However, implementing the eight policy proposals would also widen further the wealth gap between the US and Europe, which has been growing for the last three decades. Between 1980 and 2005, the US economy grew by a factor of 4.45 — a level that no major European economy even approached. In 2011, Norway and Luxembourg were the only European countries with higher per capita national income than the US in purchasing power parity terms. And, by 2040, European countries’ populations will have stagnated or shrunk (with the exception of the UK, which will have a population of roughly 75 million, comparable with Germany’s), while the US’ will have grown to 430 million, from 314 million today.
The political consequences of the US economy’s renewed strength will reverberate worldwide. However, maintaining this economic revival will require greater reluctance to intervene in foreign conflicts or engage in new wars.
This recognition has already dampened US policymakers’ support for the Arab Spring uprisings: witness Obama’s hesitation to intervene in Libya and his unwillingness, at least so far, to involve the US directly in Syria’s bloody civil war. Although the Arab Spring’s historic significance was initially likened to that of the fall of the Berlin Wall, mounting concern about the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasing political influence is overshadowing the positive potential of change in the region.
Likewise, while the US will not relinquish its bilateral relationship with Israel, relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama have reached a new low. In this context, a major US peace initiative in the Middle East is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the US’ former rival, Russia, is struggling to restore its hegemony over many of the ex-Soviet countries, while conditions in Africa and Latin America are generally stabilizing.
Given this, the US’ foreign policy priorities have shifted to the Asia-Pacific region, where the most pressing economic, political and security challenges — including the threat of North Korean missiles and rising tensions between China and its neighbors over competing sovereignty claims in the South and East China Seas — are emerging. Other global challenges appear relatively minor in comparison.
Although the weight of global politics, economics, and, in turn, influence is largely shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it would be a mistake to underestimate the US’ role in the new world order. The US never really stepped out of the spotlight, and it will continue to play a leading role.
Alfred Gusenbauer was chancellor of Austria in 2007 and 2008.
Copyright: Project Syndicate