Maj Gen C P Singh, (Retd )
There is no organization or body in international forum that acts like police to enforce rule based order and bring the rogue states to behave. The United Nations is more of a Panchayat with no authority and no apparatus to enforce civilized behavior amongst the member states. Security Council comes very close to policing role in UN but it has also been hijacked by the mighty five having veto powers. The difference of opinion or vested national interests often force powerful countries to use the veto to defang the UNSC.
After the World War II, all nation states felt the pain of war devastation and professed to start an organization for international order. This is how UN was born but it was no better than ‘League of Nations’, that failed to prevent the World War II. USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the world, after the World War II and assumed for itself the role of so called ‘Global Police’. A new balance of power emerged post WW II, in which the United States would act as a global policeman. The hidden agenda was to provide the United States and Britain with a way to police the world while avoiding the appearance of empire-building. If the United States wanted to use military power, against a nation state, then it might legitimize its actions with tacit approval of the United Nations.
USA- Self Proclaimed World Police
Though the United States expanded its dominance in the Western Hemisphere in the 19th century, it didn’t emerge as a global military superpower until World War II. The European Colonial powers declined with the World War II and the Queen was too willing to accede the position of super cop to the USA. As the sole superpower, in 1940s, the United States assumed the role of world’s policeman, conveniently citing a moral responsibility to uphold freedom and democracy around the world. The United States felt that the world needs a policeman if freedom and prosperity are to prevail against the forces of oppression, and the only capable, reliable and desirable candidate for the position is only the USA. They felt that without U.S. primacy and policing the world, this planet will descend into a ‘dog-eat-dog’/ ‘might-is-right’ environment.
After World War II, the United States found itself committed to a global agenda of liberty and human rights. It also assumed the role of checking crimes sans borders like terrorism and support the smaller sovereign countries against the hegemony of powerful neighbours and regional bullies. It also checked proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or anything detrimental to the civilized world. Therefore, America started intervening in foreign conflicts and wielded unprecedented global power, in the late 20th Century. That got further consolidated after the collapse of Soviet Empire and Warsaw Pact countries. Global policing is a challenging job and 21st Century brings enormous challenges to the USA in performing this task satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the United States is not present everywhere and doesn’t act perfectly. They cannot right every wrong, nor intervene everywhere. Of course this is true, but no police force is unbiased or above board.
Cost of Global PolicingAmerica dons the mantle of world’s policeman because there is nobody to protect the peaceful countries from the ruthlessness of religious radicalism and international gangs of terrorists. We need someone strong to check nuclear proliferation or threats from biological or chemical warfare. There is also need to protect the planet earth, conserve energy resources and protect the environment from pollution. With globalization, international supply chains have increased manifold and they need to be secured. The U.N. has proven to be ineffective and their agenda is often hijacked by the powerful. Only the U.S. has the capability to lead, o act and enforce rule based order. American troops are stationed from South Korea to Germany, to prevent aggression and a return of dangerous rivalries. Also, the US Navy patrols the world’s oceans, to prevent the closing of checkpoints at places like the ‘Straits of Hormuz’ and ‘South China Sea’.
Today, the Pentagon controls around 750 bases in some 80 foreign countries and territories. Military action goes on against terrorism in 76 countries, or 40 % of the world. It’s a global empire that spans the entire planet and also aerospace today. Bases are far away leading to prolonged separation and neglect of family life, which takes it’s toll on the troops and resources.
Global policing comes at a steep price and only a rich country like USA can afford it. Research estimates state that world policeman duties cost America about $5.6 trillion, however the Pentagon downplays it to $1.5 trillion, per year. These estimates predict that by 2050, cost of world policing duties may increase to more than $ 8 Trillion. No country except USA can financially sustain that effort. There is a rising concern within America, with learned citizens asking whether USA should invest its resources and energy in such costly self-acquired global policing assignment? The super –cop role comes at a price and discomfort to own forces.
Today, if we do a geopolitical scan of the world affairs, we find that in Eastern Europe, a resurgent Russia has brutally attacked Ukraine and the war is going on unabated for more than a year. Other countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Lebanon have become a breeding ground for terrorists. China is flexing its muscles against its neighbors like Taiwan and India. Countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Venezuela are almost at the brink of financial disaster. To top it all, rogue state like North Korea are threatening the world with a nuclear attack. These are only a few examples of what is now at stake as autocrats, terrorists and rogue states challenge the international rules-based order—which was created after World War II under UN leadership and which secured for the world, an unprecedented period of peace, progress and prosperity.
There are lots of international laws on prohibiting genocide, landmines, biological weapons and other nasty things. But without enforcement mechanisms they are as worthless. Presently, only America can play all these roles, because America alone has the credibility to shape sustainable solutions to these challenges. Europe is weak, divided and leaderless. The old powers of Britain and France are simply too small and exhausted to play the global role they once did. Russia is too obsessed with Ukraine war and rebuilding the old Soviet Union Empire. China is still primarily an emerging super power and not capable of policing the world unbiased..
After the collapse of USSR, the world almost became unipolar with USA emerging as the most powerful country. This is being challenged in 21st Century. The world is today changing from unipolar to multipolar where the supreme superpower status of USA is being challenged. America is not able to maintain discipline and order in the world because smaller nation states are challenging their authority to become self-styled global police and they dare to do that because of silent backing from some emerging regional powers. USA has also been selective in their interventions, as it suites their national interests and the narratives are created accordingly. The crisis of U.S. supremacy has been in the making for decades, and probably, now reached its culmination. It would be better for United States to “decline gracefully.”
America’s record at keeping global order is deeply flawed, but no other country is prepared and capable to take on that role. In 21st Century, alliances of various countries having common interest like NATO, G7, G20, SAARC, SCO, AUKUS and QUAD are coming up. They are not only looking after the business interests of each other but also prepared to stand together in hours of crisis, if their interests are threatened by a regional bully. It’s a win-win situation for all.
All societies and nation states, when they become sufficiently interdependent, due to globalization, need governance at international level. Our society of sovereign countries has reached that point. The international society needs governance and the United States provides it. This is in the interest of growth of global economy. American military deployments and policing assures the free flow of trade and the movement of capital goods sans frontiers. It has brought prosperity, development and livelihood to thousands of millions of people across the globe..
There is a realignment of power in the 21st Century. Developing countries other than USA are also rising on the world geopolitical stage . A multipolar world and a more equitable balance of power – one not dominated and distorted by superpowers and dictators – must be the aim in 21st Century. The rising awareness amongst developing regional superpower, is challenging the role of USA as global policeman. Their argument is that US is a country and not a global government. They do not buy the argument that USA is an impartial umpire in world affairs . The responsibilities of restoring rule based order in the region should, best be assigned to regional alliances, with UN Security Council monitoring that globally.
(The author is a social activist, career consultant and a motivation speaker)