America's Unipolar Moment of Renewal or Collapse?

Author:Israeli, Ofer

After a century of an American world order established by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the end of the First World War, we are facing a shift in Washington's global attitude. President Trump's approach to world affairs is different. Although Obama, and to some extent Bush before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, was starting to withdraw from the U.S. historical position of key global superpower, President Trump's approach to world affairs is a much more drastic acceleration of this move. Continuing in this direction means we may soon face a collapse of America's century-long preeminence, and the creation of a new world order in which the U.S. is no longer leading the global power, but only first among sovereigns, if at all.

The Century-Long American World Order, 1918-2018

In January 1918, Woodrow Wilson presented principles for peace in his Fourteen Points, (1) establishing an international world order after 'The Great War', the First World War, "the war to end all wars". (2) Until recently, all American presidents followed this order in one way or another. (3)

The devastating results of the First World War activated the United States to lead an overwhelming reform of the international relations system. This was the most significant world order change since the creation of the modern state system in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia conference, following the Thirty Years' War in Europe. (4)

The supporters of the liberal idealist revision that was established at the end of the First World War generally fell into one of three groups. The first group supported creating international institutions to reshape the international anarchy, (5) seeking to soften the war-prone balance of power with a reliance on collective security, (6) such as the League of Nations, (7) and later on the UN. (8) A second group emphasized the use of legal processes based on mediation and arbitration to settle disputes and avoid armed conflicts, such as the creation in 1921 of the Permanent Court of International Justice. A third group sought disarmament as a means to ending war by securing arms control and disarmament agreements, exemplified by the Washington and London naval conferences. (9)

The American attitude to world order that was established after the First World War continued on the same path after the end of the Second World War, due to the destruction in European and Asian countries. Washington chose to quickly reconstruct Europe's and Japan's economies by investing billions of dollars to modernize and rebuild their industries, (10) and at the same time to reconstruct the world order by operating according to liberal worldview attitudes. Relying on the principles of the interdependence economic theory, America reduced trade barriers. Relying on the ideals of the democratic peace theory, the United States hoped to inspire democracy and peace globally. (11) Relying on the values of collective security theory, Washington created NATO to secure Western Europe from the potential aggression of the Soviet Union. (12)

Following the Soviet Union's demise and the end of the Cold War, (13) American presidents in general have maintained this world order. The NATO alliance, established in the aftermath of the Second World War to balance rising Soviet power, demonstrates this. The collapse of Soviet imperial rule in the late 1980s, however, did not lead to NATO's end.

At the same time, although the U.S. commitment to NATO was put under question by the end of the Cold War, (14) all American presidents of this period before President Trump--George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as George W. Bush and Barack Obama--kept Washington's broad obligation to European security. Under Obama's presidency, trans-Atlantic relations between America and the EU reached a record high. President Obama's view of the international reality was very similar to those of the liberal European governments and especially of the most important European state, Germany of Angela Merkel. (15)

President Obama's global attitude was a kind of a passive strategy, (16) following the deterministic long-cycle theory that was naturally receptive to the historical shift of power between the major states in the system. Two key points demonstrated this. The first and most important one was his acceptance of the rise of China to a position of a leading superpower status...

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