He pointed to its huge economic growth in the latter part of the century and its dominance of the information technology revolution, and suggested that questions remained regarding US commitment to multilateralism and use of military power.

Leask was followed by the American Ambassador to New Zealand, Carol Moseley Braun, who argued that the values that would underpin American foreign policy in the new century were the same as those which had underlain the formation of the republic more than two hundred years ago. She warned that New Zealand was as proximate to the world's troubles as any democracy in the world. It was, she suggested, an opportune time to consider its security arrangements.

Six academics

The school had the privilege of hearing six distinguished academics from the United States. First up, on the Saturday morning, was Professor Akira Iriye of Harvard University, who addressed the question of the United States' role in the making of the global community. …

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