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Javier Gil Guerrero, Ph.D. in History. Institute for Culture and Society (University of Navarra)

America in retreat

Tue, 10 Feb 2015 15:54:00 +0000 Published in News Journal

It seems increasingly clear that we have to bid farewell to the unipolar world in which we have lived for the past 25 years. Obama's United States, traumatized and showing signs of fatigue from the Iraq war and the 2008 financial crisis, has signaled the limits of its power and influence by inviting its allies in Europe and Asia to assume a greater share of the responsibility and burden of global leadership. However, this moment has come at the worst possible time, with Europe and Japan mired in a never-ending economic and political crisis. The result has been a diminished role for the United States on the international stage with no other democracy stepping forward to take part of the baton. But the stage has not been left empty. Neither Europe nor the UN has the will, the consensus or the resources to act decisively on the world stage the way Washington has acted over the last sixty years.

Taking advantage of the new space ceded by Washington, countries such as China and Russia have seen their influence increase both regionally and globally. Needless to say, these countries have a very different diary from what the United States or Europe are trying to push in the world: the expansion of their political and economic power takes precedence over any consideration of human rights or democracy. In many cases, the expansion of their influence in areas such as Central Asia, Africa or Eastern Europe leads to an increase in instability in the area, accompanied by a strengthening of dictatorships and an undermining of democratic systems.

This has been one of the main lessons learned by Europe in recent months: a diminished role for the United States on the world stage does not automatically translate into greater participation and cooperation among medium and small countries, but rather into increased power and influence of other major powers such as Russia and China.

It is to be expected that Russian territorial annexations will continue as long as China continues to coercively impose its will on its neighbors in various border disputes. Who can stop the expansionist ambitions of these countries? Who can continue to push for the spread of democracy in the world? In the face of doubt that America still wants to play such a role, the West's rivals have become more determined and bolder. The United States seems unwilling to reassure its allies of the pressing threats they face, while its enemies are no longer afraid of American retaliation.

That the United States no longer wants to be the global policeman (as Obama and the Tea Party argue) translates into a more chaotic world order in which stronger states impose their conditions on weaker ones. A passive shepherd does not mean freer and more equal sheep but a feast for the wolves. The world economic and governance system driven and sustained by the United States was far from being fair and perfect, however, one has to wonder what the decline of that system or its replacement by one backed by Russia and China will bring.