Live Webcast/Book Launch: The Opportunity -- America's Moment to Alter History's Course
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In this Director's Forum, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, laid out the main themes from his most recent book, The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course.
The opportunity he refers to in the title stems from what Haass sees as a period of a "fundamental historical divide." According to Haass, the chance of a great power conflict as we move into the 21st century is remote. As a result, for the first time in 350 years, the U.S. and other nations have the opportunity to focus their energies not on one another, but on the defining threats of the age---the spread of nuclear weapons, modern terrorism, global climate change, avian flu, and protectionism.
This opportunity, however, is not an inevitability and "history is replete with examples of opportunities squandered." To move forward, Haass suggests that there are two courses the U.S. should avoid---unilateralism and isolation. "The U.S. simply cannot succeed in the world on its own or it certainly cannot succeed on its own better than when it is working with others," Haass said. None of the great challenges are susceptible to being handled well by any single country. On the other extreme, isolation is not the answer either. "The U.S. cannot wall itself off from terrorists or viruses--- be they computer or avian flu."
Haass proposed an alternative approach---integration. The idea is that the U.S. should work with the other nations of the day; partner with them to deal with these global problems. This means working with them to formulate new rules in international relations. Furthermore, it would mean the creation of institutions to buttress these new rules and to create a more integrated world around these rules. This idea of integration would also extend to people who are not currently participating or benefiting from the positive side of globalization. According to Haass, integration could even extend to the pariahs such as North Korea and Iran.
Haass believes that the Bush administration is already moving in this direction, not out of choice, but out of necessity. In the fight against terrorism for example, Haass points out that the world is a much more integrated place today than it was 4 years ago. "Integration is the only way the U.S. has a chance to deal with the signature problems of the moment."
But that is only half of the solution claims Haass. The other half is to have capacity. The U.S. needs capacity to act, but also to discourage challenge. Haass is concerned however, that U.S. capacity is eroding—in the economic area, with our energy policy, and with our education system—what he calls the three E's.
First, the current U.S. economic system of modest levels of taxation coupled with consistent spending increases on both the international and domestic levels, simply cannot be maintained. Second, the energy situation in the U.S., namely the dependence on foreign oil, is not commensurate with the U.S. being an effective actor in the world. "There is no reason we are as energy dependent on imports as we are and the real reason is we do not have a serious energy policy," Haass said. The U.S. needs an energy policy that reduces demand. Third, the U.S. needs an education system that turns out more people who can succeed in a competitive global economy.
Haass sees things playing out in one of three ways. One is a benign scenario where the U.S. carries out a foreign policy of integration and therefore has the ability to focus its resources on these global problems. In this scenario, the U.S. takes steps to address its domestic problems, shoring up its economy, its energy policy, and its education system. This, Haass believes would lead to a global integration and a potentially remarkable era of relative peace and stability, security, prosperity and freedom.
The second scenario is what Haass calls a new Cold War between the U.S. and China. This would be expensive, dangerous, and distracting from solving global problems. The third scenario is even more bleak—a modern dark age where both North Korea and Iran become nuclear weapons states and attacks such as those in New York, London and Madrid occur one to two times a year. The world essentially would become stymied and unable to progress on such global problems as global warming, poverty, and avian flu.
In closing, Haass re-emphasized his belief that out of necessity, the Bush administration is moving toward integration. "I can't imagine how we would escape a new era of competition and conflict unless something that looks an awful lot like integration becomes the new prevailing approach."