The Return of Empires (III)

Part I

Part II

«Smart power» in the service of the American empire

The dissociation of the United States from a number of international problems by shifting these problems onto allies and delegating authority to them, a result of the United States’ «imperial overheating», is based on the currently popular concept of «smart power», the very emergence of which suggests that America’s former sources of power have been exhausted… The time when America’s leadership went unquestioned has passed. Nowadays, maintaining leadership demands considerable intellectual and political efforts from the rulers of the American empire.

At the official level, the name of this concept was first heard in a speech given by Hillary Clinton at the Senate on 13 January 2009 before she confirmed her candidacy for the post of Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton called for the use of «smart power» in order to maintain America’s leadership in the world, referring to the full range of tools at America’s disposal – «diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural – picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation».

The idea of «smart power» is a development of the «soft power» concept formulated in 1990 by Harvard professor and politician Joseph Nye, who successfully served as chairman of the National Intelligence Council and was a candidate for National Security Advisor in the team of John Kerry, who went on to lose in the presidential elections. Their closeness suggests that the new Secretary of State is making use of his former colleague’s suggestions with much greater enthusiasm than Hillary Clinton.

In 2004, Nye’s ideas were finalised in his book «Soft Power». Nye’s principal idea is that the United States ought to achieve its stated objectives in the international arena through «engagement» rather than «coercion». Hence the need to use social and cultural values as tools of foreign policy. The dominant power should be attractive in everything it does and offer its own example of development guidelines to others. The theory was well received in Washington and has been actively used in some places, for example in the «colour revolutions» and during the «Arab Spring», although it has since been shown as inadequate since its effect is prolonged and not always obvious. In addition, nobody was prepared to give up «hard power» based on force.

Whereupon Nye suggested combining both concepts within a universal «smart power». In 2006, the renowned research centre CSIS organised the Bipartisan Commission on Smart Power, headed by Joseph Nye and «neocon» Richard Armitage. In 2007, the Commission presented a paper entitled “A Smarter, More Secure America”, which laid out the principles for reorganising world order whilst preserving America’s power.

The concept of «smart power» gave the theory of «soft power» some strategic direction. Its leitmotif was the need for a balanced combination of the resources of both types of power, «soft» and «hard». Of course, everybody already understood what the «carrot and stick» policy is all about. The achievement of modern theoreticians has been the detailed elaboration and operationalisation of ideas that are, by and large, clear to everybody. The concept of «smart power» is not just a synthesis of soft and hard power (combining public diplomacy mechanisms with military interventions, for example), but a new philosophy of interrelations with other powers. Its bottom line is that America’s leadership position should not be realised through the single-handed resolution of international problems, but through the organisation of joint actions. Which, for example, is how America operated during the Libyan war; experts called this «leadership from behind».

«America must learn to do things that others want and cannot do themselves, and to do so in a cooperative fashion», the document reads. In the new approaches, it is also possible to detect a division of the leadership concept into two elements – spacial (control over territories) and functional (superiority in addressing problems on a global scale). The US is prepared to give up part of its spatial leadership for the sake of preserving its functional leadership in all key issues of international life.

The concept of «smart power» allows for the fact that power resources are being redistributed in the modern world and new centres of power are emerging. A complex, multi-tiered cobweb of actors is replacing the pyramidal world order with a hierarchical structure. The hierarchy between them is being preserved, just not as rigidly formalised as before. The one proving to be the most influential in this world is the one who is the most involved in widespread and interlinking networks. As another of the creators of the «smart power» concept, Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, noted, «The state with the most connections will be the central player, able to set the global agenda, and unlock innovation and sustainable growth».  Slaughter is the one responsible for the idea of creating «a league of democracies», a kind of super-empire on federalist principles whose members should manage the world through joint efforts. Under Bill Clinton, and on the initiative of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, an alliance like this was even established, but was not developed any further for a number of reasons, including the fact that at that time, the US was not seriously ready to share its authority to manage the world, even with its closest allies. Time has inexorably brought them back to this problem.

In line with the concept of «smart power», in 2010 Barack Obama announced the United States’ commitment to the multilateral (read: in partnership with their closest allies and satellites) resolution of all world problems and international conflicts in their newly outlined National Security Strategy. The document states that, «…we must recognize that no one nation – no matter how powerful – can meet global challenges alone». In addition, their willingness to share the burden of maintaining world order was not postulated as a way to democratise international relations, but as a method to preserve «America’s leadership» in the world under new conditions, «based upon mutual interests and mutual respect», obviously. Such «engagement» is expected to begin with their «closest friends and allies – from Europe to Asia; from North America to the Middle East», among which were named Great Britain, France and Germany.

An active transition to the adoption of this policy was clearly timed to coincide with the beginning of the president’s second mandate. In this respect, US Vice-President Joseph Biden’s speech at the International Security Conference held in Munich in February 2013 is revealing. Biden confirmed that the US was switching its attention to the Asia-Pacific Region, having called upon their European allies to be more active in their zone of responsibility «with the unfailing support of the USA». According to Biden’s assurances, «Europe remains the cornerstone and catalyst for America’s engagement with the world». Biden also spoke of the United States’ support for democratic states in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. Having outlined the claims to America’s newly-established spheres of influence in this way, Biden condemned the notion itself, as usual, but in a rather remarkable way. He declared that America will not recognise the right of any state to have «a sphere of influence», linking this to the non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. And this means that the USA is not going to concede its own positions in the Caucasus alongside Caspian Oil and will continue to regard the post-Soviet world as a geopolitical space, the consolidation of which will not be tolerated.

In Europe, Biden’s speech was seen as a bid to redistribute its spheres of influence. The German newspaper Die Welt wrote: «Europeans are anticipating that, in the future, nothing will remain as it is now. Either with NATO or without this organisation, Washington is no longer able to secure them against the consequences of the weakening of their leadership role and their disorientation. The new world order is worsening the disease identified as «imperial overstretch». At the same time, a new balance is taking shape in the Pacific Region, and without its naval, air force and cyber power, it will be difficult for America to oppose the Chinese Middle Kingdom». According to Die Welt, it has fallen to Joseph Biden to «take Europeans on a journey towards the Pacific Ocean and warn them that America is no longer able, and no longer wants, to carry the burden of maintaining world order alone».

The policy of delegating authority to allies or vassals was discernible in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress on 12 February, in which he set forth his policy priorities for a second term. Having placed the main emphasis on resolving pressing social and economic problems being faced by America, the President reported that over the next year, 34,000 American servicemen will return home from Afghanistan. «This drawdown will continue and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over», Obama said. From the President’s address it follows that, from now on, America will not wage war on terrorists abroad: «to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll need to help countries like Yemen, and Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali».

And so a formula has been found: «as in Mali»! In other words, from now on America will work towards others fighting for their interests, like the «conqueror of Timbuktu», François Hollande, while they themselves will prefer to exercise «leadership from behind».

To be continued…

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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