Tuesday, August 29, 2006

“Progressive realism” as an alternative to neo-conservatism

American citizens are beginning to see the Bush administration’s foreign policy for what it is – an expensive disaster that has weakened and isolated the United States making us more vulnerable to attack not only by ragtag bands of terrorists but other nations such as China. (The latter of which we need to pay careful attention to during the next decade or two.) The smart use of hard and soft power during the Cold War that resulted in the eventual prevailing of the West has been thrown out the window by neo-conservative ideologues who, contrary to liberal internationalists who believed the U.S. should use its power to promote what is good, believe the promotion of U.S. power by itself is what is good. The neo-conservative view is as arrogant as it is corrupting and self-defeating. It is corrupting because means and ends become completely confused. It is self-defeating because it views power as a military exercise only and because it clings to the paleo-conservative isolationist impulse to go it alone and avoid association with international institutions.

This is not to say liberal internationalism didn’t go astray during the Cold War. It did – Vietnam and several smaller conflicts in the Third World are testimony to that. But in Europe, the threat of hard power (NATO) and the use of soft power (the Marshall Plan, democratic promotion and cultural exchanges) checked the Soviet threat there and the emergence eventually of Western Europe from the ruins of WW II as a strong counter weight to the Soviets is where the Cold War was won. The craziness that occurred in the Third World was less important in the over all scheme than Europe.

Disenchantment with Bush foreign policies is an important step for the public but it isn’t enough. There need to be alternative frameworks of foreign relations presented. Joseph Nye suggests the Democratic Party follow the recommendations of Robert Wright and others to have come to call “progressive realism.” He writes,
… how should America use its unprecedented power, and what role should
values play? Realists warn against letting values determine policy, but
democracy and human rights have been an inherent part of American foreign policy for two centuries. The Democratic Party could solve this problem by adopting the suggestion of Robert Wright and others that it pursue "progressive realism." What type of foreign policy would ensue?

It would start with an understanding of the strength and limits of
American power. The US is the only superpower, but preponderance is not empire
or hegemony. America can influence but not control other parts of the world.
Power always depends upon context, and the context of world politics today is
like a three-dimensional chess game. The top board of military power is
unipolar; but on the middle board of economic relations the world is multipolar;
and on the bottom board of transnational relations - comprising issues such as
climate change, illegal drugs, avian flu, and terrorism - power is chaotically

Military power is a small part of the solution in responding to
these new threats on the bottom board of international relations. Resolving
these requires cooperation among governments and international institutions.
Even on the top board (where America represents nearly half of world defense
expenditures), the military is supreme in the global commons of air, sea, and
space, but more limited in its ability to control nationalistic populations in
occupied areas.

A progressive realist policy would also stress the importance of
developing an integrated grand strategy that blends "hard" military power with
"soft" attractive power, creating "smart" power of the sort that won the Cold
War. America needs to use hard power against terrorists, but it cannot hope to
win the struggle against terrorism unless it gains the hearts and minds of
moderates. The misuse of hard power (as at Abu Ghraib or Haditha) produces new terrorist recruits.

Today, the US has no such integrated strategy for combining hard
and soft power. Many official instruments of soft power - public diplomacy,
broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief,
military-to-military contacts - are scattered around the government, and there
is no overarching strategy, much less a common budget, that even tries to
integrate them with hard power into a coherent national security strategy. The
US spends roughly 500 times more on its military than it does on broadcasting
and exchanges. Is this the right proportion? And how should the government
relate to the non-official generators of soft power - everything from Hollywood
to Harvard to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - that emanate from civil

A progressive realist policy must advance the promise of "life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" enshrined in American tradition. Such a
grand strategy would have four key pillars: (1) providing security for the US
and its allies; (2) maintaining a strong domestic and international economy; (3)
avoiding environmental disasters, such as pandemics and global flooding; and (4)
encouraging liberal democracy and human rights at home and, where feasible,

This does not mean imposing American values by force. Democracy
promotion is better accomplished by attraction than coercion, and it takes time
and patience. The US would be wise to encourage the gradual evolution of
democracy, but in a manner that accepts cultural diversity.

Such a grand strategy would focus on four major threats. Probably
the greatest danger is the intersection of terrorism with nuclear materials.
Preventing this requires policies to fight terrorism and promote
non-proliferation, better protection of nuclear materials, stability in the
Middle East, and attention to failed states.

The second major challenge is facing the rise of a hostile hegemon,
as Asia gradually regains the three-fifths share of the world economy that
corresponds to its three-fifths share of the world's population. This requires a
policy that integrates China as a responsible global stakeholder, but hedges
against possible hostility by maintaining close relations with Japan, India, and
other countries in the region.

The third major threat is an economic depression, which could be
triggered by financial mismanagement, or by a crisis that disrupts global access
to oil flows from the Gulf - home to two-thirds of global oil reserves. This
will require policies that gradually reduce dependence on oil, which also take
into consideration that the American economy cannot be isolated from global
energy markets.

The fourth major threat is ecological breakdowns, such as pandemics
and negative climate change. This will require prudent energy policies as well
as greater cooperation through international institutions such as the World
Health Organization.

A progressive realist policy should look to the long-term evolution
of world order. The US should realize its responsibility for producing global
public goods. In the 19th century, Britain defined its national interest broadly
to include promoting freedom of the seas, an open international economy, and a
stable European balance of power. Such common goods benefited Britain, but also
other countries, contributing to Britain's legitimacy and soft power.

With the US now in Britain's place, it should play a similar role
by promoting an open international economy and common efforts, mediating in
international disputes, and developing international rules and institutions.
Because globalization will spread technical capabilities, and information
technology will allow broader participation in global communications, American
preponderance will become less dominant later this century. Progressive realism
requires the US to prepare for that future by defining its national interest in
a way that benefits all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

pro-democracy activist and US Citizen detained in Vietnam. afp article here: