From Beijing to Paris, from Rio to Riyadh, you’ll find many people who say that American decline would be good for the world. For them, a diminished America could not arbitrarily throw its weight around, and a multipolar global order would work just fine in preserving global stability. After all, there are many rising powers that can step up to the plate.
Well, that sounds nice. But it’s probably wrong, says Steve Yetiv, professor of political science at Old Dominion University.
It’s not that other countries can’t play vital roles. They do. Nor are international institutions like the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO unable to contribute to stability. They certainly can, as can thousands of nongovernment actors from human rights groups to multinational corporations. But it’s not easy for other countries and institutions to do some of the things that Washington does around the world – at least not for the foreseeable future, says Mr. Yetiv.
What are these things? Here, Yetiv lists six.
Protecting the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/file
The American flag flies at the US Capitol February 8, 2009. Here are a few tasks where, for now, only Washington can lead: Protect the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf; keep the Asian balance of power; and prevent nuclear proliferation.
Sure, the world definitely shouldn’t be so dependent on oil, but so long as we are, protecting its free flow at reasonable prices is vital. Most of America’s post-World War II recessions were triggered by oil price shocks. Many non-American approaches have been tried for protecting the oil flow, such as relying on Arab countries in the Persian Gulf; drawing on Egypt’s and Syria’s military muscle; or depending more on European forces. None have worked.
No other country or group of countries has the will and capability to do this job. For instance, were it not for US-led action in evicting Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, Iraq would still be in Kuwait and quite possibly Saudi Arabia, disrupting the production and flow of oil in the region.