Ferguson and the Decline of Pax Americana

School_Begins_1-25-1899For the last 70 years, the United States has held itself as the epitome of national morality and human rights, and has used its military might to prescribe to the international community what each country should aspire to. However, it suddenly finds itself in a credibility crisis–all because of a town most Americans, let alone the world had never heard of until August 9, 2014.

tumblr_nfm9xltuQN1shiv3ro1_1280The facade of America as a nation of liberty and equality has been broken, in the most humiliating way, at a time when the American government endeavors the world to follow its lead on international predicaments such as Israel-Palestine, tensions with Russia over eastern Europe, and more recently the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Thanks to a global financial crisis and a world of nations that has turned inward, the US struggles to get help from its allies. The rise of China has the American government and citizenry fearing our time as the world’s sole superpower is ending. So a situation like Ferguson, which displays the true nature of American hypocrisy couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time.

Ferguson has revealed the sharp racial divide that still haunts American society to the world, prompting widespread anger at the continuous cycle of institutional racism at home and damaging American credibility abroad. Footage of police beating, arresting and attacking mostly peaceful protesters with tear gas broadcast all over the world, leading national governments, citizenries and the United Nations alike to question how the US can criticize other countries when clearly, we have our own internal problems.

995069_10152575678655935_1853866743208737653_nOther groups, notably Palestinians, who experience the same injustices as African-Americans, draw parallels and reach out in solidarity from one oppressed group to another, even offering tips to Ferguson protesters fleeing tear gas on Twitter.

ferguson-palestineNews media in countries with friendly bilateral ties to the US, including Canada, Britain, France and Germany highlight and even criticize the US for its seemingly never ending problem with race. Not surprisingly, world leaders frustrated with the US react with schadenfreude, for example Russia, China, Iran and others. Like the US, these countries have internal problems but they’re not wrong for criticizing the US for brutalizing its own citizens while preaching to the world about liberty, justice and equality.

How exactly this will affect American Foreign Policy going forward remains to be seen. But one thing is clear, the days of the US holding the moral high ground are in serious jeopardy if not completely over. 2014 has been a year of resistance to governmental power, from Ukraine, to Hong Kong, to Thailand, to Gaza and now to the United States. A Human Right Watch researcher remarks “our world is melding into a single military regime.”

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The Battle Between International Law and National Interests, Part I

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With Russia-Ukraine and Israel’s military assault on Gaza, 2014 seems to be the year of international crises.  Beginning in late 2013 with chemical weapons used in Syria, global crises seem to arise routinely lately.  This is nothing new, international crises have existed since even before the establishment of the nation-state.  However what is different about this current series of crises is the lack of an international response.

This is comparable to western Europe’s appeasement of Hitler before World War II. The world was recovering from the Great Depression and the United States was apathetic to Europe’s troubles, having embraced isolationism.  The burden fell to the western democracies of Britain and France who were weary of reliving another world war, and thus did nothing.

80 years later, the world is recovering from the Great Recession in a highly globalized and interconnected world.  The world is in a phase where countries largely keep to their own borders and are reluctant to act outside them.  This is why despite Europe’s outrage with Russia going back to Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the continent’s response has been lukewarm at best.  As with Syria, the US is trying to muster international engagement in a community of nations that currently pursues national interests above international norms.

But what distinguishes this situation from previous crises is the shifting balance of power.  This trend of globalization and ‘geopolitical isolationism’ is happening against a backdrop of changing polarity.  Which leads me to conclude the world is in a unique situation–a composite akin to pre-WWI and pre-WWII.

Part of the US’ difficulty in mobilizing an international response to global crises is the rise of other powers challenging American hegemony.  Russia, India, China are rising powers who not only want a ‘piece of the power-pie’ but whose national interests lead them away from the West.  The US does not agree with their actions, but cannot intimidate them either.  Despite Britain controlling 25% of the world’s population, in 1914 Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire shared power.  The fear of losing power and the desire to gain power caused the tensions that resulted in World War I.  A century later the US is trying to maintain its influence as other countries such as the BRICS demand shared power.

 The world before WWII was one where countries largely kept to themselves, so fearful of another global conflict and out of economic self-interest.  Likewise the world today is jaded by the international interventions that dominated the 1990s and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but is also still recovering from the Great Recession.