Today's date:
Winter 2008

Making the World Safe for Interdependence

Spring 2002

"The great question of this new century," former president Bill Clinton writes, "is whether the age of interdependence is going to be good or bad for humanity." Indeed, America's chief challenge in the times ahead is to employ its unprecedented preponderance to forge the kind of globalization that brings prosperity and opportunity, not resentment, despair and violence. Its strategic aim, in short, ought to be making the world safe for interdependence.

To do so America must first of all guarantee its own security by neutralizing hostile threats from terrorists who would deploy weapons of mass destruction against it. Second, by seeking to protect and promote what Harvard professor Joe Nye calls "global public goods" that benefit all of humanity, America can help stabilize a fragile international order while at the same time legitimizing its vision of an open global society.

NEUTRALIZING THREATS | More incisive intelligence, homeland security and military campaigns to unravel terrorist networks will be necessary, but not enough. Fanatics—Al Qaeda, Aum Shinrikyo, Unabomber or otherwise—will always be with us. But to prevent the deadly acts of disruption of which they are currently capable from becoming Hiroshima-scale horrors, America must go to the source by taking on hostile states. States alone have the capacity to manufacture chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that might fall into the hands of terrorists.

Though bracketing North Korea, Iraq and Iran into a common "axis of evil" was clearly an unhelpful rhetorical excess on the part of President Bush, the fact remains that all three states are seeking such weapons and have declared their open hostility to the United States. It would thus be nothing less than irresponsibile for any American leader not to preempt this clear danger so it does not become present. On this score, there can be no quarrel with Vice President Dick Cheney's chilling clarity of mind. "We face an enemy," he warns, "that is determined to kill Americans by any means, on any scale and on our soil."

This justifiable fervor, however, should not blind us to the potentially greater threat of loose nukes and leakage from Russia, a now friendly but incompetent state. As UCLA Chancellor and former arms negotiator Al Carnesale notes, aside from its 10,000 deployed nuclear weapons, Russia has enough enriched uranium and plutonium, much of it stored insecurely, to make another 70,000 weapons. And it has 6,000 scientists, largely unemployed or underemployed, capable of making nuclear bombs. This capacity dwarfs anything even contemplated by the "axis of evil" states.

The higher priority by far, this reality suggests, ought to be a plug for Russia, not a missile shield over America. The likely delivery vehicle of a weapon made from leaked Russian material, Carnesale points out not even half-jokingly, is not an intercontinental missile, but a bail of marijuana smuggled by drug lords across the Mexican border.

The Bush Adminstration must also be careful that its new nuclear modernization strategy announced in the recent Nuclear Posture Review does not end up fostering a beggar-thy-neighbor proliferation instead of deterring an attack, thus raising the possiblity that terrorists will get a hold of weapons. If strategic stability breaks down in the nuclear field, it is in the cracks of that stability that terrorists will find their weapons.

GLOBAL PUBLIC GOODS | The fact that America may have to act uniltaterally to protect itself from terrorism makes it all the more critical that it not go it alone in other realms of global concern, from AIDS eradication to climate change to poverty.

With a military larger than the next eight combined, 45 percent of world Internet connections, 75 percent of all Nobel laureates in the sciences and the top 15 world-class universities—not to speak of its globe-spanning mass cultural influence and financial might—America has enormous means to shape the future of the world as a whole.

Joe Nye even argues that the duration of Pax Americana can surpass that of the centuries-long Pax Romana if the United States takes a page out of Great Britian's imperial stewardship in the 19th century. By maintaining a balance of power among competing states, promoting an open international economic system and an open commons through freedom of the seas and suppression of piracy, Britain created an order that benefited others, not just itself, that is, it provided "global public goods."

Today, cyberspace, outer space and the global climate would become part of the commons along with the seas. Terrorists would replace pirates. And to Britain's provision of "global goods," Nye proposes the US should today add maintaining international institutions, treaties and the rule of law, development of the poorest nations and mediation of disputes such as in the Middle East.

By not shrinking from military confrontation when civilized life is threatened, but by also using its hyper-hegemony to make sure interdependence works for all, the US could create an open and secure international order that would be as historically unprecedented as its superpower preponderance.