U.S. Retreat From Global Governance and Possible Rise of China

The implications of the coronavirus include not only the global shrink in the economy; the US response towards the pandemic has also come along with a series of events that reflect changes in the geopolitical power structures and the introduction of new de facto patterns and strategic conducts.

On 6th July 2020, the US announced its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), amid the peak of COVID-19, questioning the transparency and credibility of the organization. Trump has alleged the UN agency for global public health to be under complete Chinese control. Previously, it has withdrawn from UNHRC and UNESCO as well. Such narrative of the USA towards international institutions is quite novel given its long history of advocacy for neo-liberal institutionalism promoting inclusivity where it always took the lead. These instances are essential to analyze the shifting policies of the US towards global issues where instead of regulating affairs or governing, it is backing out.

The change is not limited to the ongoing pandemic only; it can be traced in its role in Global Environmental Governance as well where the insurance of long-term sustainability always has a backseat.

Climate Change is a crucial issue endangering the sustenance of human life on Earth, while the leadership in the US which has the population with the highest per capita ratio of GHG emissions is very unlikely to be even a part of institutions that are critical of consumptive culture. The US holds its affection for the capitalist culture above the ecosystem where it has always shown reluctance to prioritize globalism over state-interest. Its attitude towards global environmental governance has always remained more than disappointing, take the example of Trump who defines the whole issue as a hoax and withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement on 1st June 2017. Similarly, back in the era of Bush, the US drew out of the Kyoto Protocol for economic benefits. In GEG, the US hasn’t set any precedents that were expected from it as the policeman of the world, questioning the American Vision in the 21st century.

Moving towards the domain of the global economy, we see since it emerged out of the era of isolationism, the US has been the country that highly regards the idea of a free-market economy and economic interdependence. It has a vital role in bringing different states into compliance with its normative ideals in the realm of economy. But after facing several setbacks in the course of history, the state policies now seem overtly protectionist. To some extent, the role of leadership has an impact but such reductive reasoning is devoid of explaining the greater picture that includes the possible chances of the rise of multi-polarity, its domestic interests, the rise of nationalism throughout the world, and even hyperglobalization that makes US’s markets vulnerable.

US-China trade war beginning in 2018 causing Chinese imports to shrink by 16% shows the paradoxical nature of US policies where at one hand it portrays itself as an ambassador of free-trade idealizing the obliteration of trade barriers but on the other hand, is pursuing self-interest in a way deviant from its own prescriptions.

The US has always led the global economy through institutions such as IMF, GATT, or WTO and has maintained a stackholding position. The US served as a safe haven attracting huge capital despite its negative balance of trade and non-credible current values in past but has failed to stop the currency manipulation by China even through the IMF. Whereas China and other great powers tend to foster domestic growth rather than sacrificing national interests for international validation.

Besides losing moral grounds to promote a free-market economy, the USA’s sphere of influence in the global economy is challenged by the rise of non-Western economic institutions like Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other regional enterprises that are more consistent with local demands and political setups.

When it comes to the military, we witness the paramount strength of the USA with more than 800 military bases all around the world. Ranging from the Korean War, Vietnam War to Global War on Terror hailing the notion of just war, it has engaged in military ventures. Currently, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan without a decisive victory has shattered the idea of American invincibility. In 2018, the US cancelled the military exercises in South Korea followed by the withdrawal of 12,000 troops from Germany in 2020. The inability to proportionately respond to Ukrainian and Georgian invasions by Russia adds insult to injury.

In 2016, Trump said: “we have defended other nations’ borders, subsidized the armies of the other countries, It’s going to be only, America first”, defining a new path for US that might not coincide with NATO; he discussed even pulling out of it as the US allies don’t have a fair share in NATO spending.

The US is more resisted in the Asia Pacific with the so-far peaceful rise of China where infrastructural and economic alliances prevail rather than dictatorial short-term unsustainable partnerships.

The BRI has challenged both land and maritime dominance of the USA through the expansion of geographical scope to 70 countries, 65 percent of the global population, and about one-third of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This very integration can be used to serve hardcore military interests as in the case of the string of pearls strategy where it is circling the chief US ally, India in the Indian Asian region. New norms are emerging giving the Asian states an edge over the America in regional politics and are compatible with domestic and regional appeal.

America, through the course of history, has secured its position by strenuous efforts but with the rise of globalization and evidence of transforming patterns, it seems like the lack of participation is a sign of retreat. Whether or not China will replace it in not-so-far future is still unclear but is highly probable.

Maria Rehman
Maria Rehman
Maria Rehman is a student of International Relations at National Defence University, Islamabad. She has strong tilt towards American politics, impacts of globalization and role of institutions in foreign policy making.