The experiment of Pax Americana that began in the ruins of World War Two is coming to an end. While we maintain our military superiority on the global stage, we are losing our right to lead and our allies are beginning to recognize that. In the twenty-first century, the United States has increasingly pursued a policy of isolation. Let me be clear, America’s path to isolation is not the same as a path to pacifism; far from it. The United States armed forces, for good or bad, drop thousands of bombs in combat operations every year, and engage in military actions in over half the world. We are far from a pacifist, but more and more, we act alone.
Under President Barack Obama, we moved back in a direction of coalitions, but that does not change the underlying political situation in America. We are increasingly looking down on international trade, the alliance system we created, and NATO specifically. The political trends culminated in the election of President Donald Trump.
After G7 meetings this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it bluntly, “We can’t rely on the US anymore.” The next day, the German Foreign Minister followed it up by saying Trump has “weakened” the west. French President Emmanuel Macron struck a similar note by taking the lead on Syria and creating his own red line.
Let me be clear, to blame this all on Trump is foolish. He has a four-year term, if the Europeans believed that this was a one time administration, they would opt to wait this out. But they understand the political climate, America is becoming more hostile to our European allies and alliances more generally. We falsely see our allies as mooching off us. But as economics teaches, all voluntary actions are mutually beneficial. The United States alliance system benefits us, and simply looking at the dollars and cents misses that. Germany allowing American medical facilities saved hundreds, if not thousands, of American lives in the Middle East by cutting over ten hours from the journey to a surgery room. The same can be said with many other alliances. While not financially beneficial on its face, an alliance provides us benefits through giving us strategic control over an area, the ability to forward deploy soldiers or pursue other goals like nuclear deproliferation.
I do not think the Pax Americana was perfect, not even close, but I do think the world is better off for it. The United States provided stability to the world that was not from an evil regime like China or Russia. We have not always used our military might in the best way, partially in the post-cold war era, but I believe these can be solved with an actual grand strategy. Regardless, our position in the world is in danger for the first time in decades. Losing it will change the course of human history and I fear it will not be possible to gain back.
Back when he was a general, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a speech, “like-minded nations that stand for liberal values, they’re going to have to band together and protect each other, and if you want a friend when you’re in trouble then you’re going to be a friend of them when they’re in trouble.”
You can be the most powerful country on your own, but hegemony does not guarantee victory. In 1941, Germany was arguably the most powerful military on the planet, certainly more powerful than the United States. Four years later, the Third Reich was brought to its knees.