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NewsPicks Roundtable: America and the World in 2018.

By Medium

In less than a year, President Donald Trump has upended decades of alliances and conventions that established the U.SRead full story

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  • The United States looks like a country in retreat from the world stage. President Obama rose to power promising to avoid foreign military entanglements after the disastrous war in Iraq. President Trump is taking things much further by challenging cornerstones of U.S. global engagement like longstanding free trade agreements, international organizations and security alliances. Yet, there is no ready replacement for the US. Rather than retreating into nationalism and isolationism, U.S. leadership must

    The United States looks like a country in retreat from the world stage. President Obama rose to power promising to avoid foreign military entanglements after the disastrous war in Iraq. President Trump is taking things much further by challenging cornerstones of U.S. global engagement like longstanding free trade agreements, international organizations and security alliances. Yet, there is no ready replacement for the US. Rather than retreating into nationalism and isolationism, U.S. leadership must be adapted to new realities.

    The most obvious challenge to U.S. global leadership is the rise of China. Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School argues that the U.S. and China are “destined for war,” much like the ancient Greek rivals, Athens and Sparta. The reality is much more nuanced. Nuclear deterrence means war is unlikely, though not impossible. Instead, US-China competition will unfold in new domains, such as influence over the international organizations, infrastructure development in Asia, and technological advancement.

    The key is to channel international competition into peaceful, productive avenues. The space race between the U.S. and the USSR advanced scientific progress and produced numerous innovations. China’s recent initiatives, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, will give the country more influence in Asia, and will also bring broader benefits, as better regional infrastructure facilitates efficient production and economic activity. The worst-case scenario is an escalation of nationalism over symbolic issues, such as uninhabited rocks in the East and South China Sea, which could trigger a catastrophic military confrontation despite the seemingly low stakes.

    The Trump administration seeks to upend the international status quo, but it is doing so in a clumsy, counterproductive manner. Tearing up trade agreements and withdrawing from international organizations means ceding advantages to international rivals without receiving anything meaningful in return. Gutting the State Department leaves U.S. diplomacy paralyzed in an era when diplomatic renegotiation will determine the future of the world order. Threatening military action against North Korea sharply increases the odds of the absolute worst case scenario: a major military confrontation in the Asia Pacific that involves an exchange of nuclear weapons.

    U.S. foreign policy should instead focus on creating new cooperative frameworks to manage emerging threats. The Russian effort to subvert the 2016 U.S. election will not be a one-off event: next time, it may be China seeking to undermine a Republican candidate. We urgently need to negotiate an international treaty that prohibits foreign intervention in democratic elections and outlines clear consequences for violations. The militarization of artificial intelligence and robotics is also an urgent area for international cooperation that is suffering from an absence of U.S. leadership. We also need better mechanisms to deal with financial crises, which are becoming increasingly common among the most advanced industrialized countries: The International Monetary Fund is not designed to handle large-scale crises in leading economies such as the United States or Japan.

    The international order needs constructive, not destructive, reform. Effective U.S. engagement and leadership is needed now more than ever.

  • Adrian Michaels
    Adrian MichaelsDirector at FirstWord Media

    In November, French president Emmanuel Macron promised that if the U.S. stopped paying its contributions to the UN panel on climate change, France would put up the money instead.

    It may only be about $2 million, but it’s a powerful signal from the rest of the world about the withdrawal from international comity of President Trump. Macron is striking a pragmatic tone from the moral high ground: “You may want to bury your head in the sand, or worse. We continue to work together for the benefit of

    In November, French president Emmanuel Macron promised that if the U.S. stopped paying its contributions to the UN panel on climate change, France would put up the money instead.

    It may only be about $2 million, but it’s a powerful signal from the rest of the world about the withdrawal from international comity of President Trump. Macron is striking a pragmatic tone from the moral high ground: “You may want to bury your head in the sand, or worse. We continue to work together for the benefit of nations.”

    Many in the rest of the world view Trump as a vestigial spasm, a cry for an old order that simply doesn’t reflect the world as it is today. Everywhere we look we see the opposite of what the U.S. president represents, and a challenge to U.S. hegemony: a resurgent and hugely innovative China, an India that is pulling its weight in everything from steel to entertainment, democracy and empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa, technologies everywhere that are reforming and connecting everything we do at the speed of light.

    In the Middle East, Trump may soon be partly responsible for starting a third Intifada, while it is new leadership in Saudi Arabia that is calling Palestinians and others to Riyadh to discuss peace.

    As Trump tries to Make America Great Again, his bluster is pushing the rest of the West to refocus on managing the transition to a multipolar world. “Old” powers such as France and Britain that seek to maintain their pervasive influence in world affairs are doing so through experience, diplomacy and skill, rather than expecting to run things simply because they once ruled other countries and have more money.

    The world order and institutions that were established in the couple of decades after 1945 are everywhere desperate for reform: the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the World Bank. Many of these have at their heart the very multipolar conflict resolution and inclusive attitude that is needed – but they are often managed poorly, and the existing power brokers are of course reluctant to cede control.

    But what if the European Union realizes, for example, that Brexit is the very opportunity it craves to push for vast governance reform in an effort to stop other countries from leaving? What if America’s decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem spurs the UN to modernize the Security Council? Let’s not assume that diminished American influence is a bad thing. It may in fact speed the arrival of the inevitable.

    Viewed from Europe, America’s international decline under Trump will be a disaster only if the President actually foments international unrest. Provided we are all still here to celebrate the arrival of 2019, these coming months will see nations take further steps to stand apart from the U.S., to forge adult agreements and to seek global consensus. Those are good grounds for optimism.

  • Peter Robinson
    Peter RobinsonResearch fellow at Stanford University

    The United States losing influence? I reject that premise.

    Item: The economy.

    As we learned during the 1980s, when the American economic expansion persuaded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that Soviet stagnation had become untenable, growth equals influence—and we have growth. The stock market is setting records. Last month the economy created some 228,000 new jobs, pushing unemployment to a 17-year low. And last quarter the economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.2 percent, the highest rate since

    The United States losing influence? I reject that premise.

    Item: The economy.

    As we learned during the 1980s, when the American economic expansion persuaded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that Soviet stagnation had become untenable, growth equals influence—and we have growth. The stock market is setting records. Last month the economy created some 228,000 new jobs, pushing unemployment to a 17-year low. And last quarter the economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.2 percent, the highest rate since the first quarter of 2015.

    Item: Fracking.

    The oil-and-gas boom taking place here in the United States has transformed geopolitics. The new, sharply lower prices of energy have helped foster economic growth in Europe while denying revenues to bad actors from Vladimir Putin of Russia to Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. The most dramatic effect has been on Middle East, where the Gulf States, now vulnerable to political instability, are turning to Israel as an ally against Iran. In other words, oilmen in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania and the Bakken Formation of North Dakota are establishing a certain kind of peace between Israel and its neighbors. Astonishing but true.

    Item: ISIS.

    Early in his term, President Trump made clear that he had no intention of micromanaging our military leaders, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis soon adjusted our tactics in Iran. No longer, Mattis announced, would the United States and its allies permit ISIS to regroup and reoccupy territory from which we had driven them. Instead, Mattis said, we would “surround these locations,” then conduct an “annihilation campaign.” At its peak, ISIS controlled some 40,000 square miles, by this past summer the United States and its allies had reduced its territory to fewer than 3,000 square miles. Last month we denied ISIS its final two urban centers, recapturing Deir ez-Zor in Syria and Qaim in Iraq. Victories like this don’t diminish American influence. They enhance it.

    Item: NATO.

    Early on, President Trump complained volubly about NATO. Only five of the 28 NATO countries, the President protested, were meeting the alliance goal of spending at least two percent of GDP on defense. And do you know what happened? NATO agreed with him. “I want to welcome the focus of the president on increased defense spending,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this past spring. This year NATO increased spending by more than 4 percent and encouraged member states to spend still more. The administration has not simply goaded NATO into spending more. It has helped NATO fulfill its pledge to expand its presence in the Baltic, participating in the deployment of some 4,500 troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. For all that the press accuses President Trump of cozying up to Putin, this year the United States joined its NATO allies in placing troops on the very borders of Russia.

    The administration has made plenty of foreign policy mistakes, notably in Syria, where it has permitted Russia much too free a hand, and on trade, where, as Dartmouth economist Douglas Irwin argued recently in the Wall Street Journal, the administration has made the error of attempting “to negotiate about outcomes rather than rules.” But making mistakes is a lot different from undermining or diminishing the nation’s influence. The United States during the administration of Donald Trump remains just what it has been since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt: the most influential of nations.

  • Shinsuke Oyama
    Shinsuke OyamaHead of Product Management at NewsPicks

    Our first piece of original NewsPicks content.

    Check out the great contributions from our ProPickers.

  • Ken Breen
    Ken BreenDow Jones

    Some of our ProPickers weigh in on America and its value to world heading into 2018. Great insight and opinion. Thank you!

  • Ernie Sander
    Ernie SanderDirector of Platform Community at Quartz

    Great insights here from our ProPickers

  • Sopiea Mitchell
    Sopiea MitchellCEO at 3toZEN

    Great first piece of original content and great insights, succinctly put, from the ProPickers. I look forward to seeing more of these in 2018!

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