International Security Studies
Book Launch--The American Era: Power and Strategy for the 21st Century
In his new book, The American Era: Power and Strategy for the 21st Century, author Robert Lieber argued that continued U.S. international preeminence was both likely and necessary. His analysis was based on three key premises.
The first is that the September 11 terrorist attacks inaugurated a new era of vulnerability from the threat of Islamic extremist groups seeking to carry out a mass-casualty attack on the American homeland. This possibility has led the Bush administration to sensibly elevate military preemption as an option in U.S. strategy. Lieber argues that the post-9/11 debate has failed to adequately take into account the lethality of this new threat. The second premise is that international institutions, such as the UN Security Council, are often incapable of acting on major threats to international security. The third premise underpinning his analysis is that in the absence of any central authority in international relations, other countries will invariably look to the United States for leadership since no other country can assume that role. Lieber traced this theme across a range of issues, from relations with China and Europe to the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and globalization. He argued that the Bush administration's National Security Strategy document, enunciated in September 2002, is fundamentally sound and strikes the right balance between working multilaterally with allies when possible and acting unilaterally when necessary. While approving of the administration's foreign policy framework, Lieber was critical of the implementation of its policies in Iraq and elsewhere.
Lieber's presentation was followed by a lively discussion that focused primarily on the phenomenon of American power and international reactions to it. Is the negative perception of the United States, as measured in recent public opinion polling, specific to the Bush administration or does it derive simply from the power disparity between the United States and other countries? Lieber was also asked to respond to the thesis advanced by Princeton University Professor and former Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow John Ikenberry that the key to American foreign policy success since World War II has been the perception of it overseas as a benign superpower: The embedding of American power in international institutions made it less threatening and more legitimate in the eyes of other countries and explains why, contrary to realist theory, no counter-coalition of states emerged at the end of the Cold War to balance U.S. "hyperpower." During the rancorous debate before the Iraq war, analysts saw the aligned opposition of France, Germany, and Russia as auguring further balancing behavior. Addressing this critique of U.S. policy, Lieber argued that the international reaction to American power was not specific to the Bush administration. Moreover, in the post-9/11 period, even though relations with Europe have been strained, U.S. relations with key regional actors – India, Vietnam, and Japan – have moved significantly closer.