Letter to Congress on PNAC
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Friday, May 30, 2003
Dear Senator Graham,
On Monday, the Constitutional Convention of the European Union published a first draft of its proposed constitution, mapping out a plan for the future of Europe in the 21st century. Across the world, the Chinese time frame on world affairs is summed up in Zhu Rong Ji’s cryptic comment that it is too soon to tell whether the French Revolution was a success or not! We Americans tend to take a relatively short term view of the world, so perhaps, after all, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) for initiating an important debate over our country’s role in the world over the next century.
The PNAC recognizes that our country has been the dominant power in the world during the 20th century, and its stated goal is to perpetuate U.S. dominance throughout the 21st century, by means that include a more proactive use of military force. This raises two simple questions:
1) Is this achievable?
2) Is there a more achievable or desirable alternative?
The current political rhetoric in Washington refers to the United States as the “sole superpower” and to our geopolitical and military superiority as “unprecedented”. However, our relative share of the world’s wealth and economic output has declined by half since its peak in the 1950s. During the same period, we have also turned from being the greatest creditor nation in history to being the greatest debtor nation in history, with huge fiscal and trade debts. About 40% of our fiscal debt is held overseas, and our trade debts are also balanced by foreign ownership of U.S. assets. In reality, we are increasingly economically vulnerable and less independent, and our foreign creditors include potential geopolitical rivals. Tax cuts may provide incentives for foreign investment in the U.S. in the short term, but this only increases our vulnerability in the long term.
Neither is our status unprecedented. We are in fact standing at a crossroads that looks quite familiar to students of history, and is examined in great detail by Paul Kennedy in his book, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” (Random House, 1987). Successive countries have risen to economic supremacy, which has led to geopolitical expansion and military power. They have each faced a difficult transition as the inevitable tides of economic history have moved on. Where they had once been able to rely solely on their own strength to ensure their security and protect their widespread interests, they have found themselves vulnerable and faced with difficult choices. Changes in relative economic strength have always driven this historical pattern, and pre-revolutionary France and 20th century Britain went down the same slide from credit to debt that we are experiencing. And without exception countries have reacted, as the PNAC would have us react today, by relying more heavily on their military strength to try to preserve their control and dominance.
This has failed in every case, and the resulting wars have had the effect of bringing the military and geopolitical balance into line with the new economic realities, but this has always been at great human cost. Both the Habsburg Empire in the 17th century and Napoleonic France succeeded only in uniting the rest of Europe in grand alliances that ensured their defeat. Great Britain won two world wars but still lost her empire and her dominant position in the world, despite forming a “special relationship” with her major creditor and ally, the United States.
PNAC policies are presented as taking effect in a sort of vacuum, with little discussion of how the rest of the world would respond to them or how we would deal with those responses. Other countries’ exact responses may be hard to predict, but they would range somewhere between two extremes; up to a point, they might continue to direct their own resources into economic growth while ours were drained by military spending, debt service and colonial wars; at the other extreme, these policies might trigger a new arms race, fuelled by growing mistrust and fear, leading to confrontation and conflict of unimaginable proportions. Nowhere between these extremes would we find the mythical “Pax Americana”.
Our present situation clearly fits only too well with the historical pattern, and a “unipolar” world seems no more sustainable today than it was in the past. The “neo” path mapped out by the PNAC is in fact an extremely well trodden trail of tears, quite clearly sign-posted by history. This brings us rather urgently to the question of an alternative, and we do already have one in the multilateral framework presciently created at the height of American power by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.
It has become fashionable in Washington to denigrate the United Nations and the international community, and President Bush has shown little respect for the signatures of his predecessors on international treaties. Some dismiss the motives of our past leaders who created these institutions as idealistic. I would argue that they took a realistic and wise view of the competing interests of nations and designed a system through which these interests could be negotiated more effectively and peacefully. The present weakness of the system is directly attributable to the fact that the United States, its most powerful member, has lost its former commitment to the system it created, and has started down a different and dangerous road. Our illusion of unprecedented power, coupled with the real challenges of our true position, have led us to abandon the most fundamental principles of this system, that the strongest nations agree to be bound by its rules and to enforce them collectively.
I believe that our country is standing at a critical crossroads. Other countries have faced similar choices before, and have made bad ones, but the stakes have never been so high. With the weapons that exist today, we cannot afford to repeat their mistakes. Based upon a mature understanding of our own long-term interests, we must recommit ourselves to the United Nations, the development of international law and to membership in the international community. Then we must work within this system to focus the world’s collective resources on its most pressing problems and its most promising opportunities.