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Foreign Policy

Historic Changes Encourage U.S. to Learn to Share with Others

Jan 07 , 2016
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

Whether or not the United States has started to decline is debatable. However, there is no doubt that the US is still the only superpower in the world. The US leads the world in economy and military force. It occupies the first place in venture capital and global research and development funding. It has one of the world’s largest and most influential financial markets, and the US dollar is the currency most used in international transactions and the world’s foremost reserve currency. In recent years after the international financial crisis, the US economy has given the best performance among developed economies. Based on these facts and other related assessments, the US has continued to exercise, alone or with a few military allies when necessary, leadership of the world.

At the same time, the world has undergone historic changes in the last 70 years or so. In terms of its comparative national strength with other countries, the US is not what it was in the days between the end of World War II and the start of this century. In the last 10 or 20 years, the share of US GDP in the world’s total has obviously shrunk, with the current share standing below 23 percent. The US has lost quite a few first positions in international competitions, such as the first commodities trading partner and first destination for foreign investment. In this sense, it may be proper to say that the US has started to lag behind some other emerging and developing countries in the speed of development in some sectors of economy and political culture. The ongoing historic changes in the world situation and their impact have imposed limitations on US capacity of continuing its unilateral superpower diplomacy. In 2015, the following significant new developments typically demonstrated the fact that the US could not act alone or with the help of only a few military allies to effectively deal with complicated world issues.

The first is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an international agreement on the nuclear program of Iran, reached in Vienna in July. The experience owes its success to the fact that the US worked together not only with its allies, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, but also with Iran, China and Russia. The second is the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change, the text of which represented a consensus of representatives of the 196 parties. The cooperation and coordination among the US, China and France have contributed greatly to the success of the consensus reached at the negotiations. The third is the UN roadmap for a peace process in Syria endorsed by the Security Council in December, calling for parties concerned in Syria to conduct peace talks in January 2016.  It is widely believed that it is a new start and that most likely, serious progress would be made as the US has narrowed differences with other UN Security Council members on issues of the Syrian presidency and how to effectively crack down on terrorists of the “Islamic State” (IS). The fourth is the US agreement to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reform plan to boost the representation of emerging economies at the IMF, after a delay of five years.

The above-mentioned meaningful developments in 2015 have told the world that the US has realized that it could not reach all its policy goals by acting alone on its own will, and that it has no other alternative but to seek the help of not only its allies but also non-allies. Reflections on the successes or progress made with regard to the above-mentioned issues tell us the following:

The first is the strengthened role of the UN, especially its Security Council. But there is still a gap between the US policy tendency with regard to the role of the UN and the crucial role the UN should play as demanded by many other countries.

The second is the US failure to endorse the historic changes in the world situation; its strategy and tactics coping with them are still passive and hesitant. There is no change in its policy to hold down the rapid development of some targeted emerging and developing countries, though the US often expresses its welcome to the peaceful rise of China and other emerging countries. It does not fully believe that cooperation with the emerging and developing countries is essential and in its best interest.

The third is the US over-emphasis on reliance on its strategy of military alliance and superior military power to “lead” the world, which has proved to be counter-productive in an age with peace and development as the main theme. The denial of a military option by the US to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue is a case in point, and it is believed that on the Syria issue, a political and diplomatic solution, after a period of hard work, will prevail in the end.

The fourth is the US differences with other countries on the issue of sovereign equality and non-interference in the internal affairs of any sovereign state. The US so far has not learned necessary lessons from the failures and damages resulting from its interventions, either by military invasion, or by means of stimulating peaceful “color revolution” to change the governments of other sovereign states.

The advance of the tide of the times is momentous and irreversible. For the interest of the US and the whole world, the US has to make continued efforts and learn to work with others to deal with the complicated world challenges, otherwise the successes and progress already made could be forfeited.

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