Taming American Power


U.S. policymakers have spent the past decade debating how best to wield American power. For the rest of the world, the debate is over how best to deal with it. With so much power in the hands of one country -- a country that considers itself destined to lead the world -- how should other nations respond?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the president of France. You regard U.S. foreign policy as often naive and overweening, and your ideal world order is one in which no single state is dominant. So what do you do about the United States? Now picture yourself as the president of Russia. The only remnants of your country's former superpower status are an aging nuclear arsenal and membership in the UN Security Council. How do you improve Russia's situation in a world dominated by U.S. power? Or perhaps you are the prime minister of India. You face serious regional challenges -- including the rising power of China -- but relations with Washington are sometimes prickly, and the United States' global dominance is disquieting. Can you take advantage of parallel U.S. interests to advance those of India?

Leaders throughout the world face similar issues, some more daunting than others. Consider Kim Jong Il. He rules a country that George W. Bush has called part of an "axis of evil," and North Korea's entire GDP is only one-twentieth the size of the U.S. defense budget. So how can Kim stay in power, much less improve his position, given U.S. opposition and North Korea's Lilliputian status? On the other end of the spectrum, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have worked hard to establish personal connections with U.S. presidents. Israel and the United Kingdom have long relied on their special relationships with the United States, and the political fortunes of Sharon and Blair depend on keeping these relationships strong.

How do you deal with American power? This question is one for which every world leader must have an answer. And the response of other states to U.S. power is something Americans must care about as well. Basic security is at issue, as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks demonstrated. So is the health of the U.S. economy, with the market share of U.S. firms declining in key overseas markets due to anti-American sentiment. The time to worry is now.

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