The return of the “sphere of influence policy”
Since the end of World War II, the main orientation of American foreign policy has been the creation and maintenance of a “rules-based international order”, which consisted of a worldwide network of organizations, alliances and other treaties, whose official mission was to establish a rational framework for communication between countries. The underlying purpose of this world order was to check the advance of an ideologically motivated communist movement led by the Soviet Union and China.
The extraordinary success of this endeavor resulted in the triumphant conclusion of the Cold War, largely derived from the immense military and economic might of the United States, which alone among great nations emerged from war with its physical foundations , financial and economic intact, and even improved.
Over the past half-century, however, the US-sponsored rules-based international order has fallen on hard times. Losing long, debilitating and ultimately unpopular wars – from Vietnam at Afghanistan – demolished the aura of American military invincibility and undermined the energy, resources, confidence and unity of the American people. Many of our allies, having regained vibrant economies and no longer alarmed by a virulent global communist movement, have come to doubt the judgment of American leaders and even to wonder whether America – relatively diminished, both economically and militarily – is still the “indispensable nation”.
America’s decline and fatigue, both real and perceived, have emboldened rogue states around the world, but especially the Eurasian authoritarian giants – China and Russia – that have long suffered under American ascendancy. These states have essentially rendered the rules-based international order dysfunctional by systematically breaking any rule they dislike and going largely unpunished for it, thereby draining the order of any serious credibility.
As the American-led world order atrophies, we have begun to see the re-emergence of an older principle of international relations: the “politics of the sphere of influence”. Interestingly, this older design has found its best-known modern manifestation via the monroe doctrinewhich was proclaimed in 1823 by the American president after whom it is named, and for 200 years it has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy.
bold in its scope, the Monroe Doctrine did not declare a few neighboring countries as an area of primary American interest, but rather the entire Western Hemisphere. For two centuries – by diplomatic, economic or military means – we have rigorously applied it, rarely against European powers, but generally against independent nations south of our border. In the context of the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was expanded to justify intervention in any country deemed dangerously leftist or even communist; examples of this were the ousting of elected presidents Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954) and Salvador Allende in Chile (1973).
In his 1987 book,The rise and fall of the great powershistorian Paul Kennedy introduced the concept of “imperial overrun”, in which he claimed that the United States was engaged in too many places in the world but no longer had the military and economic resources to respond simultaneously to the global obligations they had accepted. Thirty-five years later, the dilemmas described by Kennedy have worsened considerably. Today, the United States must choose carefully where it can deploy limited resources and risk a military conflict that would be supported by the American people, and where Allied soldiers would join us in danger.
The other superpowers, China and Russia, face similar if not greater constraints, and as a result they tend to project their military power – not globally like the United States, but on a regional base in areas they claim as their “spheres of influence” (e.g., Taiwan and Ukraine, respectively).
The architects who created the NATO alliance three quarters of a century ago – President Harry Truman, Secretary of Defense George Marshall and Secretary of State Dean Acheson – were operating in a very different world on behalf of a very different America. They had at their disposal the most powerful economic and military engines the world had ever seen. Their modern counterparts — President BidenJoe BidenCory Booker and Rosario Dawson reportedly split US estimate of Russian forces on Ukrainian border at 130,000 Harris heading to Munich at pivotal moment MOREsecretary of defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinUS F-22 fighter jets arrive at UAE base following Houthi Kirby attacks: Time is running out in diplomatic efforts with Russia over Ukraine Majority of Americans say it’s is a bad idea to send troops to fight in Ukraine: poll and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken – live in different circumstances but still bear the burden of negotiating reconciliation between past commitments and present realities.
William Moloney is a researcher in conservative thought at Colorado Christian University Centennial Institute who studied at Oxford and the University of London and obtained his doctorate at Harvard University. He is a former Colorado Education Commissioner.