The United States not only lost its strategic patience with North Korea, but with the global order.
‘Hard’ American power is deployed.
In this article, I have a closer look – a somewhat cynical look – at the power of the United States: How it was applied in the past, and how it is used by the current American leadership in efforts to maintain and to increase its influence at the global stage.
American power and influence are closely related to the (functioning of the) current international order – the United Nations, which was established by means of the Second World War – the European Union (an off spring of American power and influence), and NATO (the United States’ its most central alliance to ensure security and dominance, during the period 1945-1991).
My research suggest that the current international order will become increasingly dysfunctional (as was the case with its predecessors), and that the United Nation’s dysfunctionality, the European Union’s fragmentation, and NATO’s perceived obsolesce are related phenomena that will (further) reinforce each other; the current American leadership no longer seems to consider these institutions and arrangements key interests, and no longer seems to aspire to preserve them. These developments are a consequence of a broader reorientation – redefinition – of American interests, which is currently underway.
The ambitions and ‘maneuvering’ of the current American leadership expose that – despite the sincere efforts of some of President’s Trump’s predecessors – the international order, alliances and international institutions – are (were?) supposed to especially serve American interests. This should not come as a surprise, when the Realist School of International Relations is believed.
How did we get here?
During the period 1495 – 1939, Europe was the core of the (International) System, and produced – dominated – the System’s war dynamics. During this period, the (European) System produced a finite-time singularity dynamic that was accompanied by four accelerating war cycles, which in 1939 led to the System’s collapse. At that point, the (European) anarchistic System could no longer regulate the infinite amounts of tensions it produced; European states had become too connected to implement a new order in an anarchistic ‘setting’.
The fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945) constituted a phase transition which led to the simultaneous implementation of non-anarchistic structures in Europe (‘organized’ in two blocs), and a first international order at a global scale of the System (the United Nations).
Because of the phase transition, the core of the System – European states- lost ‘control’ – dominance – over the non-core (‘the rest of the world’); it should be reminded, that during the early 20th Century European states controlled circa 90% of the world’s territories, through their ‘colonies’. The Atlantic Charter (signed in 1941) brought an end to these European practices, and granted self-determination to (former) colonies and their populations.
The Atlantic Charter.
This system of control (based on European submission) was replaced by the first global international order – the United Nations – which was implemented by means of the Second World War (the fourth systemic war, 1939-1945), which ‘followed’ the European order’s collapse in 1939. From 1946 onwards interactions in the (now global) System were regulated by fundamentally different principles.
TWO DISTINCT PERIODS
The period 1945 – present, can be divided in two fundamentally different periods: (1) from 1945 until 1991 – known as the ‘Cold War’ – and (2) from 1991 – until the present. Both periods were (are) characterized by fundamentally different (war) dynamics.
During the period 1945-1991, the United Nations order was ‘in place’, and the System’s (war) dynamics were dominated by the intense rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union. This period is also referred to as the ‘Cold War’, when both ‘super powers’ created a deadlock by threatening each other’s destruction with their nuclear (second strike) capabilities.
During the period 1945-1991, the United States and the Soviet Union functioned as ‘lynchpins’: Both superpowers neutralized parts of Europe (respectively Western and Eastern Europe) and by doing so integrated Europe in the new global order (the UnitedNations), and ‘used’ the respective blocs they controlled to promote their own interests.
The deadlock not only resulted in the ossification of the System ‘s development at a global scale, but also allowed Western European states to establish structures and arrangements that ensured their economic cooperation and integration, consistent with American interests.
Due to demands made on the Soviet Union by security requirements related to the intense rivalry with the United States, and the Soviet Union’s inability to ensure sufficient economic growth and progress, it lost control over its ‘bloc’ (Eastern Europe, starting in 1989), and itself collapsed in 1991.
Collapse of the Berlin Wall.
THE IMMEDIATE EFFECTS OF THE SOVIET UNION’S COLLAPSE
The collapse of the Soviet Union, had a number of immediate effects:
(1) The Soviet Union lost control over its ‘bloc’, and retracted to its original domain and power base (Russia).
(2) Eastern European states (former members of the Soviet Union’s bloc) connected to Western European states and institutions (including NATO), and eagerly joined efforts to establish a European order based on cooperation and integration.
(3) The (now global) System resumed chaotic non-systemic war dynamics, and its dynamics became more volatile and unpredictable.
(4) The United States ‘retracted’ its military capabilities from Europe (‘mission accomplished’, was the assumption), and refocused to other areas of (more) interest and potential (especially Asia)
(5) Russia was temporarily pre-occupied with re-establishing its internal ‘balance’, but over time intensified its efforts to re-establish (at least) its former sphere of influence, it had acquired control over, by means of the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945). The expansion of NATO and of the European Union were perceived as threats, to its already diminished power and status.
Russia was temporarily pre-occupied with itself, providing a ‘strategic pause’ to Europe.
These ‘immediate’ effects were (and are) not without significant long-term impacts on the development of various structures and arrangements in the System.
To get a better understanding of these effects, a closer look at the design and implementation of the first global order – the United Nations – is helpful.
THE UNITED NATIONS PERCEIVED AS A ‘DEAL’
The United Nations is the outcome of the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945), and can be considered a ‘deal’ between the dominant powers – especially the United States and the Soviet Union – that was produced by this systemic war.
It is possible to distinguish between two categories of dominant powers: (1) the United States and the Soviet Union, because of their defining impact on the outcome of the war and (2) Great Britain, France (and later China) which could not be ignored because of their (remaining and potential) influence on the new order’s functioning, but who only played a secondary role in the outcome of the Second World War (and the defeat of Germany and Japan).
At a closer look the new order – the United Nations – consists of a number of ‘sub’ – underlying deals:
(1) The ‘central’ deal ’embedded’ in the new international order (the United Nations), was that agreement was reached between the United States (seconded by especially Great Britain) and the Soviet Union, that global influence would be ‘shared’ by these two super powers, and that both could wield influence in Europe (through their control over respectively Western and Eastern Europe), and in Asia.
Both super powers controlled ‘Europe’, and because of their global interests (and ambitions), both super powers acted as lynchpins between Europe and the rest of the world. The lynchpin function of the United States and the Soviet Union (and the control they had established over Europe) ensured that European states could – without causing any issues – integrate in (and accept) the first global order (the United Nations).
(2) Although Great Britain and France both lost their dominant positions, and (eventually) their colonies, as was ensured by the United States and laid down in the Atlantic Charter in 1941, the United States ensured that both ‘Great Powers’ (Great Britain and France) acquired a privileged status in the new global order (permanent membership of the Security Council, (later) legal possession of nuclear capabilities, etc.). By doing so, the United States ‘recruited’ (the loyalty of) Great Britain and France (as far as relevant, and at least in the most crucial phase of the establishment of the United Nations) and ensured its dominance in (over) the new global order (the United Nations). The threat of the Soviet Union, was ‘used’ to form a military alliance (NATO) which ensured further control of the United States over (Western) Europe, and over Great Britain and France in the new global order. The threat posed by the Soviet Union and its ideology, were for the United States instrumental in acquiring and maintaining (further) control.
The main protagonists (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin) bargaining in Yalta in 1945 for (their privileges in) the next international order.
Great Britain’s and France’s privileged status in the global order – granted by the United States – and NATO, were instrumental for the United States in acquiring maximal control over the new global order. By encapsulating Europe, the United States also secured economic markets which further promoted its economic (capitalist) model, which not only contributed to its (and Europe’s) welfare, but also produced the means for the United States to further reinforce its military power, and ‘outspend’ the Soviet Union (which contributed to the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991).
In the meantime, under the protection the United States (and NATO) and within the ‘space’ that was available and granted by the United States, Western European states ensured further (economic) cooperation and integration. These efforts eventually resulted in the European Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991, impacted – and still impact – on the deals that underlie the global order (the United Nations). The moment the Soviet Union ceased to pose a threat to American interests and the global dead lock was consequently ended, Europe lost its geopolitical and strategic significance for the United States, and new global opportunities presented themselves, the United States with its expansive (capitalist) ideology enthusiastically embraced.
Through the intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union (1945-1991), and the dominance of the United States, and Great Britain’s and France’s focus and efforts on building and implementing an European order (albeit always reluctantly in Great Britain’s case), Great Britain and France further lost their (already seriously limited) ability as ‘independent’ states and to act as ‘full’ global Great Powers on the global stage.
EUROPE IS STILL ‘STUCK IN THE MIDDLE’
When chaotic war dynamics resumed and Russia (eventually) re-emerged on the world (and especially European) stage to re-establish its spheres of influence, the European order’s (the EU’s) weaknesses, were – and still are – increasingly exposed. Europe was – and still is – ‘stuck in the middle’ (states have transferred certain authorities to the European Union, while the European Union itself is not yet fully developed). Europe, consequently lost and still is losing its (limited) cohesion.
Russia’s resurgence (not coincidentally) came in time to frustrate Europe’s efforts to establish itself as an effective ‘power’, which could ‘check’ Russia, by posing a better alternative to European states in Russia’s sphere of influence, compared to Russia’s autocratic model.
Brexit can be interpreted as belated efforts of Great Britain to get rid of the ‘limitations’ imposed by the European Union, and an effort to re-establish itself as a full and autonomous Great Power on the global stage. It is however, too little and too late.
Brexit (source: bbc.com).
Brexit qualifies as ‘strategic overreach’, which not only undermines Great Britain itself, but also further destabilizes Europe, and the international order. Unintentionally – and contrary to its ambitions – Brexit will expose Great Britain as just a mediocre ‘Great” Power, and that the privileges it still enjoys in the United Nations are overdue.
Furthermore, the current American leadership will not allow Great Britain to establish itself (again) as a rival Great Power on the global stage: For the current American leadership, the System is ‘zero sum’. The ‘special relationship’ between Great Britain and the United States, Great Britain always refers to, is no more: Its obsolesce confirms that interest of states, and not sentiments, define relationships.
THE UNITED STATES LOST ITS ‘STRATEGIC’ PATIENCE, AND NOT ONLY WITH NORTH KOREA
What happened to the United States? How can the United States current ‘actions’ be understood?
The United States, is now confronted with a completely different (strategic) global ‘setting’, it self helped producing. Europe was central to the United States’ interests (and its security), has lost its geopolitical and strategic significance in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Russia’s temporary ‘implosion’ (the time needed for its internal re-orientation, following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991), was by the United States and Europe mistakenly interpreted as a permanent demotion of Russia to the status of a second rank power. Although Russia lost its ‘super’ power status, Russia re-established itself successfully (although by doubtful means) as a major player in (especially) regional but also global affairs.
Whereas Europe’s efforts to establish a ‘full’ and effective European order (with global reach) were derailed by global and regional challenges it had to respond to (and did not succeed in), the United States efforts to achieve ‘permanent’ global dominance were derailed by challenges posed by (1) ‘terrorist’ attacks (challenging the ideological and cultural dominance of the United States ), (2) the ‘quagmires‘ in Afghanistan and Iraq it got stuck in, (3) certain states that challenge the international order and US dominance (Iran, North Korea), and (4) China’s economic rise (which also affects China’s risks-assessments, and need for military power), and the United States’ inadequate – predominantly military – responses to these challenges.
Another test/provocation (source: nytimes.com).
Whereas the European Union slipped out of the hands of European (member) states, the international order – the Pax Americana – slipped out of the hands of the United States.
Because Europe is ‘neutralized’ as a challenger to the United States and is (anyhow) predominantly focused (and still focuses) on internal issues, and China – from the perspective of the United States – is on the other hand, perceived as the real challenger of the United States for global dominance, NATO has become a burden for the United States (it assumes).
The United States current ‘appeasement’ of Russia fits with the assumption that the United States (first) focuses on China, it assumes is its most important rival.
The intensifying efforts of the United States to ‘push’ China, to ‘take care of’ North Korea – take its responsibility – while at the same time challenging the status of Taiwan (which can eventually be used as a bargaining chip by the US), fits in such a scheme. If the United States could ‘distract’ China – and force China to spend its military resources – on a conflict at its borders, that would serve the American efforts to achieve global dominance, as defined by the current American leadership.
It seems that the current leadership of the United States envisions a (finite) ‘window of military opportunity’ it wants to exploit as long as it exists, is sowing discord (including along ‘allies’) and is prepared to use its military power to neutralize (potential) rivals and challengers, to establish a second ‘Pax America’. The United States is now employing bully-tactics, to achieve global dominance.
Steve Bannon: Advisor to President Trump of the United States (source: time.com).
The United States not only lost strategic patience with North Korea, but also with the global order – it established – and with its allies.