President Woodrow Wilson once proclaimed that the United States should seek to make the world “safe for democracy.” His lyrics called for a more militant foreign policy and the creation of ambitious, but ultimately failed, international projects such as the League of Nations.
To his credit, after his tenure, America made impressive achievements: defeating communism and rebuilding countries like Nazi Germany into thriving democracies are notable examples. Washington still holds a vital role in managing global freedom, but new times call for a new strategy that builds on the lessons of the past.
Many classical liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and foreign policy realists are rightly skeptical of American foreign policy. After the fall of the Soviet Union, when American power was unchallenged and unchecked, Washington embarked on several reckless moves that ended up doing more harm than good. The Middle East is a permanent display of catastrophic American failure and ambition. Moreover, in the age of nuclear weapons, one wrong move can be catastrophic.
However, many skeptics of state action, such as Friedrich Hayek, also recognize that the global balance of power is a game worth playing. Indeed, he was at the forefront of the emergence of expansionist autocracies like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and recognized the need for like-minded countries to engage in collective action.
With a formidable authoritarian power like China on the rise, nationalist movements gaining traction, terrorist groups destabilizing regions, and actors like Russia causing chaos, it is clear that an active maintenance of global freedom is necessary. .
Promote global security
Although it may have been necessary for the United States to take on the burden of global security immediately after World War II due to its relative power compared to other free societies, this problem no longer exists. Across the Atlantic, the European Union and the United Kingdom have formidable economies capable of financing strong armies.
In Asia, Japan and India are emerging as democratic superpowers. Washington can augment the defense capabilities of its partners through arms sales, strategic coordination and declassification of intelligence on mutual threats like China and Russia.
Germany recently announced in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that it would spend an additional €130 billion on defense over 15 years. Despite London having its hands full of domestic problems, Liz Truss, the former Prime Minister, recently pledged to increase UK defense spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 during her short tenure. .
After China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong in 2019, the British Navy returned to Asia in 2021 with the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing in the South China Sea. The task force not only served as a show of force for the Chinese, but also visited 40 countries like Japan and India, signaling that at a time of growing geopolitical uncertainty, Britain was back.
The Japanese have increasingly demonstrated their willingness to play a global leadership role, especially in the face of a rising China. For example, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe created the Quad, an increasingly relevant security partnership involving the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Its stated mission: A free and open Indo-Pacific.
Limitation of economic influence
Using military force to fight would-be conquerors, monitoring trade routes, and stopping genocide are all obvious goals to make the world hostile to autocracy. But you also have to think about economic power. Europe’s dependence on Russian gas presents a tool that Moscow can use to constrain free societies.
However, the weaponization of China’s economic influence presents a much greater challenge. Beijing’s economy is more advanced than Russia’s, encompassing virtually every segment of global trade, and the CCP frequently exploits its market for geopolitical purposes. Indeed, decreasing dependence on foreign trade and increasing global dependence on access to the Chinese market is the main objective of Xi Jingping’s dual circulation strategy.
While the CCP does not seek to push countries in authoritarian directions just for the sake of doing so, China implicitly pushes governments by exporting surveillance technology and actively attempting to revise global human rights standards. . Finally, like any great power, Beijing uses traditional tools like sanctions and tariffs to advance geopolitical goals, such as retaliation against Australia for calling for an investigation into the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
Finally, free societies must practice self-renewal. Creating more trade agreements and diplomatic channels is one thing; being relevant is much more difficult. Competing with autocratic powers, especially economic giants like China, means countries like the United States must continue to be at the forefront of growth. Free societies must continue to grow and show the world that their systems of government produce better results than non-free regimes.
A world hostile to autocracy
Rather than trying to fundamentally remake the world, the United States should play the cards dealt. Today, the United States is not alone as the only liberal democratic power. It has formidable allies and partners who can play a vital role in promoting security, prosperity and human rights. The West and its friends represent the largest economic and technological ecosystem the world has ever known. Awareness and confidence in using this collective strength for mutual benefit is vital.
It is clear that a more cautious and proactive policy is needed; a doctrine that accepts that the sword cannot solve all problems and that a withdrawal from world affairs will only leave room for uncertainty. Rather, the United States should embrace the prospect of working alongside diverse partners to make the world more resilient to the forces that seek to undermine free societies.
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This piece expresses the opinion of the author only and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for freedom, representing a variety of opinions.