Impact of US Strategic Power on Global Well-Being (quick take)

bykbog1mo23rd Mar 20192 comments

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Introduction

I find that the value of increasing US strategic power (and, more broadly, the strategic power of the West/NATO) is positive and significant. This is a relatively superficial take with a lot of handwavy perceptions – mainly done for my own purposes, but shared for the benefit of others.

Some scholars predict that US hegemony will end (Foreign Affairs), implying that our main question is what sort of influence America will have in the ensuing multipolar system. Others think that there is hope for retaining an American-led world order, albeit with some level of retrenchment and rebalancing (Lake 2018, MacDonald and Parent 2018). Either way, it should be kept in mind that US interests over the next decades will be less globally comprehensive than those of the last few decades.

"Strategic power" here is the ability to exert the national interest across military (including cyber), economic, political and social domains in the international arena.

Current International Disputes

US-China

Chinese actions in the South China Sea have had a minor negative impact on local interests and undermined the credibility of international law. US deterrence has had a beneficial, though minor, impact.

Taiwan benefits from its independence.

The impact of Chinese policy towards North Korea, vis-à-vis what the United States wants out of Chinese policy towards North Korea, is not clear (I am uninformed about this topic).

Chinese support for Pakistan in opposition to India is harmful to the long-run interests of Kashmir and provokes violence in the region; the US has minimal involvement here but I expect it to increase in the future.

US-Russia

Russian military activity in Ukraine and Georgia has been substantially harmful and undermined norms of sovereignty, honesty and international law. In both cases, better US opposition and deterrence would have been locally beneficial by minimizing Russian aggression and destruction (though I make no claims as to whether it would have been broadly wise).

Russian efforts to support the Assad regime in Syria seem harmful, but US efforts to counter them do not seem to have been significantly better.

NATO countries benefit from security against Russia, but they are generally capable of defense and deterrence without major US assistance.

Russia’s belligerence may be coming to a halt (Moscow Times).

Russian interference in the United States 2016 election supported Trump, who is a poor president (Candidate Scoring System).

US-MENA

US military efforts in the Middle East and North Africa have good goals but flawed execution that tends to render them worse-than-neutral. Sometimes they also undermine the credibility of international law. Future policymakers may be cautious enough to avoid this, or they may simply retrench from the region because of shifting structural interests. Better strategic power may create a moral hazard for increased intervention, but it may also lead to more success in interventions.

US-Iran

Iran’s geostrategic goals involve disruptively reshaping the region in accordance with its Islamist vision (Kissinger 2015). It’s not clear whether Islamist governance is domestically worse than secular dictatorship in the Middle East, but democracies could also be threatened and geopolitical disruption always has certain costs. Deterrence of Iran’s nuclear program and terrorism activities would be beneficial.

US-North Korea

Stopping North Korea’s nuclear program would increase the safety of the region. It would worsen North Korean security, but regime weakening or regime change in North Korea might be positive. In any case, the US won’t weaken North Korea severely enough to create a major risk for South Korea.

Beneficial Values

Traditional and Secular-Rational Values

Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook. Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (World Values Survey) There is no strong direct reason to prefer one or the other.

Survival and Self-Expression Values

Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance. Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life. (World Values Survey) Self-expression values are preferable to survival values as they lead to better social interactions and a more socially efficient distribution of resources.

The United States has a high self-expression score. Every nation with a higher score than the US is a member of the Western bloc. Mexico has an equal score to the US.

Some members of the Western bloc have average or below average scores, in Catholic and Orthodox Europe. But at a glance, it seems that most of the EU’s GDP is comprised by nations with high scores.

India, Brazil, Pakistan, and Turkey have average scores. Indonesia has a slightly below-average score. China and Russia have low scores.

Pro-Animal Values

Other Western bloc countries, Brazil, India, Malaysia and the Philippines have higher animal welfare ratings than the US. Indonesia, Japan and Mexico have equal ratings to the US. China, Russia, southeast Asia, southwest Asia, and Africa have worse ratings (World Animal Protection).

Effective Altruism

Effective Altruism is currently small, but its popularity may be an important indicator of a population’s values, and it may be useful for the EA community to reward actors on the basis of their receptiveness. EA mainly exists in the United States and elsewhere in the Western bloc; no other regions have significant per-capita numbers of EAs (EA Hub).

Technology

China has generally been a pragmatic supporter of technological research and experimentation, which usually leads to faster progress. Western cultural tropes promote harsher public oversight and control of R&D, which usually involves better safety. The major areas of interest are machine learning and genetic engineering, which are both sources of major risks and benefits. It is not clear whether the Western approach or the Chinese approach is preferable.

Structural Incentives

Democracy

Democracies rarely go to war with one another (Reiter 2017). The Western bloc is generally more democratic than the rest of the world. The US has an approximately average level of democracy for the Western bloc, and a similar level to India and South America. America is slightly more democratic than Brazil, and much more democratic than China and Russia.

Economics

America’s advanced liberal economy causes it to favor unfettered international trade, which is globally beneficial, although the economic gains of further trade liberalization are relatively small (Clemens (2011). America and the Western bloc have significantly lower tariffs than other nations, including all BRIC countries (Investopedia). China’s high level of centralized economic planning incentivizes them to engage in unfair trade practices that hinder long-run global growth.

Global Power Structure

Simplicity

Worlds with fewer competing actors are safer in the face of emerging technology risks (Armstrong et al 2013), easier to keep peaceful, and more amenable to cuts in defense budgets. Currently the US is the militarily dominant power and the global hegemon. It is the second-largest economy behind China when measured by GDP (PPP) (Wikipedia), unless the EU is included. US position will probably decline, but it will still be the world’s third-largest economy in 2050 (PWC 2017).

If China experiences unexpectedly strong and sustained military and economic growth, US strategic power could complicate and weaken an eventual state of Chinese hegemony, thereby making the world order less simple in the long run. However, in the short run and in other long-run scenarios, US strategic power can keep other nations together in the Western bloc, thus minimizing the number of independent global entities. A decline of US strategic power would lead to greater independence of Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea. The latter two may simply be integrated into Chinese regional hegemony. However, the US may have the opportunity to integrate with India, Indonesia and other nations in South Asia into a collective bloc as conflict with China becomes more pressing.

Ethical Status

Wealth

The Western bloc is generally wealthier than BRIC countries and the rest of the developing world (Wikipedia), so wealth accumulated in the latter regions will cause a greater increase in welfare.

Desert

I feel that people whose attitudes fall below common Western baselines of tolerance are less deserving of wealth and prosperity. Russia, China, India, and many other countries in Asia and Africa meet this criterion (Telegraph), though the measurement is partly related to the government rather than the populace.

Conclusion

Most of these issues (with the exception of current international disputes) will have a diminished, but still real, effect size as emerging markets experience catch-up economic growth with the West. Growing authoritarian states may not converge to Western democratic liberalism (Foreign Affairs).

Most of these issues support a preference for US strategic power. To me, they seem significant enough to suggest that efforts to increase US strategic power are comparable in long run value to efforts to refine US policies. So in typical practical questions where we face tradeoffs between refining US policies and improving US power, there is no universal answer.

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