Current Affairs |Essay

Global power and influence in 2018 and beyond. Part 1: The U.S. in a multipolar world

Talk (21)

Peter Bale

Peter Bale

"Jason and others, please take a look ..."
Peter Bale

Peter Bale

"Jason, we have assigned Essay to thes..."
JC

Jonathan Cardy

"An isolationist leader would not be t..."
JS

Jean-Jacques Subrenat

"''I look at the issue from the consum..."

Donald Trump has initiated substantial change in many areas of U.S. policy.

His campaign slogan ”Make America Great Again” hinted that more incentives would be given for employment and the national economy, while some international commitments taken on since World War II would be curtailed. And while the national economy is doing well, few give Trump credit for it. The current U.S. difficulty in adapting to a multi-polar world cannot be attributed solely to Donald Trump. Even before his election, long-term trends were already affecting the country’s position in the affairs of the world.

U.S. foreign policy has sometimes been conflicted, and this seems to be the case today. On one hand, the surviving ”superpower” wishes to maintain the unique status it acquired during the Cold War and after the implosion of the U.S.S.R. On the other hand, the U.S. has often shown its proclivity to ignore inconvenient facts. This could result from members of Congress not being well-versed in global and diplomatic issues or to inward-looking presidents such as Donald Trump. In a government where the president has a high profile, as in France or the U.S., their views on international and global issues can influence the country’s policies and actions.

Among past U.S. presidents, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush (senior), Clinton, and Obama took interest in global issues (whatever their respective agendas). President Bush (junior) will be remembered mainly for the occupation of Iraq. President Trump has destabilised Allies and friends more than he has shown international leadership.

Some long-term trends in the U.S.

Decreasing U.S. dominance in global innovation and trade. Since the end of the 19th century, the U.S. economy has consistently been the largest in the world in nominal terms, while its percentage in the global economy has declined from 40% in 1960 to about 25% in 2013.

The role of innovation in the world economy has been widely documented, for example by Professor Beat Holz-Hart who, in a recent study, remarked:

”In the second half of the 20th century there was a clear hierarchy between nations in the areas of science and technology. The USA was clearly in the lead. Europe followed and was able to keep pace with the USA in specific, well-chosen areas. Asian countries were far behind. More recently, however, achievements in science and technology in China, South Korea and Singapore have made them more competitive.”

The U.S. is still in the lead, but facing an ever stronger competition, in:

  • advanced communications technology (China is implementing a highly secured data transmission system based on nanotechnology)
  • biotech (several countries)
  • social innovation (Northern European countries, Switzerland, Korea, Japan)

A less prevalent U.S. dollar (USD). From the end of World War II to the beginning of the 21st century, the American dollar was the dominant denomination in banking, currency reserves, and world trade. The Euro began to change this when introduced in January 1999. More recently, change escalated with the introduction of the Chinese rénmínbì (人民币 or ”the people’s currency”) as an international instrument.

As noted by the European Central Bank in 2015, ”The US Dollar remains the leading international currency, accounting for 50 to 60% of international transactions across various metrics of international currency use. The Euro remains the second most important currency internationally, accounting for 20 to 25% of transactions. Its role is particularly significant in countries neighbouring the Euro area. All other currencies, the Renminbi included, remain well behind the US dollar and the Euro, although the rise of the Renminbi as an international payment currency – which reflects the leading role played by China in global merchandise trade – is notable.”

Interestingly, the Euro is now the largest currency in circulation in the world. So while the U.S dollar still holds first place in international trade, the respective shares of the Euro and the Renminbi are increasing.

A large national debt, insecure public finances. World War II gave a tremendous boost to all sectors of the U.S. economy. Continuous economic growth did not lower the national debt; instead, over the long term, it rose from 32% of GDP in 1980, to above 100% of GDP in 2014. Currently, the federal debt held by the public is about 75% of GDP.

Projected into the future, this trend should put the national debt held by the public at roughly the same level as at the height of World War 2. The ratio of gross debt to national GDP is currently at about 105%, the ratio of revenue to GDP at 33%, and the ratio of spending to GDP at 35%.

After the Great Depression of 1929, U.S. banking recovered by following clearer rules, and by the 1940s, it seemed unassailable. But a massive deregulation of financial activity began in the 1980s. This encouraged speculation and led to the global meltdown of the financial sector in 2008.

Gradual decline in U.S. infrastructure. Among many others in the U.S. who have discussed this, the Council on Foreign Relations reports that ”in 2015 the United States ranked sixteenth in the world in a broad measure of infrastructure quality—down from fifth place in 2002. That places it behind countries like France, Germany, Japan, and Spain.”

While observers acknowledge that the budget proposed by President Trump might allow some improvement, the American Society of Civil Engineers points out that:

“Trump’s $200 billion in additional infrastructure spending would be offset by infrastructure cuts elsewhere in his proposed budget, including reductions to the Department of Transportation, the national passenger rail service Amtrak, and the highway trust fund.”

It is worth noting that the American Society of Civil Engineers now rates U.S. infrastructure at D+.

Current effects of the Trump presidency 

Issues of strategic importance to the U.S. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump demeaned the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), claiming that its European members were not paying their fair share for collective defence. After his election, Trump’s continued criticism created grave doubts about trans-Atlantic solidarity as enshrined in Article 5 of the Treaty, which was never challenged before. And because the president apparently failed to comprehend that the alliance was one of the most important global U.S. strategic assets, reassurances were given quietly to European allies by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as by ”Washington’s unlikely pair of NATO women” as described by Politico.

On the North Korean missile crisis, President Trump’s lack of a clear strategy, which cannot be compensated by any amount of tweeting, has caused considerable concern in Japan, South Korea, and even in China. While Secretary Tillerson has shown willingness to engage in consultations with Pyongyang, the White House has undercut him time and again. At this stage, and other than threatening to obliterate North Korea, President Trump has not indicated that he is giving serious consideration to defusing the missile crisis (see ”Can the Korean missile crisis be defused?” in WikiTribune).

Among the many regional issues on which President Trump has taken a stand, his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to that city, has caused the most widespread negative reactions. Because of this, his earlier visits to the Middle East, which provided a bonanza for arms sales, has compromised the credibility of the U.S. as a fair and trustworthy facilitator in the Middle-East peace process.

Global issues. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from international efforts to avert induced climate change, has placed others in the limelight: French President Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but also Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is quite a novelty to see China, still one of the largest sources of atmospheric pollution, now being looked upon with more sympathy than the U.S. in environmental issues.

Another global issue is the Obama-era decision in favour of ”net neutrality”, which the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in December 2017 to repeal, thus permitting large internet service providers, many of them in the U.S., to charge access fees to what has been considered as a right, ever since the inception of the internet. This decision, though not made by President Trump himself, was the first action taken by Ajit Pai whom he appointed as chair of the FCC.

The United Nations system. President Trump has consistently criticized the world body headquartered in New York, calling out its inefficiency, cost, and lack of impartiality. In November 2017, he withdrew U.S. participation in the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), thus depriving it of about a quarter of its annual budget, on the grounds that it was unfair towards Israel.

Decline of U.S. influence? For decades, U.S. involvement in the developing world was considered an important component of its global influence. Republican leaders in Congress and President Trump decided to slash funds allocated to development aid and, as a result, according to Rajiv Shah, former administrator of USAid, the “U.S. risks losing global development leadership role.”

Another pattern with possible long-term implications is a decline of foreign students in U.S. universities.  This may have various causes such as rising costs in the U.S. and improved availability of education in the countries of origin. However, it seems that the uncertainty arising from President Trump’s immigration policy, some reversed by U.S. courts, has discouraged a number of foreign candidates from applying. As the Washington Post remarked, ”The data from the Institute of International Education are likely to fuel questions about how the divisive 2016 presidential campaign and U.S. policy shifts since President Trump took office have influenced the global academic market.”

As for immigration patterns, the uncertainty brought about by Trump’s policies has slowed down the entry of foreigners, but also made the U.S. a less desirable tourist destination, as remarked by the Chicago Tribune. Finally, the overall reputation of the U.S. has declined along with the sharp rise of skewed news from U.S. sources, which has cast doubt on the reliability of the U.S. itself.

Conclusion

As noted above, some long-term trends suggest that the supremacy of the U.S., which was undisputed for most of the 20th century, is now being challenged by emerging powers and new wielders of influence. But the choices, actions and public attitude of President Trump during his first year in office will most likely affect the ability of the U.S. to maintain the prime influence it has exercised over many decades.

By showing disdain for government departments and agencies and their leadership (State, Justice, FBI), by demeaning the North Atlantic alliance and many of its European members, Donald Trump has contributed to bringing China and Russia closer to global prominence.

By imposing a short-term view on many issues of global significance, President Trump has unwittingly highlighted his difference with other global players who follow long-term policy orientations, say in the European Union, China, or Russia.

In his book ”Trumpocracy”, David Frum, of The Atlantic, writes that his chief concern “is not the bold overthrow of the Constitution, but the stealthy paralysis of governance” and complete disregard for the “rules of the game” on which constitutional democracy is founded (quoted from KirkusReviews).

Admittedly, Donald Trump’s choices do not represent the whole of U.S. reality: in January 2018, part 5 of this series of articles will discuss the “Global influence of non-state actors”, many of which are from or in the U.S.


Started by

A former French ambassador. Does volunteer work on global issues, public policies, international affairs, ethics, Internet governance.

History for stories "Global power and influence in 2018 and beyond. Part 1: The U.S. in a multipolar world"

Select two items to compare revisions

30 January 2018

21:11:26, 30 Jan 2018 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → updated)

30 December 2017

10:32:23, 30 Dec 2017 . .‎ Jean-Jacques Subrenat (Updated → As suggested by a reader, added link on ISPs.)
09:54:49, 30 Dec 2017 . .‎ Jonathan Cardy (Updated → Space needed)

29 December 2017

10:56:35, 29 Dec 2017 . .‎ Jean-Jacques Subrenat (Updated → Corrected punctuation in headline.)
10:54:10, 29 Dec 2017 . .‎ Jean-Jacques Subrenat (Updated → Correction as per a reader's comment.)

27 December 2017

15:57:02, 27 Dec 2017 . .‎ Clive Tabraham (Updated → )
15:55:53, 27 Dec 2017 . .‎ Clive Tabraham (Updated → edit)
15:52:19, 27 Dec 2017 . .‎ Clive Tabraham (Updated → )
13:07:16, 27 Dec 2017 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → World War II instead of 2 for consistency)

23 December 2017

04:56:50, 23 Dec 2017 . .‎ Charles Anderson (Updated → approved edits)

22 December 2017

20:29:46, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Cheryl Stephens (Updated → Reducing wordiness)
20:04:30, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Cheryl Stephens (Updated → )
19:57:40, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Peter Bale (Updated → Reinstating highlights which were removed)
19:22:17, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Charles Anderson (Updated → style, clarity)
15:58:55, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Miguel David (Updated → several small fixes)
15:44:05, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Miguel David (Updated → Capitilising Chinese currency)
15:41:47, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Miguel David (Updated → Capitalising currencies for consistency)
15:37:17, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Miguel David (Updated → fixing typo in "Iraq")
11:26:49, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → standfirst)
11:23:14, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → update)
11:08:47, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → editing)
10:41:24, 22 Dec 2017 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → editing)

20 December 2017

16:39:33, 20 Dec 2017 . .‎ Jean-Jacques Subrenat (Updated → Improved wording in 1st para.)
16:35:52, 20 Dec 2017 . .‎ Jean-Jacques Subrenat (Updated → All additions suggest by editing staff have been included.)
14:15:15, 20 Dec 2017 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → editing)
14:01:48, 20 Dec 2017 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → editing)
13:36:11, 20 Dec 2017 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → editing)

19 December 2017

19:08:59, 19 Dec 2017 . .‎ Peter Bale (Updated → part of a series as per trello)

Talk for Story "Global power and influence in 2018 and beyond. Part 1: The U.S. in a multipolar world"

Talk about this Story

  1. Rewrite

    The supremacy of the US was only undisputed for a short period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the emergence of China as the new economic superpower. US preeminence has rarely been unchallenged, the twentieth century started as a multi polar world. By the end of the Second World War that was down to three, shortly afterwards two as the British Empire broke up. With the emergence of China as the world’s new economic powerhouse, we may be returning to a bipolar world, or a multi polar world with India, Russia and the EU all Great Powers.

    One extra thought. When Americans voted for Trump did they realise that going from a Superpower to one of several great powers was the demotion they were voting for?

    1. Rewrite

      As a citizen of the U.S. whose grandparents voted for Trump I can say two things about the election. Most of those who voted for him did so out of emotional blindness and from a very misinformed position. My extended family saw him as a business leader and a maverick who would bring back times of well-paying laborer positions and a more homogenous society (kick out the mexicans). They definitely didn’t have the perspective to realize how an isolationist leader would cause a regression in our control, and they saw his inflammatory nature as necessary self-confidence.

      1. Rewrite

        An isolationist leader would not be the worst thing that happened to the USA, depending on how isolationist that leader was and what her enemies got up to during that presidency.

        Part of the problem of Trump is that he has the worst features of both an isolationist and an interventionist. For America that risks intervention with fewer allies than you’d otherwise have, and allies finding alternative arrangements to a US alliance, and enemies calling your bluff because you are overstretched.

        An unpredictable buffoon whose business career has been marked with stiffing those who trusted him? If people thought he would last long in office then the Pax Americana would be under more threat than it is.

        I could see that China was overtaking the USA in industrial output, and military power may only be a generation behind that. The American century was obviously going to pass. But I didn’t expect in my lifetime to hear the Chancellor of Germany being described as the Leader of the Free World.

  2. Rewrite

    I’ve read this section multiple times and I can’t understand the point.

    “According to a survey on International Educational Exchange 2017, the number of international students studying in the U.S. increased while the number of new international students — those enrolled at a U.S. institution for the first time in fall 2016 — declined by nearly 10,000 students to about 291,000, a three percent decrease from the previous year.”

    I get that it’s attempting to highlight the trends in rates of international students studying in the US but the current wording is highly confusing, and suggests that numbers are simultaneously going up and down at the same time.

    1. Rewrite

      Ali, thanks for pointing out the inconsistency. This has been corrected.

  3. Rewrite

    In global issues, the net neutrality issue has not been ventilated in terms of the relationships between the ISP in USA jurisdictions and those in the rest of the world.

    1. Rewrite

      John, thanks for the comment. I added a link to a world map on Net Neutrality: https://www.thisisnetneutrality.org/?lang=en .

      1. Rewrite

        Thanks for the link. Being a non coding guy is an advantage here cause i look at the issue from the consumer point of view.

        1. Rewrite

          ”I look at the issue from the consumer point of view”: as do I!

  4. Flagged as bias

    This piece appears to express The author’s opinion rather “fact”. Is that the intention and is this what is meant by its categorization as an “essay”?
    I’m not disputing M. Subrenat’s actual claims— I appreciate all th citations and source links—but I do think opinion pieces should be clearly distinguished from other news reporting and “factual” journalism.

    1. Rewrite

      Jason and others, please take a look at Jean-Jacques’ latest item on China: https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/01/02/asia/china/global-power-and-influence-part-2-china-the-rising-global-power/31921/
      I edited this one myself and I believe — but am open to discussion — it covers the bases as an Essay written from a perspective of deep knowledge without straying into opinion rather than evidence-based analysis. I realise I may be trying to balance too many angels on the head of a pin. What do you think now?

    2. Rewrite

      Jason, we have assigned Essay to these sorts of pieces when they are written from someone with specific experience and from that point of view but they should not stray into opinion or unattributable assertions. It’s an interesting area to explore but right now we have a commitment not to run opinion per se or commentary. This is an attempt to find the right balance and a home for genuine expertise.

  5. Rewrite

    Jean-Jacques, thanks for the piece – do you have any book recommendations on geopolitics?

    1. Rewrite

      Linh, there’s a huge range, in several languages. Among others, this website gives a good overview of the current debate in geopolitics: http://www.exploringgeopolitics.org/ .

  6. Rewrite

    Just a question of house style: you write the “dollar” lower case, but the “euro” upper case. Neither is wrong but you want to be consistent.

  7. Flagged as bias

    Bias
    Should be referenced as opinion essay
    Author is confused w/ the difference b/t USA the country
    and a current president

    1. Rewrite

      Jeffrey, the last sentence in this essay does state: ”Admittedly, Donald Trump’s choices do not represent the whole of U.S. reality: in January 2018, part 5 of this series of articles will discuss the “Global influence of non-state actors”, many of which are from or in the U.S.”.

  8. Other

    Why is this important? Based on history, what could be the consequences of the loss of influence?

    1. Rewrite

      Since you mention history, have you read the book by Edward Gibbon, ”The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire”? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_the_Decline_and_Fall_of_the_Roman_Empire .

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