The Post-World War II world order is in flux because the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia has worried the United States which has resultantly provoked Beijing and antagonized Moscow.
This has accelerated the eastern alliance formation, weakened the western alliance, disturbed the middle eastern security architecture, shaken the foundations of the global economic and financial system and reduced the great powers’ ability to mutually address global environmental, human and non-proliferation challenges.
This fog of deepening global, political, security, environmental, human and economic uncertainties has collectively made the world a far more dangerous and uncertain place than ever before.
A dangerous era?
In the 21st Century, mankind has perfected the means, art, skills and craft of warfare like never before. However, as an instrument of policy, war has become unaffordable for polities, economies, societies and cultures.
No power has been able to maintain or recently demonstrate the constant ability to convert limited military gains into permanent political and economic benefits through a cost-effective strategy.
Moreover, the rapid advancement of several emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, militarized space and Lethal and Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) can enable several nations to exploit the social, political, economic and military vulnerabilities of almost all nations more efficiently than ever before, without essentially resorting to conventional warfare.
Today humanity is far more knowledgeable than ever before but our great knowledge has made humanity more dangerous and our planet more vulnerable than ever before.
This exceptional and growing human ability to harm itself does not translate into a proportionate ability to improve global health and wealth or to secure our planet from imminent and irreversible global environmental disasters and avert great human tragedies.
The inequality between human virtue, wisdom and power has never been so stark and grave. This creates an international security compulsion, particularly for the great powers, to mutually shape and pursue a global policy approach that can help avert both man-made and natural worldwide disasters that will not allow any single power to unilaterally preserve or promote its values, wealth, health or might.
A need to stop traditional coercion
Despite these exceptional and complex global challenges, there are a few limited and temporary opportunities for the existing, rising and resurgent powers to mutually reduce the risks of another world war, global environmental disaster, unaffordable economic polarization and human tragedies.
The unprecedented depth, complex nature and huge shared stakes of the present economically, culturally and security interdependent world requires great powers to resist the temptation of resorting to the traditional methods and kinetic tool kit of statecraft.
However, this would require the great powers, in both their individual and collective interests, to recover from their dangerous habit of preferring hard power for coercion, brinkmanship and escalation dominance.
Read more: Survival in the age of information warfare
The US should adopt a tactful approach
The last Republican American presidency damaged the US power by weakening its alliances, provoking rising powers, coercing its partners and harming the non-proliferation agenda by nuclear rearmament.
The election of the Biden Administration raised hopes, both at home and around the world, that Democrats would repair American alliances, restrain great power competition, improve its regional partnerships and revive the US commitment towards global non-proliferation and climate change.
The gravity and complexity of these growing and complex global challenges merit a much more tactful, proportionate, multilateral and timely American approach than the somewhat complacent diplomatic style which has become evident in the initial phase of Biden Administration’s seven critical recent global engagements.
Read more: Can Biden repair American power?
Assessing Biden’s global engagements
The nature and manner of the first high-level Sino-US diplomatic engagement in Alaska indicated that the State Department still believed that it could coerce Chinese leadership and was not willing to accord the respect that Beijing, increasingly conscious of its growing wealth, power and history, expected from the United States.
President Biden’s blunt remark against Russian President Putin led Moscow to call back its ambassador from the United States to consult with him about the future of US-Russia relations.
Despite the deepening US threat perception regarding Russia, the entire architecture of the existing global strategic arms control and future non-proliferation heavily depends upon Washington and Moscow maintaining a relationship based on mutual respect and trust.
The delay in the negotiations to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly known as the Iran nuclear deal, indicates a US complacency that has reduced the pro-JCPOA support within Iran.
It has also allowed Tehran to further advance its nuclear program and most importantly, earned it the greatest strategic agreement in its entire history with China, worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
This delay, along with these significant developments, has formally defeated the US policy to isolate Iran and made it the leading Chinese strategic partner in the Middle East. This will make Tehran much more bold and demanding and the negotiation process much more complex, whenever Washington decides to return to the JCPOA talks.
On the Afghan War
The several mixed signals from Washington that Biden Administration intends to end the two decade long Afghan War but may not meet the Doha accord May 1, 2021 deadline, could shake the hard-earned confidence of the Afghan Taliban.
The Afghan Taliban might find it increasingly difficult to pacify their rank and file that is against any negotiations with foreign powers. The danger of wasting years-long diplomatic efforts and hard work that made the delicate Doha accord possible is real, present and growing.
The new US Defence Secretary General Lloyd Austin recently made his first-ever South Asia visit during which he spent three days in India, flew over Pakistan and visited Kabul.
Over the years, several US officials of both Republican and Democrat administrations have recognized and appreciated Pakistan’s critical role in keeping the delicate Afghan peace process afloat.
However, if the new US Secretary of Defence had stopped over in Pakistan to briefly meet Islamabad’s political and military leadership to acknowledge their continued support for the Afghan peace process, particularly in its current delicate stage, then Pakistan would have interpreted it as a timely signal that Washington still values its relations with Islamabad and respects the 220 million strong, nuclear-armed and geo-strategically located nation, beyond the Afghan conflict lens.
Pakistan will remain relevant in the new World Order
The White House invitation for the upcoming global on-line climate summit somehow missed Pakistan. Despite the strong commitment of PM Imran Khan to make the country green and clean, Pakistan has two huge carbon-emitting economies in its neighbourhood which have been invited to this global US-led on-line climate summit.
Therefore, Islamabad, like several other large nations, would also like the concerns, ideas and suggestions of its 220 million people to be represented and understood on the world stage.
These developments were seen in Pakistan as an indication that the Biden Administration still views Islamabad mainly in the context of terrorism and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s current leadership expects the new US administration to look at the bilateral Pak-US relationship from a new paradigm and not only from a traditional security prism.
In the new world order, building a mutually beneficial Pak-US relationship on a sound and balanced footing will require Biden Administration to consider shedding the lens of Cold War and the War on terror, as the US has done in the case of India.
Pakistan, like the Biden Administration, wants to move on, beyond terrorism and expects the new US administration to appreciate its new national security vision based on peaceful neighbourhood, regional connectivity, geo-economic and human security instead of remaining a regional ally of great power in the global geopolitical context.
Pakistan increasingly views itself as a future geo-economic bridge of transregional connectivity between South, West and Central Asia which can offer both the West and the East significant economic and trade opportunities rather than being part of a military alliance of one against the other.
Biden’s unfortunate support of India
Since the Biden Administration took office, the accelerated Quad formation has provoked China, emboldened New Delhi and disappointed the Kashmiris and Indian minorities of the Democrat commitments towards human rights and US President Woodrow Wilson’s global and timeless concept of the right of self-determination.
The Biden administration has overlooked BJP’s extremist religious character, misread the Indian military’s continental strategic culture and neglected the plight of millions of Kashmiris.
It has also ignored New Delhi’s lasting reliance over Russian land, air, naval weapon systems and encouraged an unnatural Indian security role in Afghanistan and promoted New Delhi’s massive conventional and nuclear buildup.
All this will not only have critical and long-term implications for South Asian strategic stability, destabilize South, Central and Western Asia regions but could also threaten the US Indo-Pacific strategy.
The worrisome US foreign policy
These seven initial trends of the US foreign policy have worried its allies, provoked the rising and resurgent powers and are beginning to disturb its regional partners while making the US diplomacy towards non-proliferation goals and climate change interests far more challenging.
It also indicates that either the new US administration has not yet completed the review process of its foreign, security and defence policies or perhaps successfully managing these critical relationships requires much deeper reflection and wider consultations.
The future of world peace, progress and prosperity depend more heavily on the US behaviour towards the world than any other superpower in history.
Read more: New World Order: Not looking pretty
These tumultuous times amidst a shaken world order require far deeper reflection, frequent consultation and wider engagements with global and regional contestants, allies and partners alike than ever before.
This is particularly significant if the United States desires to continue to lead the world towards a superior and more stable order than the one which it had shaped after World War II.
That seventy-six-year-old world order, like the emerging one, also required the US to seek the help of four other declining and emerging major powers and several newly independent post-colonial states.
Read more: Challenges of Governance in the New Decade
What should the US do?
In the contemporary era of growing nuclear arsenals but interdependent world cultures, societies and economies, militarily contesting the changing global economic, cultural and social realities is not only politically difficult, economically costly but also strategically impossible.
In fact, the US could once again lead the global systemic transformation process in concert with other continental, maritime and regional powers and partners alike, to mutually shape a world order that is more politically stable, militarily secure, economically prosperous and environmentally safe than the one which is gradually eroding.
This 21st Century new world order, (if it were to survive the current profound political, cultural, technological and economic trends), should allow all nations to respectfully and peacefully pursue their own dreams just like the great US nation pursues the American dream, without any fear or threat.
It should enable all nations to mutually celebrate the rich diversity in their own individual lifestyles, faiths and values on a global scale just like the environment which the great American nation enjoys within the US territories.
Benefits of reforming US foreign policy
The worldwide promotion of US national security interests and the success of the American dream in the new world order will lie in Washington’s ability to respect the aspirations and tolerate the values and cultures of other nations.
It can lead the world through multilateral diplomacy and revival of international institutions to also globally fight disease, hunger and poverty instead of trying to impose its own way of life on other nations and civilizations, particularly through expensive hard power and coercion.
A US foreign policy based on internationally promoting hope will not be only globally more attractive but also more beneficial for the US national security interests than one that is based on the fear of others.
Excessive and complacent use of hard power will weaken US alliances and partnerships, harm US economic interests, globally reduce its soft power and make its great values less, not more attractive to the world.
Trump Administration has damaged the US power which the Biden Administration can repair if it reflects upon the timeless advice of the famous US President Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Leiper in a letter he wrote in 1815.
This two hundred and six years old presidential guidance is more relevant today for American foreign policymakers than perhaps ever before which stated that “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.”
The author is Director (Nuclear & Strategic Affairs) at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, a Pakistani think tank based in Rawalpindi. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.