04 August 2012
Political and foreign policy writers are once again arguing that America is in decline. Like debates in decades past, these pundits claim that ascendant powers will lead to diminished American influence. For example, in a January/February 2011 article in Foreign Policy, Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times contrasts China’s challenge to U.S. dominance with that of the Soviet Union or Japan. Rachman notes that China possesses the combined economic, political, and military heft to overtake America that previous competitors lacked. While these points are valid and well supported, they are overblown. Even as China and new regional powers emerge, the United States will remain a vital global power with unmatched military and diplomatic influence.
China’s unparalleled economic growth over the past three decades, combined with a modernizing military, has led to conclusions that the Chinese will surpass the United States as the leading superpower. To the contrary, China’s attempts to assert greater power will only strengthen the clout of the US with new friends and traditional allies. As China has become more assertive in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, for example, countries such as Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam have looked to the United States to take a more significant role in the region in both military and diplomatic terms. Aggressive Chinese behavior over the disputed Senkaku Islands and economic threats over rare earth minerals eliminated the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s attempts to forge closer relations with China and cemented ties U.S.-Japanese ties.
Some suggest that the rise of new powers, such as Turkey and India, is at odds with American leadership and that the U.S.’s ability to influence policy will be diminished. An increasingly assertive Turkey caused heartburn for the US a few years ago. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey came to power, it worked to establish a more independent foreign policy compared to the pro-American policies during the Cold War. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu aggressively promoted the Zero Problems Policy, which saw Turkey work to improve relations with its neighbors. This policy initially concerned Washington, as Turkey was reaching out to unfriendly regimes in Iran and Syria, while relations with Israel deteriorated. The nadir in relations occurred in 2010 when Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan attempted to broker a deal with Iran on processing of uranium as a means to avoid United Nations sanctions.
Fast forward to the present day. Turkey’s courtship with Syria is long over and Prime Minister Erdogan has been among Syrian leader Bashir Assad’s most fervent critics. The shoot down of a Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance jet in June has pushed the simmer tension to a boil. Turkey’s decision in September 2011 to participate in the NATO ballistic missile defense program that will include the deployment of an advanced American radar in Turkey has pushed Turkey closer to the United States. This event, coupled with tensions over Syria, have sent Turkish relations with Iran tumbling to the point where Turkey is concerned about encirclement by Iran, Russia, and Syria and has led to greater coordination between Ankara and Washington.
In South Asia, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all worked for closer U.S.-Indian relations. President Bush went so far as to offer India an unprecedented civil nuclear cooperation agreement that essentially legitimized the Indian nuclear program. As India seeks a greater global role it has sought closer ties with the U.S. and gradually reoriented its foreign policy. India has traditionally had close ties with Iran, but has moved towards the Western position on Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons and cut back on the purchase of Iranian oil. India has moved away from relying on Russian military equipment and purchased key items from the U.S. India became the first international customer for the advanced P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft in a $2 billion deal. The U.S. and India now participate in multiple joint military exercises each year have a strong counter terrorism relationship.
The world is changing in ways that are both foreseen and unpredictable. These changes will have economic, military, and political ramifications across the globe. The emergence of China, Turkey, and India on the global stage will cause the role of the United States as the dominant power to evolve. These states will seek to bolster their military capabilities and have their diplomatic objectives come to fruition. As these new powers push forward with their newly found influence, they will encounter obstacles and resistance that frustrates their efforts or causes them to seek out allies. In both cases the United States will remain the sole country with the military and diplomatic clout to influence events around the globe.
Vineet Daga is a Business Development Manager in the aerospace industry. He has a BA and MA in international affairs from The George Washington University.
State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain.