The Realignment of the World

This article was published in the South China Morning Post, April 3, 2003.
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On March 11, the German ambassador in Islamabad hosted a meeting at which representatives of the Chinese, French, and Russian legations addressed the Pakistani press on the pending vote about Iraq in the United Nations Security Council. According to the Daily Times of Pakistan, the diplomats wanted to hear the Pakistani point of view. But this was more than a fact‐​finding mission. The representatives of those four countries had temporarily put aside their differences to urge Pakistan to oppose the United States because, as one unnamed official said, “a unipolar world would be a nightmare.”

That meeting marked a radical change, foreshadowing a realignment of power in the world. As the Times of India recently editorialized: “For a country like India, the choice is clear: It must join hands with others in Asia and elsewhere to resist this growing U.S. intervention.” Clearly, this ongoing power‐​shift is not necessarily to America’s advantage.

The March 11 meeting challenged one of the fundamental precepts of the Bush administration’s foreign policy: that it can lead “coalitions of the willing” while preventing the formation of counter‐​coalitions. According to the president’s National Security Strategy, “our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from … equaling, the power of the United States.” Even more striking, it has declared it will prevent the creation of any such opposing power by preemptive strikes, if necessary.

Foreign governments have taken note. Some have decided to bind themselves closely to the United States, seeing American power as the guarantee of their security. But other countries have adopted a different approach. In November of last year the People’s Daily stressed the growing importance of the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) and boasted that “China‐​Russian relations remain better than Russian-U.S. ties.”

India has also indicated a desire to join the SCO, which would then unite the major countries of Eurasia in a common security organization. As P. B. Mehta, professor of law and philosophy at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, recently explained, “This war will almost certainly result in a greater anti‐​Americanism around the world and may even occasion a more concerted effort to build coalitions to challenge American hegemony.”

Indeed, this practice of power‐​balancing‐​power follows a pattern of history from ancient Greece to the modern era, when Britain confronted France, France and Britain confronted Germany, and all those countries then joined the United States to confront the Soviet Union.

The Bush administration believes it will break this pattern because of the virtue with which it will exercise its power. That conviction, however, challenges the philosophy that founded the United States: unchecked power will invariably be abused. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison famously wrote in the Federalist Papers. Because we are not angels, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition” so that the government is “unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.” Thus, when international coalitions form to oppose the United States, they will only be putting into practice the philosophy of checks and balances espoused by the American Founders.

The Bush administration’s national security strategy runs counter to the Founders’ aims another way. In his Farewell Address, President George Washington implored the American people to “avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” And yet, it is precisely this overgrown military establishment that will be needed to police an implicit American empire.

Consequently, if the United States declares it is assuming imperial responsibilities for the defense of world order, we should not be surprised if other countries conclude that this development signifies a threat to their own liberties. And if the Bush administration thinks differently, it should challenge the political legacy of our first president directly, rather than assert that it is promoting a more democratic and peaceful world.