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Tadae Takubo

【#533】Famed U.S. Scholar Gives up on Maintaining International Order

Tadae Takubo / 2018.08.09 (Thu)

August 6, 2018

     Graham Allison, a professor at Harvard University, is known as the proponent of the “Thucydides Trap” theory likening a confrontation between hegemonistic countries to the rivalry between Sparta and Athens in ancient Greece. In his contribution to the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, titled “the Myth of the Liberal Order,” Allison says that the United States should limit its efforts to ensuring sufficient order abroad to allow it to concentrate on reconstructing a viable liberal democracy at home. At last, the prominent Democrat scholar has given support to the inward-looking tendency of the United States.

Emergence of McDonald’s countries
     Apart from the “liberal order” that is a relatively new concept, what American strategists first considered right after World War II was reforming Japan and Western Europe into economically prosperous regions, according to Allison. To this end, the United States launched the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe, founded the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and negotiated the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to promote global prosperity. For collective security under the Cold War, the United States also established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Japan-U.S. security treaty. Next, the United States sought to build liberal democracies to share interests and values to enhance the Western alliance against the Soviet communism.
     What world emerged after liberal democracies won the ideological Cold War? After a short period of U.S. unilateralism, the United States became a “McDonald’s country” dominated by the middle class, according to Allison. People in a McDonald’s country like to wait in line for burgers rather than fighting wars. The Democrat scholar’s argument echoes President Donald Trump’s remark refusing to shed American blood for other countries.
     Then rapid changes in the balance between major powers came: the meteoric rise of a totalitarian China, the resurgence of an assertive, illiberal Russian nuclear superpower and the decline of the United States’ share of global power. Allison notes that the U.S. economy, which accounted for half of the world’s GDP after World War II, had fallen to less than a quarter of global GDP by the end of the Cold War and stands at just one-seventh today.

Creeping isolationism
     Is Trump more a symptom or a cause? Allison chooses the latter. He recommends the United States to focus on reconstructing a working democracy at home while leaving various other countries to maintain an international order irrespective of whether they are liberal or illiberal. This indicates the emergence of isolationism seen behind President Trump. Japan has yet to find itself even as a McDonald’s country.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.