Would a "concert of powers" strategy be better than "American hegemony"?

In this article, commentator Michael Lind briefly expounds ideas that appear in much fuller form in his recent book, The American Way of Strategy. Lind asserts that since the end of the Cold War presidents of both parties have been committed to “American hegemony” – the idea that the U.S. should be not only the world’s strongest military power but the only one that matters, to the extent that potential rivals such as Germany and Japan should be kept visibly under our protective umbrella to discourage them from building up their own independent military establishments. Our interventions in the first Gulf War and in Yugoslavia were essentially “reassurance wars” to show our allies that they can rely on American protection.

Lind argues that hegemony is the geopolitical strategy that dare not speak its name. From the article:

Lind is by no means a leftist or pacifist, BTW. Another of his books, Vietnam: The Necessary War, argues for exactly the thesis the title implies.

In this article, he goes on to argue that a “concert of powers” strategy would be better in the long run than the alternatives:

Is this judgement correct? Could we and should we make permanent almost-allies of China and Russia and India?

Allies are temporary, and often so are enemies. For now, Japan, Irsael, and Australia seem safe. Perhaps France can come into the fold.

The UK seems to be on the verge of falling into a disaster, so that’s about to change soon. With Harper, Canada is coming back a bit from the depths.

France is already our ally, don’t forget. They might not have supported the Iraq War, but they remain in NATO.

Hm? What disaster?

AFAICT, this isn’t the question you meant to ask. Lind doesn’t seem to be talking about how we should pick “allies”, but whether and how we should recognize other nations as fellow “poles” of global power, rather than just continuing to regard ourselves as an ally-supported hegemon in a basically unipolar world.

My take: Well duh. Did anybody really imagine that the unipolar world could last forever? It’s not a question of whether we shift to power-sharing, but when.

This is how I understood Lind’s argument as well. I am also interested in his distinction between a “balance of power” accomodation vs. “concert of power” active cooperation. The latter, in theory, could be accomplished by the UN, but the charter of that institution implicity granted members of the Security Council de facto hegemonic power; in short, it doesn’t provide an incentive for any Security Council member to build a “concert of power”.

The need to eliminate the unipolar view is obvious; the “misleading public rationales” for preserving it have grown so egregious over the past two decades that the US is in danger of becoming the Emperor with no clothes. It would be wise to develop a different option before that day comes, but US leaders rightly believe the American public would find the idea so unpalatable that they would be voted out of power, most likely in favor of someone who supports their jingoism.

Thus, the question is how to pursue such a strategy, as I don’t believe simply “leveling with the American people” is going to work. Using the G8 economic group as a springboard to common political cause may be the best solution, one that would no doubt bring an emerging China to the table (IMO China and India are essential to any “concert” strategy). However, the G8 hasn’t really accomplished much in terms of their stated objectives (e.g. Kyoto, debt relief), though that is no doubt caused at least in part by foot-dragging on the part of the US. It’s shortsighted IMO, but I would expect nothing else from most US politicians…

A concert of powers is frightening to me. I don’t think that a major world war can get started without two or more nations having competitive military strength, and I’m not ready to rely on “peace through mutually assured destruction” as a way of life again.

American military hegemony doesn’t seem so bad. The world democracies are relatively stable. I’m not too afraid of massive wars that engulf most of the world and end up with millions of people dead. I guess we probably ought to be afraid if America starts to make a habit of throwing its military around against other democracies, but for the first time in history it seems like the balance of military power isn’t more military power from different nations, but rather the citizens of a freely elected government.

Of course it can. The unipower can start them, or the smaller powers can form alliances strong enough to challenge it. If America were to go theocratic or fascist, how safe would having a unipower world look then ?

Tell it to the Iraqis. It only looks benign on this end of the gun.

Are you saying the lives of people in non-democracies don’t count ? And what makes you think America won’t attack a democracy if it gets more and more imperialistic ? After all, we’ve overthrown elected leaders before.

I do think we need a multipower world; power corrupts, and America is becoming more and more corrupted by it’s power. And from a purely self interested view, playing unipower is a major drain without much return; I seriously doubt America can remain a unipower without ruining itself - which would remove it’s unipower status anyway.

Compared to some of the alternatives, certainly not. The trouble is that American hegemony is not magically self-sustaining. We have to expend an awful lot of resources and sacrifice a lot of good will for the sake of not only maintaining our own military superiority, but actively undermining the efforts of other countries to rival us.

Moreover, our own citizens are not willing to acknowledge and support our efforts to sabotage potential rivals. As the OP’s linked article points out, our leaders have to create “misleading public rationales” to justify these efforts on different grounds. We like being the global leader, but we are not willing openly to commit to being the global bully who will do whatever it takes to make sure that nobody can seriously compete with us for economic or military leadership.

I like the notion of a concert of democratic powers.

Yeah. I see France as the cello section, don’t you? :wink:

But what about a concert that includes non-democratic powers such as China and (let’s be honest) Russia?

Nah. French horns.


Of course I’m not saying that people in non-democracies don’t count. I’m just pointing out that democracies seem to be more successful and stable, and that there isn’t a whole lot of fighting going on between successful, stable nations.

I’m also not arguing that America should overthrow elected leaders, or that it was ever justified in doing so. However, I think that the fewer massive military machines exist in the world, the better. In the absence of the possibility of zero imperialistic armies, I’d say one is the next best choice.

What I’d prefer is a concert of democratic powers, with an offer of membership open to nations which become democratic (to some acceptable objective standard of democracy, impartially observed).

If the “Concert” had a preponderance of world power, this would act as an incentive to other nations such as China and Russia - to adopt the system of goverance I believe to be most benign of those currently available. Those on the outside of the “Concert” would want in, and perhaps would, in pursuit of national self-interest, enact reforms.

Doubtful. Rulers with lots of power typically don’t just go handing back to their people because they’re shown how much better off they would be.

Actually, I think this would be a good idea.

Not on the ruler, no. But the incentive is there and it may exert some influence over a longer time-frame - and on the ruled.

As in, “we can languish under ‘benevolent’ rule of Mr. Dictator and be subject to the “Concert of Powers”, or, by getting rid of the dictator - we can join them, and get effective protection from national enemies/have a say in major world decisions”.

It adds some “reward” to the risks and rewards calculation involved. Which may not be decisive, but is at least a step in the right direction.

But, as it stands now, the democracies do not have a preponderance of world power to that overwhelming a degree, and Russia and China are unlikely to join in any concert conditional upon their democratization; we need to take them as they are.

I like the idea of this Concert, but I agree with BG in that we can’t force every member government to become a democracy. To do so would display the same arrogance our fearless leader is displaying when he says we can “fix” Iraq. Perhaps we could simply require certain quality of life standards as the criteria for joining the Concert? I have in mind things like:

-Low crime rate
-Low unemployment rate
-Compliance with environmental standards
-Low infant mortality rate
-Low poverty rate

Basically if Country X can take it’s x-ocracy (whatever it may be) and make sure the people are well-fed, housed, employed, and healthy, they can be a member of the Concert.

I dunno. Russia and China are very unlikely to act together, as their traditional interests directly clash. The democracies acting in concert clearly have a preponderance of world power of either one or the other of them.

To allow any such nation into the “concert” while not being a democracy would I fear be to undermine the “concert” frim the start - we already have a perfectly good institution that contains all the powers: namely, the UN.