Where is US diplomacy going?

From: People's Daily Online Updated: 2014-04-10 11:00
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According to a Pew poll last November, 52 percent of Americans believed the US "should mind its own business internationally". Some argue that the US is making strategic adjustments to its diplomacy, as manifested in the way it has dealt with issues of Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. In this article, experts from China and abroad offer their opinions regarding such perceived adjustments and the direction of future US foreign policy.

Joseph Nye, political scientist at Harvard University, former US Assistance Secretary of Defense.

Yuan Peng, Vice President of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Bo Zhiyue, Senior Research Fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore.

Chen Gang, Research Fellow at the East Asian Institute (EAI), National University of Singapore East Asian Institute National University of Singapore.

Ding Gang, senior reporter of People's Daily.

Smart power strategy

"My own term (to describe the current US foreign policy) would be "selective engagement"; at present, the US is adopting something like a "conditional, selective, and proxy intervention" strategy; direct US military interventions in international disputes are always "easy to start but hard to end"; for several years to come, the US will continue to adjust its foreign policies; the US, with its purse depleted, is seeking to maximize its diplomatic influence with the least money possible by brandishing the moral banner."

Joseph Nye:In the initial period after the Cold War, the Clinton administration was adjusting to a global situation in which the US did not have a clear enemy. Then after 911, that was replaced by the focus on a terrorist adversary that led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think the period of the first ten years of this century was over-militarized. While terrorism is a real threat, the means by which we pursue the problem led to a higher cost than was necessary.

My own term (to describe the current US foreign policy) would be "selective engagement" - realizing that the United States is going to remain the largest power in the world for decades to come, and thereby cannot escape global responsibilities; but also realizing that the United States is not a hegemon and does not long to become a hegemon, and therefore it should select carefully the areas where it engages or holds back.

Yuan Peng:It is absolutely impossible for the US to fall back into isolationism. The US has national interests present all over the world that need to be safeguarded through American intervention. It is only a matter of how. At present, the US is adopting something like a "conditional, selective, and proxy intervention" strategy, meaning it will not rush into anything without weighing and considering matters beforehand. In some cases, it is pushing its proxies to the forefront while keeping itself out of the spotlight. For example, during the upheavals in West Asia and North Africa, the French were at the forefront, and the Americans to the rear; in the East and South China Sea disputes, the Japanese and the Philippines are at the forefront with the Americans at the rear. This is exactly what is meant by "smart power", a strategy that the Obama administration values. But the problem is that the US cannot hide behind the scenes forever; it will constantly adjust its own strategies as situations evolve.

Bo Zhiyue:Historically, there was a process when American foreign policy turned from isolationism into one that safeguards American interests more actively. Prior to the Second World War, the US treated Latin America as its sphere of influence, with the Monroe Doctrine preventing European intervention from the American continent. After the Second World War, the US became more active in international affairs.

Currently, the economic prowess of the US has decreased, but militarily it is still powerful enough to intervene in global issues. The Obama administration, in contrast with the Bush Administration, places greater emphasis on domestic issues such as employment, health care and gun control, and tends to interfere less in international affairs. The US embraced unilateralism and hard power under the Bush administration, now it embraces multilateralism and soft power under the Obama administration. The Obama administration is extremely cautious with direct military intervention in international disputes because it knows that such interventions are always "easy to start but hard to end". In the years to come, if the US economy sees significant improvement, there is the possibility that the US will step up its intervention in international affairs; otherwise, it will probably focus more on domestic employment and industrial upgrading than on foreign interventions.

Chen Gang:Over the last two decades, the world has witnessed a power shift from the west to the east. The West still occupies the dominant position on the power spectrum at the moment, but the rise of countries like China and India has changed the global power structure. After the 2008 financial crisis, people started to reflect on whether the development model of the US and the lifestyle of the Americans were really healthy, and the US model is starting to look less appealing than before. For several years to come, the US will continue to adjust its foreign policies.

Ding Gang:Unlike the case with the Bush administration, preemption is not the first choice of the Obama administration. But that does not mean the incumbent administration has flinched. It is only a change of form, or tactics, with the strategic aims being intact. It may appear that President Obama doesn't care for "isms" as much as his predecessor did, but in fact he hoists his colors more adeptly than Bush II. TheFinancial Timesis correct in characterizing intervention under the Obama administration as one that "meshes the moral and political impulses of American policy with the current straitened economic times." To put it more bluntly, the US, with its purse depleted, is seeking to maximize its diplomatic influence with the least money possible by brandishing the moral banner.

The article is edited and translated from《美国外交——战略收缩还是以退为进?》, source: People's Daily.

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