The Progressive Post

The global order and the future of American influence

19/12/2016

Trump’s victory suggests that many US voters feel disaffected with globalisation. But the USA will retain its global influence, both through hard and soft power.

Since World War II, the United States has sustained alliances and institutions that constitute a liberal international order. Now, the rhetoric of Donald Trump in the 2016 election campaign has caused anxiety about the future of that order.It would be a mistake, however, to read too much about long term trends in American public opinion from the heated rhetoric of the election campaign. The information revolution has strengthened globalization. Unlike the 1930s (or even the 1980s) there has not been a reversion to protectionism. In fact, the U.S. economy has increased its dependence on international trade. And a September 2016 poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations found that 65 per cent of Americans say that globalization is mostly good for the U.S. The label “isolationism” is not a very helpful description of current American attitudes.

Guns vs butter vs taxes

Some allies worry whether the U.S. can afford to sustain the liberal economic order, but their concerns are misplaced. The U.S. currently spends about 3.5 per cent of its GDP on defense and foreign affairs. As a portion of GDP, the U.S. is spending less than half of what it did at the peak of the Cold War years. Alliances are not bleeding us. The problem is not guns vs. butter, but guns vs. butter vs. taxes. Unless the budget is expanded by a willingness to raise taxes, defence expenditure is locked in a zero-sum trade-off with important investments such as domestic repair of education, infrastructure, and spending on R&D. And the U.S. remains among the most lightly taxed of all the OECD countries.
The U.S. will remain the world’s leading military power in the decades to come, and military force will remain an important component of American power. A rising China and a declining Russia frighten their neighbours, and American security guarantees in Asia and Europe provide critical reassurance for the stability that underlies the prosperity of the liberal order. Maintaining alliances is also an important source of influence for the United States.

Soft power still important

At the same time, military force is a blunt instrument. Trying to occupy and control the domestic politics of nationalistic populations in the Middle East revolutions is a recipe for failure. And on many transnational issues like climate change or financial stability or norms to govern the Internet, military force is not the answer. Maintaining networks, working with institutions, creating norms for new areas like cyber and climate change create the soft power needed to complement our hard power resources. Leadership is not the same as domination. There have always been degrees of leadership and degrees of influence during the seven decades of the American liberal order since World War II. Now with slightly less preponderance and a more complex world, American provision of global public goods, in cooperation with others, will be crucial to U.S. well-being as well as to the world.

Find all related publications
Publications
16/05/2024

EU regulation on transparency and targeting of political advertising

FEPS YAN Series
15/05/2024

Ecosocial food policies – proposal for a new social-democratic approach

FEPS YAN series
14/05/2024

Tightening welfare belts again?

FEPS YAN Series
14/05/2024

Redefining European engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

From financial aid to institution building
Find all related news
News
16/05/2024

FEPS at UN Civil Society Conference in Kenya

15/05/2024

Notice of vacancy – Policy analyst on international relations

29/04/2024

FEPS celebrates 20 years of the biggest EU enlargement

19/04/2024

FEPS welcomes the signing of the La Hulpe Declaration

Find all related in the media
In the media

Youth unemployment hurts communities, its time for a new deal, says Andor

by Euractiv 15/05/2024
Read FEPS Secretary General László Andor's interview on the consequences of youth employment for communities

A reform az európai parlamenti választás tétje

by Ujszo 14/05/2024
In this interview, FEPS Secretary-General László Andor discusses the 2024 European Parliament elections and current issues facing the EU

Alleen de Europese Unie kan de mensen echt beschermen

by Sampol 07/05/2024
'Only the European Union can really protect people' In Sampol's article, FEPS President Maria João Rodrigues analyses the current state of the European Union in the run-up to the European elections

Las elecciones europeas aceleran la ‘normalización’ de la extrema derecha

by El País 05/05/2024
"The European elections accelerate the ‘normalisation’ of the far-right" El País' article mentions FEPS policy study "The transformation of the mainstream right and its impact on (social) democracy"