(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.
This week and next, we’re debating the motion: America Makes the World a Safer Place. Below is Michael C’s argument for the motion.)
Let me get a counter-argument out of the way. I don’t think that American military expenditures make the world safer because America provides global security “for a dangerous world”. The idea that American hegemony provides security just doesn’t jive with the evidence. We aren’t making the world safer through military expenditure or military invasions.
But I still think America makes the world safer, on the whole, because it has been the single largest supporter for international relations liberalism. If you’re an international relations liberal (which we are) then you have to agree with the motion. America supports all three pillars of international liberalism: international institutions, democracy and free trade.
Let’s start with the last in that list, free-trade.
America has the world’s largest economy, and is the largest financial contributor to both the World Bank and the IMF, huge benefactors for global trade and economics. America also supports and helped found the World Trade Organization, the most important promoter of global trade and economics. I can already hear the critics of all three of those institutions. I admit, they aren’t perfect, but they promote free trade.
A more interconnected world, with more trade, and more movement of people, decreases the likelihood of war. Is America alone in supporting free trade? Of course not. But as the biggest economy, this goes along way to helping prevent world wars.
America also furthers economic growth through aid to the tune of $31 billion dollars last year. US donors drive this up further, mainly through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Is this enough? No. Would I like to see it even higher? Of course, but it still helps make the world a safer place.
And on the whole America supports democratic movements. Is America perfect? No. We oppose a dictatorship in Venezuela and a theocracy in Iran, but ally with a monarchy in Saudi Arabia and a dictatorship in Egypt. On the whole, America still supports UN democracy movements and funds democracy watch groups to support legitimate elections. (And yes, Iraq and Afghanistan were disasters, but we tried to promote democracy.)
And we don’t go it alone; we leverage international institutions that provide international legitimacy. America funds the United Nations. Yes, for a time period the U.S. shorted the U.N. bill under a Republican president under conservative pressure. In 2009, though, the United States paid back its past debts, and now provides more funding for the U.N. than any other country and more funding for peacekeeping operations than any other country.
But it’s not just the UN. America is also key force in many multi-national organizations--from NATO to ASEAN to OAS--that help prevent wars. (An easy rule of thumb: medieval Europe and feudal China didn’t have lots of international organizations, and fought plenty of wars. Modern countries have tons of international organizations and don’t fight a lot of wars.)
I can hear the critics. For all the big trends America either created or encourages, every so often we choose to go off the rails in something else. Historically, America spent the Cold War doing what it takes to stop the Russians, and it frequently backfired. The Cold War also caused the Vietnam War for America and the Afghanistan War for Russia. And the conflict in Afghanistan never really died down. We also executed democratically elected leaders and tried to put in our own proxies. This can still haunt us today. (Exhibit: Iran.)
And yes, America is involved in another decade long war in the “War on Terror”. Drone strikes provoke violence and extremism, providing the raison d’etre for terrorists around the world. Our national security establishment doesn’t even realize this. We need to fix that.
But during the Cold War and through to today, America led the world by creating the very concept international relations liberalism. We started the first international institution--the League of Nations--created the biggest free trade initiative in history--The Marshall Plan--and made the world’s first constitution. America basically invented the values that make the world a better place.
A world without any America might be safer, but it’s hard to see the evidence for that.