Can the world wean itself off of American military oversight? Are we nearing the end of the ‘Pax Americana’? For Germany’s Die Welt, columnist Clemens Wergin warns readers that they’ll be sorry if current trends continue, and the United States, as the crisis over Syria suggests is happening, returns to the isolationism of its Founding Fathers.
“America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” John Quincy Adams, longtime U.S. diplomat in Europe and the sixth president of the United States, emphasized to his countrymen in 1821. In a similar vein, Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington advised the young republic to exercise foreign policy restraint.
Only after persistent attacks by German U-boats on American ships did the United States enter the First World War – distancing itself again immediately thereafter. Not even membership in the League of Nations, forerunner to the U.N., was something the U.S. Congress wanted anything to do with during the interwar period.
The Syria crisis shows that any hopes there were of the U.N. becoming the guardian of international values and norms were an illusion. If the global order is not secured by American military power, even taboos like those against the use of chemical weapons cannot be upheld.
And as America’s willingness to enforce such standards wanes, every dictator in the style of Assad can do what he likes. China and Russia are in any case obviously not interested in maintaining minimum standards of civility in global affairs. If the West doesn’t do it, this framework for order will crumble sooner or later.
And, as was the case after the fall of the Roman Empire, most Americans will only grasp how much the world benefited from the Pax Americana after it no longer exists. Of course, today’s world order is far from perfect. The U.S. is not an altruistic actor, but one that pursues its own interests first and foremost. Yet this Pax Americana is the most liberal global order of all time, and its existence is useful to a majority of nations – including Russia and China.
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