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America’s Dangerous Drift (Page 4 of 5)

North Korea, under its new leader Kim Jung-un, is a worrisome, if only slightly less dangerous, source of disorder. It routinely threatens its neighbors with careless and reckless language, while its military and elite draw most of the nation’s scarce resources. North Korea’s benefactor is China, which provides food and oil, but is unwilling to rein in its provocative behavior. Pyongyang’s recent long-range rocket and nuclear test make it clear the “hermit kingdom,” with its past behavior of sharing such dangerous technologies with Syria and Iran, has destabilizing consequences for Northeast Asia.

4. Unexpected sources of disorder

Grand strategy must deal not just with the expected sources of global disorder, but it must guide states so that they know how to deal with the eternally difficult problem of the less predictable or totally unexpected sources of disorder. These pose fundamental problems for societies and the international community.

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America’s grand strategy must guide policymakers who deal with the normal ebbs and flows in world politics. While such political shifts are routine, these can have destabilizing consequences when policymakers are not acutely mindful of the risks posed by powerful and often unexpected “sources of disorder.”

Foremost is the resurgence of extremists in Afghanistan. With U.S. forces withdrawing and the Taliban still a force to be reckoned with, Afghanistan risks sliding back into violence and terrible repression. Accelerating its deterioration was the U.S. announcement that its forces would leave no later than 2014, with approximately half of U.S. forces being withdrawn this year. Where once the Taliban believed they were losing, their resurgence is a stark reminder that they are seemingly biding their time until the U.S./NATO withdrawal.

Second, despite hopes for democracy in the Middle East, the Arab Spring, once so promising, is spiraling into violence. Egypt teeters on the edge of chaos as President Morsi’s gamble to gain unchecked power accelerates political confrontation and draws the country toward civil war. Meanwhile, Libya is a breeding ground for extremists while events in Mali point to the rise of al Qaeda and growing instability. Violence in Syria, costing tens of thousands of lives, shows no signs of abating.

While U.S. policy once rightly encouraged the democratic “spring,” what is Washington’s strategy as we watch these societies descend into the chaos and all-too-familiar authoritarianism from the past?

Three, global trade and rapid technological change flatten power relationships between individuals, firms, and states. With globalization altering power, American policymakers need a grand strategy, using soft and hard power, to help them manage unexpected developments in the public and private sectors. 

Fourth, American grand strategy must contend with the rise of new and unforeseen non-state actors whose ideas mobilize followers. Beyond its military and economic might, America’s “soft power” permits it to help shape a global community based on shared interests, universal values, and ideals. Working with non-governmental and civil-society actors, the United States must effectively communicate what values shape its foreign policy.

Policymakers also face the truly modern challenge of cyber warfare in the hands of non-state actors. Never before have non-state actors, groups, and movements possessed an instrument capable of inflicting such immense harm. One element of American grand strategy must consider how to deal with groups that could attack the physical and economic infrastructure of American society. Imagine if cyber hackers from an extremist organization cut off U.S. electric power during the winter, or hacked into the safety controls of a nuclear reactor. The old grand strategy, which focused on ideology and nuclear weapons, is irrelevant in the face of modern foreign and domestic challenges.

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