“America has been strategically inept for the past thirty years,” notes Professor Christopher Coker in his scathing review of America’s “lack of strategic thinking.”
You are not alone in this point of view; The United States has been seen to lack a coherent strategy since the end of the Cold War, where it declared its victory over all other ideologies.
Cold War-era strategic thinking has been totally abandoned in the minds of American politicians, and Henry Kissinger himself noted that as the Taliban fled Afghanistan in the early years of the military campaign, “we lost strategic focus.” .
Strategy is a concept that has a long history in political analysis and public policy, and it takes many forms. Military strategy, as used by Professor Coker, is “the art of leading the enemy into battle and defeating him decisively,” and it is clear that in the case of Afghanistan, the United States had a poor military strategy, if at all. had some.
As Tuesday, August 31, marked the end of the 20-year American occupation of Afghanistan, the Taliban came to power almost immediately. This exit would appear to have ended the world order led by the United States.
However, this flight is totally reminiscent of his departure from Saigon in 1975, a military disaster from which he regained his reputation.
The risk now is, not that the US is losing its unipolar status, but that its decline in such an unstructured way could leave an international vacuum, what Ian Bremmer calls a G Zero world, where international diplomatic efforts are unable to tackle globalization. problems, such as climate change and pandemics, due to the global governance gap that have created years of strategic anemia.
There are three main concerns that arise not only from this disastrous exit, but also from the constant absence of American strategic thinking.
The first, and possibly the most obvious, is that the United States is no longer a unipolar global superpower; it is a great power, of course, but not the only hegemony. This decline in status must be accompanied by a decline in ambitions, something he has yet to realize.
Accompanying this fall from above is the second concern; that US thinking must take Russia and China more seriously; Liberal victory is far from certain, and the “western liberal” order that we have seen over the past century is certainly not guaranteed.
Finally, and most importantly, the United States needs to repair its relationship with its allies. Leaving Afghanistan as it did, as the nations of the NATO powers, who spent 20 years fighting alongside them, raced to repatriate their citizens, has done irreparable damage to America’s reputation.
The end of the Pax Americana
As the United States loses its place at the head of the table, the Western powers behind it, and the international diplomacy organizations created by it, will have a purpose in a new world order.
While this is a watershed moment in international relations, it is not the first time that the world has seen a shift in world hegemony.
Pax Britannia saw the British Empire claim the title of global hegemonic power in the 19th century. Britain’s withdrawal from world leadership was relatively painless and did not disrupt the international scene, as it was the Pax Americana that followed. A successor who shared many values, spoke the same language and stood alongside Great Britain in the West. America’s withdrawal from being a world hegemon will, in all likelihood, be a less smooth transition, as it leaves disastrous decisions in its wake and a completely revisionist state like China seeks to take its place.
The Taliban’s astronomical rise to power is proof of the key flaw in American thought; the belief that the grand strategy of the Cold War era was simply no longer necessary; Russia and any other hostile power would, in time, accept their defeat and the liberal world order would provide the model for emerging powers to follow.
Yet since the end of the Cold War, the United States has locked itself into one strategic narrative after another, but failed to nurture the international institutions it helped create, leaving room for multilateralism to disintegrate in the face of nationalism.
NATO’s strategic failures
The demise of the post-WWII liberal order has ended in all but name, and after the dramatic events in Kabul, the downfall of American leadership is almost certain. The withdrawal represents not only a failure of political and military strategy, but also a devastating blow to the pursuit of multilateral diplomacy under any American leadership.
There is no answer to fix the mess created by the US exit here; But what it does provide is an opportunity to see why a leading power without strategic thinking is truly a global problem.
After a decade of mistreatment of his allies by many administrations, notably Trump’s disregard for NATO, it seems that it may be too late for Biden’s rhetoric of “ America is back ” to heal the wounds.
Trump’s anti-globalization stance in the international order ran a very close risk of turning the United States into a revisionist power, moving away from the liberal world order that it had pioneered.
America’s lack of strategic thinking, its persecuted transactional diplomacy under Trumpism, and the long-lasting effects of the events in Afghanistan have undoubtedly irreparably damaged America’s image as a former “global leader.”
As we have seen, the British government has come under pressure with protests over its inaction in Afghanistan and its neglect of the people in Kabul. The facts could not be clearer, the UK cannot support a military presence in Afghanistan without US backing. So when the United States fails to devise a strategic plan and enact military dynamism, its allies are doomed too.
NATO’s discussion of the future of war, in preparation for the 2022 Strategic Concept, would be of great help in learning the lessons of America’s failure to think strategically. The NATO Reflection Group in its November 2020 report has pointed out how obsolete its strategic concepts have become. It has recognized the need to move from “crisis response” to “actively fighting threats” to truly be an effective military alliance. Its ambitions are great and a unifying treaty has been proposed to harmonize its new strategic objectives; However, the lack of genuine cohesion among NATO members, and the latent mistrust that remains, will mean that all future strategic thinking will remain inadequate.
The global emergency of climate change
This year’s IPCC report on climate change has declared a global emergency, forcing international bodies and national governments to work together to stop what would otherwise become an irreversible climate catastrophe. Scientific diplomacy, or at least knowledge sharing, offers us the best opportunity to tackle this global crisis. Yet years of US transactional diplomacy, notably Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords and zero-sum cyber warfare and political disinformation games, have created the current international situation of suspicion and self-preservation.
Growing internal political polarization and antagonism between nations has truly hampered the international ability to address such concerns. The EU, through a series of initiatives, is trying to make a positive contribution to science diplomacy, bridging the knowledge gap created by cybersecurity concerns and the self-interest of nation-states. While these are trends in a positive direction, the ‘G Zero World’ that could emerge from the decline of the old world order, leaves the fate of this cooperative endeavor unknown and uncertain.
Pandemics, now and in the future
Vaccine nationalism, especially the retention of Pfizer vaccines in the US, is further proof that the US thinks in current terms, not with long-term strategic goals in mind. Pandemic prospects that require collective action and decisive leadership are not a new concept. The 2002 SARS outbreak provided evidence of this, as it generated shockwaves throughout the international community. And yet COVID-19 has resulted in a governance failure, globally, in terms of multilateral action on global health policy.
The World Health Organization and initiatives such as COVAX have been inhibited in their effectiveness because the main actors have not taken the much-needed step to put the international first.
The United States has failed to abide by the liberal world order standards of solidarity and cooperation, leading to yet another example of its apparent lack of strategic thinking in its geopolitical politics. Such failures have vast repercussions for the international order, as powers such as China and Russia have intervened to supply the shortage of vaccines in countries that US isolationism left on the sidelines. The G7 2021 summit represented a major failure of global health diplomacy. Mainly because the US is on the fence, especially around the issues that will emerge in the negotiations at the World Health Forum in November 2021.
Why is this everyone’s problem? Well, the leaders of developing countries are starting to turn away from the US, embracing Chinese vaccines and Huawei infrastructure, a move almost unthinkable in times of the Cold War. With recent events in Afghanistan and Trump’s military exit from Syria in 2019, abandoning Kurdish allies, can the developing world really trust the United States again?
Afghanistan is a turning point
The strategic thinking vacuum since the turn of the century in American politics has caused it to lose its claim to being a unipolar global superpower. It was not just the Trump Administration that tarnished America’s reputation in the international order, but a history of misjudgments and failed military campaigns in the Middle East has left other Western states feeling abandoned and damaged by U.S. actions.
The United States needs to repair its relationship with its allies. Without a doubt, Afghanistan is a turning point in global geopolitical strategic thinking, and what we will see in the coming years are middle powers seeking to overcome the divide between the US and China, ‘covering themselves by default’ but not continuing. unquestionably to the USA.
What will come of the world order after the catastrophic withdrawal of President Biden from Afghanistan?
At the very least, we can expect the EU to continue its coverage between the two powers, with the primacy and thus the preference of the United States slowly fading from view. What does all this mean for international institutions like NATO or WHO, especially in this new era of digitization and pandemics?
Nothing is certain except that the days of unquestionable US global hegemony are numbered.
Sarah Coolican is the project associate for the Central and South Eastern Europe program at LSE IDEAS.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism