This Is the True End Of Pax AmericanaRoundup
tags: diplomatic history, Trump, international affairs, Pax Americana
Ian Buruma, a professor at Bard College, is the author of a book on the rise and fall of the Anglo-American order to be published next year.
This world order — call it Pax Americana or American imperialism, as you like — has been fraying since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Cold War had given United States–led alliances a purpose. The “war on terror” was never a convincing substitute. And the disastrous attempt by George W. Bush to reorder the Middle East by invading Iraq, ostensibly to liberate benighted Arabs, made the idealistic justification for Pax Americana look like a cynical sham.
Those who see that postwar order as a brutal example of American imperialism will say that it always was a cynical sham. But they tend to forget how it all started. The blueprint for Pax Americana, with its network of military and economic alliances, was the Atlantic Charter drawn up in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain. The United States had not yet entered the war against Nazi Germany then. But the charter, already looking to a world after Hitler’s defeat, promised international cooperation and the freedom of peoples to choose their own form of government.
The international institutions that were established soon after the war, such as the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were certainly established with American interests in mind. But the Atlantic Charter’s original spirit of internationalism was also meant to make another global conflict impossible. The dream of global peace, represented by the United Nations, would soon be shattered by the Cold War, which divided the world into hostile camps. But this development only made international cooperation on the Western side even more imperative.
Since World War II, Pax Americana, in the East as well as the West, was based from the beginning on a division of labor, a deal between the United States and its allies. The allies could rely on the military protection of the United States and so concentrate on rebuilding their war-ravaged economies. This deal enabled America’s former enemies, West Germany and Japan, to rebuild more robust liberal democracies than they had had. Western Europeans, as well as Japanese, grew more and more prosperous in the comforting knowledge that the United States would always have their backs.
By the end of the last century, even as Communism, at least in Europe, had ceased to be an existential threat, the dependence of democratic allies on the United States began to cause greater strains. Mr. Trump is not the first president to voice his resentment about Europeans and East Asians taking American security too much for granted and not paying their fair share; Barack Obama said so, too. Only, Mr. Trump’s resentments are expressed with more vulgarity and less knowledge.