More than fifteen years have passed since the end of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union and the United States and the world are continuing to struggle to determine how to shape global politics with only one world super power.
The Cold War, despite its ever present cloud of potential nuclear annihilation, provided a certain order to world politics. The global community mostly fell in line with one super power or the other and most global activity was undertaken with the knowledge that even small regional conflicts could force the super powers to take sides in support of allies and potentially come in conflict with each other. Consequently, the super powers were able to maintain world order albeit a tense order.
Today, no such balance exists in global politics. The U.S. is the only world super power and thus the world’s policeman. Conflicts in regions outside our historical sphere of influence have no other global voice to calm them. The United States is left to try and maintain the global peace leaving the perception of U.S. bullying and self interest where no historical alliance exists to provide moral justification for U.S. intervention.
Clearly, the world still needs U.S. leadership. In a vacuum of leadership someone will always step up to fill the void. Neither the United States nor other peaceful nations want such a void. At this point in history, what the world needs is a New Global Federalism. Not “one world government” with it’s overtones of U.S. domination or end-times prophecy, but a pragmatic relationship of nations in which the United States operates as a unifying central power and other nations operate as the sovereign states of the global community.
In a federalist arrangement, the federal government has sufficient powers to represent and unite the states, but not supplant the states. This federal arrangement, by which the central federal government exercises delegated power over some issues and the state governments exercise power over other issues, is one of the basic characteristics of the U.S. Constitution that checks governmental power.
So what should U.S. leadership look like in the coming decades? First, the global community must recognize that the United States, as the only world super power, (since China seems to lack either the capacity to act in a leadership role or the will, or perhaps both) is the only nation in a position to exercise leadership over the global community. The world must have leadership and the United States is the only country with the economic, military and moral capacity to exercise such leadership. As such, the global community must work diligently to be heard; it must exercise its own power and must be willing to sacrifice in pursuit of global political objectives. If other nations are simply going to sit on the sidelines and criticize U.S. leadership and behaviors, then they should not expect to have significant influence in events around the world. A stable global community benefits every nation, but if the U.S. is going to be the only nation sacrificing—troops, economic opportunities, and lifestyles—then the U.S. should have a disproportionate benefit from its actions. Other nations can only establish their legitimacy in the political process by demonstrating their absolute commitment to achieving the goals from which they too will benefit. Otherwise, the United States will simply end up the administrator of a global welfare state where other nations stand in line to accept handouts from the programs the United States implements.
Secondly, and more importantly, the United States must assume this role humbly. The end of the Cold War ended a period of easy political polarization and gave rise to a climate in which more nations have access to influence in global decision making. From a federalist point of view, the states got stronger. The United States must be more interested in political pragmatism–not less. If the United States, viewing itself as the only world super power, seizes the opportunity to impose its will upon the global community, it will be pursuing a role as dictator not federal-leader and will find itself vilified and alone. However, if the United States pursues its leadership role with humility, acknowledging the legitimacy of other voices and endeavors to hear the concerns of other governments, then the United States will find itself with greater influence than ever before. Humble leadership means sometimes not putting the hammer down and accepting the will of the states.
This new American leadership position can never be formalized or probably even publicly acknowledged, but it can be enacted. However, it must be enacted by the United States first, and unilaterally, beginning to act thusly in its leadership position. The United States must begin to exercise statesmanship in our dealings with other nations. The United States must invite other nations into the political process, not just to appease them, but to genuinely desire their input. The United States has never shied away from its responsibility to provide leadership and has done so even when such leadership has been difficult and unpopular. I, for one, am okay with that. I don’t feel compelled to appease the global community. Leadership has its price and for the United States that price is often paid in American blood and frequently to the displeasure of other nations. But the events of the last two decades have now created an unprecedented opportunity for a rise in U.S. power, not a decline.
I have always said that “leaders lead best who desire leadership least.” By that I mean that those who seek power for power’s sake often pursue it selfishly at the expense of the greater good and ultimately alienate those who are being led. But when leadership is exercised as a duty and an obligation born out of humility and respect then those being led are able to achieve more than they ever could have achieved on their own. Humility is not a demonstration of weakness. Humility in leadership is the demonstration of strength.