Daniel W. Drezner

The decline and fall of America’s supporters?

If realists have a literary trope, it’s talking about the decline and fall of great powers — and Steve Walt does not disappoint in this post about, "the impending end of the Atlantic Era."  He makes a good case.  The European project as we know it is in serious trouble.  The United States is in ...

If realists have a literary trope, it's talking about the decline and fall of great powers -- and Steve Walt does not disappoint in this post about, "the impending end of the Atlantic Era." 

He makes a good case.  The European project as we know it is in serious trouble.  The United States is in much better shape.  That said, there are weeks when we no longer seem like the center of the diplomatic universe.  Brazil and Turkey are negotiating deals with Iran, and regionalism in the Pacific Rim seems to be passing America by

Still, my take is that what's going on is a combination of two separate problems.  If either one is fixed, then I suspect that the shift in great power politics will not be terribly acute. 

If realists have a literary trope, it’s talking about the decline and fall of great powers — and Steve Walt does not disappoint in this post about, "the impending end of the Atlantic Era." 

He makes a good case.  The European project as we know it is in serious trouble.  The United States is in much better shape.  That said, there are weeks when we no longer seem like the center of the diplomatic universe.  Brazil and Turkey are negotiating deals with Iran, and regionalism in the Pacific Rim seems to be passing America by

Still, my take is that what’s going on is a combination of two separate problems.  If either one is fixed, then I suspect that the shift in great power politics will not be terribly acute. 

The first is the decline in the "supporters" of the U.S.-led system — Japan and Europe.  International relations theory likes to stress the importance of hegemonic states. When it comes to creating stable world orders, however, this only works when supporter states are willing to sign up (click here and here for scholarly takes on this point).  I agree with Walt that, in the near term at least, both of America’s principal supporters are going to be turning inward. 

The second is whether the United States can adapt to this shift in the distribution of power, and here I’m on the fence.  There are ways in which U.S. support for the shift from the G-8 to the G-20 showed some creative adaptation to new realities.  The G-8 was overweighted towards European countries, exaggerating their influence.  In shifting from the G-8 to the G-20, EU members saw their power diluted. The United States, in contrast, maintains stronger bilateral ties with each of the other G-20 members than most do with each other.  If one thinks of the United States as the central node in a more networked governance arrangement, then one can see how the reforms made to date do not weaken American influence.

The thing is, this only holds if rising powers such as Brazil and India want to be supporters of a U.S.-led system, or if they want to posit an alternative.  This is where some of that strategic vision and adroit diplomacy that the Obama administration allegedly possesses in ample quantities would make a difference.  To date, however, that is not what I see from this administration.  To be fair, they were handed a foreign policy mess, and have done an admirable job of accelerating the clean-up that began in the Bush administration’s last two years.  What they have not done — yet — is articulate a message that will win it new supporters in world politics. 

The National Security Strategy is due to be rolled out any week now, and this is precisely the kind of issue it needs to address.  So I’ll be paying very close attention to see if the strategy document addresses this problem. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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