Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - Page 6 News List

US power fading but it still has main role: IISS


A weakened US could start retreating from the world stage without help from its allies abroad, an international strategic affairs think tank said yesterday.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said US President Barack Obama would increasingly turn to others for help dealing with the world’s problems — in part because he has no alternative.

“Domestically Obama may have campaigned on the theme ‘yes we can’; internationally he may increasingly have to argue ‘no we can’t,’” the IISS said in its annual review of world affairs.

The report said the US struggles against insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan had exposed the limits of the country’s military muscle, while the near-collapse of the world financial markets had sapped the economic base on which that muscle relied.

The report also claimed that the US had lost traction in its efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program and bring peace to the Middle East.

“Clearly the US share of ‘global power,’ however measured, is in decline,” the report said.

The economic downturn, however, also highlighted how other states look to Washington for their lead: “The vivid message of the financial crisis ... was that America continued to be of vital importance to other countries, including its putative rivals as pre-eminent powers.”

“Virtually all [countries], from their different perspectives, wanted Washington to be less ineffectual in its international relations than it had been in the previous years,” the report said.

The report praised Obama saying that he recognized there was only so much the US could do “to impose its views on others.” After years of often thorny relationships between the US and its allies during President George W. Bush’s administration, Obama has talked of the need to work with other nations on such major issues.

The IISS report said Obama could help restore the US’ standing by working with its friends abroad to contain emerging threats to its position as the world’s pre-eminent power. Controlling the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea would require help from regional allies, the report said. The same was true of Afghanistan, where the US has had difficulty persuading its NATO partners to follow its lead in boosting the number of troops it has sent to fight a resurgent Taliban.

“In the next year or two, the greatest demand on US talents and power will be to persuade more to become like minded and adopt greater burdens,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the IISS warned against any assumption about the inexorable advance of China as a rival, saying the crisis exposed how dependent Beijing is on exports and how closely its economy is linked to the US.

While Beijing maintains “substantial” military, political and economic ambitions, the report notes that it is US rather than China-led partnerships that continue to dominate in the Asia-Pacific region.

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