Guest post by Manish Thakur
America stands at the crossroads of a number of critical security challenges, none of which can be tackled in isolation. Terrorism, a struggling economy and a resurgent China all require urgent focus. We do not have a choice in dealing with one problem to the exclusion of the others. It will take strong but “cool and collected” leadership over the coming years balancing and prioritizing between them if we are to secure the future. It will also take reinvigorated alliances and new partners, particularly outside of Europe, the traditional focus of most of our security efforts.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States has been in locked in a far-reaching struggle with jihadi terrorism, whether against the Taliban in Afghanistan or against insurgents following the invasion of Iraq. Our military and security services constantly guard against very real threats of further attacks, particularly from radicalized populations in failing countries such as Pakistan and Somalia, or among disaffected members of immigrant communities in Western Europe. But even as our troops fight abroad, the broader American society has not changed its bad habits of over-consumption at home. Our ability to borrow cheap foreign money and spend it on cheap foreign goods has resulted in staggering debt, both at the household and at the national level, threatening the integrity of our entire financial system. If the collapse of the Twin Towers signaled an end to the post-Cold War peace dividend, the collapse of Lehman signaled an end to the post-War period of overwhelming American economic preeminence.
Between the fighting and the spending, we nearly miss the really big news of the decade: the remarkable return of China to its historical place as a world leader. Building on a global trading system underwritten by the U.S. military, and buoyed by an undervalued currency, Beijing has quietly amassed massive foreign exchange resources, and now looks to secure its economic rise with a growing military and expanding ties across the Persian Gulf, Africa, Central Asia and Latin America. It is not being alarmist to say that China’s sudden rise could be as destabilizing in the early decades of the 21st Century as Germany’s was at the start of the 20th Century. At best, a mercantile China will co-exist uncomfortably with the U.S. as a trading partner and sometimes rival. At worst, a militaristic China will seek to eject the U.S. altogether from Asia, undermine it in the Gulf, and fashion itself globally as an alternate form of government to liberal democracy.
We face a dangerous world where our “unipolar moment” to project power has truly passed and yet our challenges have multiplied. We must therefore reengage and expect more from our traditional allies even as we seek new ones, particularly those espousing or aspiring to liberal democratic ideals. Our NATO alliance, though vital, is no longer sufficient as America’s primary security alliance given that Europe punches below its weight in world affairs. Our Middle Eastern alliances are critical in our efforts against jihadi terrorism but will always be compromised by the undemocratic nature of the governments behind them. Our Asian alliances grow ever more important but we need to urgently reengage with them, particularly as China replaces us as the number one trading partner for country after country in the region.
Beyond our traditional partners, we need to establish substantive ties with new countries that can further enhance our security. Among these, no country is more important than India. Its rapidly expanding economy makes it an inevitable player in world affairs. Its democratic polity makes it an enduring partner. Its concerns over the same issues of jihadi terror and an assertive China make it a natural ally. I believe in this not simply because I am co-Chair of USINPAC’s National Security Committee or because I am an Indian-American. I believe in a meaningful U.S.-India partnership because of its inherent logic for both countries. I look forward to commencing this National Security blog for USINPAC at this challenging time in our nation’s history, and I welcome your comments.
(Manish Thakur is co-Chair of USINPAC’s National Security Committee, with a focus on America’s strategic relationships, particularly with AfPak and China. All views expressed here are his personal opinions and do that reflect those of USINPAC.)