“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu
American power is dissipating. Matthew Edwin Carpenter explains why.
Part of it is intentional from the American side: President Trump is deliberately removing the U.S. from the centerpiece of a multilateral alliance structure. Withdrawing from TPP, the Paris Agreement, and the nuclear deal with Iran – not to mention the trade wars.
Part of it is the saga of history. The post-Cold War unipolar world could not have lasted. No society has ever maintained perpetual dominance or influence over the international system, despite the arguments made in ‘The End of History’ by Francis Fukuyama. This trend was occurring before President Trump’s inauguration. President Obama’s failure to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons with military force after his “red line” threat was interpreted by many around the world as evidence of the decline of American power.
And a part of it stems from the actions of U.S. rivals. Russian interference in democratic elections in Europe and the United States is one example, and reports demonstrate that they are still manipulating social media in an attempt to further divide the U.S. domestically. Analysts also have proclaimed the big winner of the recent Trump-Kim summit was China. This feat was not a coincidence.
While the U.S. is still split over the merits of the science supporting climate change, the Russians and Chinese have accepted it. The Russians are building naval assets along the Arctic rim in anticipation of receding ice sheets. The Chinese are building up their navy, flexing its muscle, and strengthening its position along their sea lanes of communication while building alliances with African countries through infrastructure development, and with other countries through endeavors like the One Belt, One Road initiative within Eurasia. All of this partly in preparation for acquiring resources as the effects of climate change progress.
Geopolitical alliances appear to be shifting fast. The world is now multipolar. American post-Cold War dominance is ending. President Trump is merely pounding nails in its coffin.
While there are multiple interpretations why President Trump is shedding American power, his actions clearly benefit the Russian objective to divide the West and China’s desire to assert greater power.
In his February 2016 article "Eurasia’s Coming Anarchy" in Foreign Affairs, Robert Kaplan argues that Eurasia is headed for a period of destabilization. Putin and Xi are acutely aware of the pressures facing their countries: Russia has a shrinking population with an economy based on commodity exports that is unsustainable. China has excess men due to their former one-child policy, leading to an array of potential domestic problems. The Chinese government maintains the legitimacy of rule by forcing economic growth at all costs, which cannot last indefinitely.
The American global alliance structure and dominance is a threat to these two countries if indeed Eurasia is headed for destabilization. Reports say the two have formed an unofficial alliance, and already have security cooperation orchestrated under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As climate change is upon us and the world is headed for further turmoil, America is in their way.
Russia and China intend to cause American power to dissolve from within. Causing the structures the U.S. put in place post-WWII to unwravel is the most economical and sensible strategy for China and Russia facing domestic problems of their own. Those structures are unraveling as of the writing of this article.
The fury of the American Left towards President Trump and his supporters only plays into rivals’ hands. Whether you are a Trump supporter or you dream of his impeachment every night in your sleep, the reality is this: the U.S. public, both the Left and Right, is being played to erode American global power and influence.
And it is working.
Russia speaks openly about desiring a multipolar world. Russians and Chinese have endured decades of war and suffering in the twentieth century and indeed throughout history. The U.S. emerged from WWI and WWII with minimal casualties and benefited economically from the postwar reconstruction. Russians and Chinese know war and strategy and are prepared to accept losses. America is still learning and finds losses harder to stomach.
Times are now seemingly good from an American economic perspective. Employment is up, and the economy looks as strong as it has since the end of the financial crisis. From a global perspective, however, it is clear that the American economy does not tell the whole story. The American public needs to recognize that manipulation is real and has consequences. Good times and peace never last in international relations. The American people must be aware of this and be prepared.
Matthew Edwin Carpenter is a U.S. citizen born to American parents in Nara, Japan, where he spent over half his life. He is a full native bilingual/bicultural professional in Japanese and English. His experience ranges from journalism to finance and NGO work. More details available at www.biculturalconsultant.com.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.