OFFSHORE BALANCING STRATEGIES, REALISM, AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM IN GEOPOLITICS
Actualizado: 31 oct 2020
Por: Álvaro Castillo
Licenciado en Ciencias Políticas y Relaciones Internacionales
Candidato a Maestría en Seguridad Global y Estudios Estratégicos en Johns Hopkins University
Nota: El siguiente contenido no representa las opiniones de ESPACIOH como una organización ni las de sus miembros, solamente representa las del autor.
America is a nation capable of maintaining global peace by assuming its military hegemonic duties across the globe. U.S. national security in the twenty-first century still demands for the exercise of strategical military presence abroad, not only to spread freedom, but for America to remain as the global dominant power. An American offshore balancing strategy could be a beneficial alternative in the future; however, this Neorealist approach that relies on a systemic distribution of power is not consistent with the security demands of the U.S. and its allies. According to the fundamental principles of Realism in International Relations, a school of thought that evinces states´ intrinsic nature to pursue self-interest, a hegemon is obliged to deter powerful hostile actors from breaching on the sovereignty of weaker nations and allies that rely on vulnerable self-help mechanisms. International anarchy must be avoided, keeping in check great power states which threaten the stability of the world order, such as Russia and China. This is a mandate for the United States of America, as dictated by the core beliefs of American Exceptionalism, a concept that defines America as the “well-wisher to Freedom” for humanity and as a beacon of hope and democracy. The Unites States´ position as the world´s leading economic and military power, as defined in the post-WW II and Cold War era, is directly dependent on its presence overseas. Hegemons are responsible for establishing boundaries that are not to be crossed for the security and wellbeing of the concert of nations. America´s retrenchment leaves an open door for revisionist states to do as they please in pursuit of their own interest, without necessarily aligning to liberal democratic values. A United States retreat from geopolitics would be a regression for humanity; hostile actors would reshape the world system without protecting freedom, hence representing an immediate threat for U.S. national security and mankind.
For more than a century the scope of U.S. foreign policy has transitioned from a regional to a global grand strategy and thus military defense alliances assembled, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to protect U.S. sovereignty and to meet the security demands of its allies. American Neorealists assume that today´s liberal world order and U.S. national interest can be safeguarded though an offshore balancing strategy; however, they ignore the fragile state of NATO. The U.S. must deploy troops abroad to deter emerging power states from promoting international anarchy and engage, when necessary, in world conflicts for both its protection and to promote political international stability. Vast opportunities come along with hegemonic foreign intervention, such as the ability to shape political alliances at ones convenience. After WW II and the fall of the Soviet Union the multipolar and bipolar systems were transformed, giving birth to a unipolar order led by the American liberal hegemony. U.S. foreign intervention in strategic areas under political and military menace is a necessity. American politicians aim to strengthen the military capabilities of its allies through mutual defense systems in order to implement an offshore military strategy. However, smaller states are still greatly dependent on American troops as a measure of deterrence. The level of exposure to foreign intervention, led by revisionist states, would drastically escalate in detriment to American allies if the U.S. withdraws its military presence from key areas in the world, such as northeast Syria. Moreover, NATO presents signs of instability and weakness. Most of its members continually fail to spend 2% of their GDP in defense and Turkey, which embodies the second largest military power in the alliance, is acquiring armament from Russia and is gradually embracing Moscow´s offerings. Furthermore, the leader of France, a country that is a long-lasting ally of the U.S. and bastion of liberty, openly criticized NATO in an interview with The Economist,i advocating for a reassessment of the alliance, pointing out how America is turning its back on its allies. Macron, in a time of uncertainty in the European Union due to Brexit and the immigration debate, is increasingly skeptical of Articles 5’s effectiveness, which even led him to advocate for a closer relationship between the EU and Russia. An offshore balancing strategy is neither realistic nor serious; in fact, it is an irresponsible approach that would result in global anarchy. Without U.S. military presence on the ground to deter or exercise force against revisionist states, American allies abroad, especially those that hold a crucial geopolitical position, will be exposed to regional expansionist states that will exploit the power vacuum left by America´s retreat to advance their national interest.
The U.S. military became the world´s police after decades of intervening in overseas conflicts not only to spread freedom, but to avoid the creation of power vacuums that would lead to international anarchy. Democratic values were instilled by a liberal hegemon, yet an American retrenchment would bring to ascendance new untrusted power states, which neglect the rule of law and liberal values instilled by the U.S. across borders. A combination of Wilsonian Idealism and Bismarck´s Realpolitik will better position America as a nation capable of fulfilling its duty of spreading democracy to the world without overextending or portraying itself as a hostile actor. The deployment of American troops does imply a massive economic burden, billions of dollars that could be destined for welfare, healthcare, and infrastructure programs needed at a national level, yet that is the price a hegemon must pay if it wants to keep dictating the “rules of the game.” John Quincy Adams´ description of the U.S. as the “well-wisher to Freedom and independence of all” is the epitome of what we know today as American Exceptionalism, a vision that describes America for what is ought to be, a doctrine that is consistent with the 21st century security demands of the United States. Moreover, it is the Democracy in America-1948, which French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about, that must be exported and safeguarded, especially today in a globalized world. A retrenchment policy would be catastrophic and irreversible for the American people, as their power would be immediately absorbed. Furthermore, their powerbroker position would be replaced by revisionist nations in different regions, such as in the Middle East.
Revisionist countries like Russia and Turkey will pursue their national interest in the absence of American soldiers in crucial zones in the Middle East, producing havoc across the region. As soon as Erdogan saw a window in 2019, granted by President Trump´s decision to call back hundreds of troops, he went on a free military campaign on northeast Syria with the “claim” of impeding the creation of an ISIS corridor. The U.S. is, besides abandoning its Kurdish allies, relinquishing its powerbroker position to a foe, such as Russia. Putin, a ruthless and authoritarian leader with expansionist ambitions as evinced in Ukraine, along with long-lasting ruler Bashar al Assad, who used chemical weapons against his own people, will now have a greater ability to shape the destiny of the Middle East. Untrusted nations and their proxies, such as Iran and Hezbollah, will dictate their own rules. The U.S. and its allies will regret America´s retreat, as it is more beneficial, as argued by historian Niall Ferguson, to have a liberal world order than a system crafted by an emerging power with different political values. American isolationism will bread chaos. After thousands were killed in the Balkans due to the UN Security Council’s inactivity and President Clinton’s lethargic response, the U.S. successfully helped Croatia defeat Serbia; it intervened in Kosovo and stopped the ethnic cleansing. Serbia was saved from the suffering of a continuing dictatorship, this nation transitioned into a democracy; “The West demonstrated a capacity to act, not merely for the sake of humanitarian goals but also as an act of geopolitical hygiene (Stephens 213).ii The same atrocities can occur in the Middle East and Ukraine if the U.S. retreats. The American public is repulsed by military occupation; people are growing more intolerant of the intervention of their government in distant regions, not only Democrats, but even Republicans. Nevertheless, they do not understand the irreversible repercussions of a retreat. America must police the globe, enforce rules, and act with expediency wherever conflict arises; if not, the second power in line will replace its hegemonic position. The prosperity that prevails in America today is a privilege that should not be taken for granted. The hegemonic power attained by America was not acquired overnight, it took sacrifice and the deployment of troops to keep in check power states that threaten the liberal order.
Nowadays global political stability, freedom, and democracy are heavily dependent on America´s deterrence mechanisms and actions abroad; U.S. isolationism will result on the undisputed rise of China as the military and economic hegemon. China is aggressively expanding its influence across the globe, surreptitiously implementing economic and diplomatic actions to justify expansionist and military objectives; this pernicious behavior is seen all over the world. Today China continues to build artificial territories within the Senkaku Islands for military purposes, challenging the Japanese administration, along with igniting territorial disputes for the detriment of maritime commerce. Moreover, China has breached the sovereignty of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia in the South China Sea, invoking historical legal claims to obtain control of an extremely important geopolitical area were $3.37 trillion and 40% of global liquefied natural gas transit.iii All the diplomatic channels available to restrengthen the U.S. position in global politics must be opened. A Détente approach must be implemented in an increasingly neglected Latin America, a region under political unrest led by social groups protesting against neoliberalism, where numerous countries have shifted from a U.S. to a Chinese economic control. Power is ought to be maintained, not to be given away. If the U.S. retreats from being the central geopolitical influence, Americans will be the first ones to regret it, followed by the rest of the world. The progressive decay of the “Pax Americana” will take place, along with the rise of dangerous opponents, and the collapse of American alliances overseas, if the U.S. ceases to protect its allies and interests abroad. From Japan to Taiwan, to Israel and Saudi Arabia, allies are becoming increasingly skeptical about the willingness of America to maintain its security commitment with them. A policy based on disengagement and inactivity creates chaos through different critical regions in the world. An American retreat grants an open door for U.S. allies to start to evaluate the option of turning their back on them in search of appeasing the demands of emerging powers. This has happened even on America´s own turf, which is a clear “violation” of the Monroe Doctrine. China has spread its economic and diplomatic influence to allure various nations in Latin America to work with them. For example, Nicaragua´s biggest infrastructure projects are financed through China; the Dominican Republic and Panama, among others, have shifted their alliances with Taiwan for the vast economic opportunities that China can bring to the table. In Eurasia, the Chinese have developed the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to connect 61% of the world population.iv China has built a sophisticated diplomatic and economic apparatus, fueled by Chinese capital, private firms, and enterprises that offer funding mechanisms, such as Engineering, Procurements, Construction, and Finance models, to build dams, roads, ports, renewable energy, recycling and water treatment projects around the world. Hans Morgenthau would refer to this as the nature of international politics; “what looks in retrospect like treachery and immorality was then little more than an elegant maneuver, a daring piece of strategy, or a finely contrived tactical movement all executed according to the rules of the game which all players recognized as binding (Morgenthau 139);v” except today the U.S., as China is outmaneuvering them and undermining the liberal hegemony they created. This is modern diplomacy, exploited at its finest by China to cover their expansionist agenda, a recipe that will undeniably lead them to succeed if the U.S. decides to retreat.
America´s military and economic goals were established as means to both idealistic and realistic ends in the international system, such as spreading democracy and maintaining its power. America´s retreat will result in a power vacuum in different regions, creating international anarchy, countries will confront each other worldwide to advance their national interest. This is the natural realist behavior that would prevail without a hegemon´s willingness to promote international equilibrium through deterrence; the U.S. is the holder of the balance of power. Nonetheless, the U.S. is a reluctant guardian, every day more convinced of pulling its onshore presence in key areas, ignoring the fact that China or any regional revisionist state will immediately fill its place, and this nation will not necessarily align with liberal democratic principles. I must admit that there is an alternative scenario built over time as suggested by experts like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt,vi a system of regional alliances that gradually puts in check emerging powers. Diplomacy and economic sanctions are also very promising, however, we cannot entirely depend on them yet. NATO´s future is uncertain, Putin is grappling to gain more control over Syria and Turkey, and China is the fearless military, economic, and political competitor of the U.S., becoming more powerful and influential across the globe. A U.S. military retreat would be inconsistent with the 21st century demands of America´s national security interest; this in fact would be the first time in history where a hegemon would simply relinquish its power without going to war, but as the result of erroneous political decisions. America is a beacon of freedom and democracy; its military presence overseas is required to maintain stability and relative peace across the globe. A U.S. military retreat from areas of crucial geopolitical interest would gradually lead to the decay of the world´s democracies, representing a moral doomsday for humanity, forever changing the destiny of mankind and sentencing it to advance in a bleak and dangerous future.
i “Emmanuel Macron Warns Europe: NATO Is Becoming Brain-Dead.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 7 Nov. 2019, www.economist.com/europe/2019/11/07/emmanuel-macron-warns-europe-nato-is-becoming- brain-dead. ii Stephens, Bret. America in Retreat: the New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder. Penguin Books, 2015. iii “Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea | Global Conflict Tracker.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 8 Nov. 2019, www.cfr.org/interactive/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/territorial-disputes- south-china-sea. iv “How Will the Belt and Road Initiative Advance China's Interests?” ChinaPower Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 18 Oct. 2019, chinapower.csis.org/china-belt-and-road-initiative/. v Morgenthau, Hans Joachim. Politics among Nations: the Struggle for Power and Peace. Knopf, 1948. vi Feaver, Peter D., et al. “Should America Retrench?” Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs Magazine, 29 Nov. 2016, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/should-america-retrench.
-En este artículo la palabra "America" en inglés hace referencia a Estados Unidos de América y no al continente americano.
-Ensayo escrito en noviembre de 2019