The unsuccessful leaving of the United States from Afghanistan, where it went as the protector of democracy and the values of the secular Western world leads to questioning the Pax Americana (American Peace), which has been going on since 1945.
Between 1945 and 1991, the USA assumed the role of Gendarme of the World in the bipolar world and the post-cold war unipolar world. They have designed the American Foreign Policy to implement their values all over the world in line with their interests. Pax Americana has been questioned in cases such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam Impasse, and the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Especially after the Vietnam Swamp, the United States tried to preserve its principle and functional imperialist superpower role in the world with various strategy changes that started with Kissinger.
The Trump era, which damaged the classic American Foreign Policy, the Challenge of China and Russia, the Covid-19 Epidemic, the United States Capitol Attack on January 6, 2021 and Biden’s Afghanistan error are pushing this role. It is questioned how American Foreign Policy will respond in the face of such deep crises and the more effective use of smart and soft power by rivals. This article will first examine Pax-Americana in depth. Afterwards, it will be questioned how the victory of the Taliban and other developments could affect this pax period.
What is Pax (America)?
Pax Americana means
“American Peace” in Latin. It can be defined as the military, political, economic and social superiority established by the dominant powers in different periods and determining the balances in the world. The first Pax Period in world history is the Pax Romana period, which is the period between the 1st century BC and 180 AD. Pax Romana is Rome’s establishment and protection of the order of the period with its own values and rules. With the attacks of barbarian tribes on Rome, the Roman Empire and Pax Romana were weakened and destroyed. To summarize the Pax periods briefly, in the chess game called Politics, the power that chooses the table, the board and the roles rules the Pax.
Pax Americana Concept
The position of England in the world after the Industrial Revolution has caused the period from the beginning of the 19th century to be analyzed as Pax Britannica. In terms of language, culture, economy and military, British domination spread to transoceanic lands except Continental Europe. Although the collapse of the Pax Britannica Although it is accepted as the inability of England to protect Europe and its own value judgments against Fascist Germany in World War II, it can also be accepted as the rise of American values all over the world instead of the decline of the Commonwealth of Nations, that is, the British influence in the colonies. Since the beginning of the 19th century, the USA, which was away from the developments in Continental Europe with the Monroe Doctrine, tried to establish dominance in its own hinterland in this period.
In the following years, the first move to establish the American Pax was the idealist President Woodrow Wilson’s Wilson Principles and the League of Nations policies, which cannot be considered successful. In the following years, the United States of America, the capitalist and the leader of the Western World, will enter into a relentless struggle with communism in the Pax seat that England had to leave. The United States, which wants to establish a new world order with its own values and judgments, has clearly proven this in the economic field with the Bretton Woods system. In the following years, with the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan and the establishment of NATO, the USA started to build its own Pax in the bipolar world. With these political, military and economic moves, the USA aimed to spread the American economic and political understanding, namely capitalism and political liberalism.
According to some authorities, nuclear deterrence, which ended the Second World War and determined the style of the Cold War, was the most important power element of this period, and this element prevented the USSR-USA rivalry from turning into a hot conflict. That’s why they call this period Pax Atomica. According to some authorities, Pax Americana emerged with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Their main argument is that there are many countries in the world where the USA is not active. According to them, the United States, which established the order of the Post-Cold War era after the end of the bipolar world, started the Pax period after this date.
Indeed, Since World War II, the United States has been the main actor in almost all crises in the world with its own interests and principles. Perhaps a deep crisis similar to today, Vietnam and its traumas are one of the most important crises that forced Pax Americana in the Cold War. Despite complicated public reaction, the United States intervened in Vietnam so that a communist domino effect would not harm the capitalist world. President Lyndon Johnson’s successors did not want to suffer a loss in Asia as Truman’s lost China and Eisenhower’s lost Cuba.
Domino theory and McNamara’s policy succumbed to guerrilla warfare. Just like today, the USA suffered a great and traumatic defeat in the face of those who are the enemies of the values and judgments that make up Pax Americana. In Vietnam half a century ago, as in Afghanistan today, Pax Americana did not simply retreat militarily. After Vietnam, the ‘American Dream’ and ‘the role of the USA as the leader of the free world’ had lost its sincerity. This leadership had turned into a gendarmerie (a force with a stick). The American Ideal had become a force to be feared rather than a force to be envied with its tough and military power, and it had become a force to be fought against. But the United States, by changing the understanding and image of the impasse created by Vietnam, protected Pax Americana against the Soviet Union, the other pole of the world.
The reactions of the American public against the war, the traumas and losses of the war pushed Washington to reforms that could prevent a new Vietnam. Not only Vietnam, but also the OPEC Crisis in the early 1970s and the inadequacy of the Bretton Woods System pushed these changes to the American Foreign Policy. Just like today, the foreign policy understanding of the period could not respond to the requirements of the period. By increasing the dose of the Check and Balances principle, American Foreign Policy adopted a more cautious foreign policy style with the influential name of the period, Henry Kissinger. As Steven W. Hook and John Spanier mentioned in their book American Foreign Policy Since World War II, Kissinger revised American Foreign Policy more in line with the norms of the international system.
According to him, instead of trying to democratize its rivals, the USA should have survived together with the USSR in order to preserve peace and security. In this case, the increase in nuclear deterrence, which is a mutual balancing factor, was at the forefront. The United States, which moved to a more cautious foreign policy understanding with Kissinger, switched to a more virtuous understanding that exports American ideals to the world with President Jimmy Carter. At this point, American Foreign Policy changed its style and continued Pax Americana by using diplomacy and its own values with smart and soft power rather than hard power. In the following years, the American Foreign Policy, which stepped up with the Reagan Doctrine, preserved Pax Americana and did not emerge from the Cold War as a loser. Understanding that the Domino Theory and hard power policies are not the right key, the United States has achieved this with its capital values and the right strategy.
The United States, which emerged from the Cold War as a successful and sole absolute power, wanted to consolidate the pax it created with the desire for Empire. This motivation of American Foreign Policy is analyzed in Robert W. Tucker, David Hendrickson’s book The Imperial Temptation: The New World Order And America’s Purpose. The 43rd President George H. W. Bush, who created the last years of the Cold War and the motivation of the post-Cold War American Foreign Policy, made a key speech on the new order in March 1991. In speech, he emphasized that the founding values of the UN and the USA would raise freedom and human rights all over the world. Just like in the Western Bloc in the Cold War years, The USA would work to consolidate its pax through its international organizations with the principles of regulatory liberalism of the United States at the points where the USSR left.
The global expansion of democracy was to be targeted with the American Idealism and Dream. As Hook and Spainer put it, the world was one that American leaders had desired since the country’s founding more than two centuries ago. The crises in the 90s provided many opportunities for the USA to maintain its world empire. In the new period, American Foreign Policy tried to be effective in crisis and opportunity points with this vision. For example, the war in the Gulf, the tragedy in Bosnia after Yugoslavia, the civil wars in Africa can be given. This has been tried to be achieved with the UN Peacekeeping Force. On the other hand, American values and judgments were tried to be instilled in the whole world with various soft and smart power moves.
End of the Pax Americana?
It can be clearly observed that crises such as ‘The Trump era, which damaged the classic American Foreign Policy, the Challenge of China and Russia, the Covid-19 Epidemic, the United States Capitol Attack on January 6, 2021 and Biden’s Afghanistan error’ experienced in the last year, have worn out Pax Americana. Biden, who tended to continue the Classical American Foreign Policy in the face of this deterioration, did not pass his first international examination. Just like the policies that dragged the USA into the Vietnam quagmire in the 1960s, today’s American Foreign Policy is not strong enough to maintain the global balance of the period.
After the relations destroyed by Trump, Biden tried to protect the reputation of Pax-Americana through international organizations with his liberal memory. He tried to turn the changing balances in Europe and Eurasia in his favor with NATO and the UN, the practitioners of regulatory liberalism. But it is critical for Pax-Americana that the world’s countries refuse to enter the ongoing political crises under the American leadership in such a fragile time. Even in Europe, where American values and judgments have received the most positive response since the Second World War, Pax-Americana is being questioned today. This failure in Afghanistan was evaluated as a ‘fiasco’ by European countries and authorities. As Christopher Caldwell mentioned in his article in The New York Times, “American fecklessness has left European leaders infuriated.”
Apart from the Afghanistan issue, the rise of some contrary movements in Europe is also related to the failure of the USA. Despite the existence of NATO, which is the military arm of Pax, the words of French President Emmanuel Macron that “Europeans cannot be safe unless they establish a sovereign European Union (EU) army that is not dependent on the USA” are very critical. Again, Macron argued after the withdrawal in Afghanistan the US could not be relied upon. The rise of these views of Macron in Europe is vital for Pax-America. The most important indicator of this is that Europe no longer wants to be involved in the wars and coflicts created by the USA.
Writing in the Financial Times, the journalist Gideon Rachman and writing in the Foreign Affairs Joshua D. Kertzer proclaimed, “On Afghanistan, Biden’s credibility is now shot.” Officials who worked for President Donald Trump have piled on as well. His one-time national security adviser H. R. McMaster warned of “severe political consequences, in connection with our credibility with our allies and partners.” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that “this debacle will certainly harm America’s credibility with its friends and allies.”
The adequacy of the USA, which could not draw a stable path in crises such as Civil Wars, Economy, Pandemic and Climate Change, is questioned in Europe and many regions. The countries of the world have started to look for various alternatives at the point of crisis. China, which is a candidate to be an alternative to the United States, has been improving its reputation in recent years with various soft and smart power moves. Although Russia does not have as successful global moves as China, it is taking important steps to become an alternative to the USA in crises in its own region. In addition, China and Russia want to take over the task of the USA in order to ensure peace in Afghanistan. As Raymond J. de Souza wrote in National post Defeat in Afghanistan can pave way for China’s rise as global hegemon. In particular, the possibility of China offering an alternative success to the world in the face of the USA’s failure in Afghanistan may further weaken Pax-Americana. The inadequacy of the international organizations established and led by the USA during all these crises and the pandemic also causes the weakening of Pax-Americana. It is curious how Biden, who could not make up for the damage done by Trump and was wrong in his predictions in Afghanistan, will protect Pax-Americana.
The USA Policy Dilemma
The closest failure, similar to the failure of Pax-Americana in Afghanistan, is the failure in Vietnam. Instead of creating a Domino theory as feared, Vietnam caused the US to change its vision in the Cold War. Will American Foreign Policy be able to survive this period of crisis by protecting Pax-Americana as it did in the 1970s? First of all, what will be at the top of the agenda of American Foreign Policy is very important. National Crises? Is it a pandemic? Afghanistan? Or a war of hegemony with China? Convincing reliable allies like Europe to the US leadership again? The answers to all these questions will determine the fate of Pax-Americana.
The dilemma in which the US domestic politics and public opinion dragged American foreign policy has led to a loss of stability for years. In recent years, the consequences of this dilemma have become more evident. The USA, which intervened in the Middle East under the leadership of the Republican President after 9.11, wants to withdraw from the Middle East with the Republican President Trump after years. The USA, which acted with the mission of “Bringing Peace to the Middle East” during the Barack Obama era, is now withdrawing from Afghanistan with Biden, the former vice president of Obama. With all these dilemmas and public pressure, American Foreign Policy is being forced.
For the USA, which is on the verge of a similar decision as after Vietnam and after the Cold War, it is critical which direction it will go. Could withdrawal from global leadership be an alternative? The continued global leadership of the United States is critical to the sustainability of its current economy. This is why withdrawal from global leadership cannot be an alternative. As the world is much more global and integrated than at the beginning of the 19th century, approaches similar to the Monroe doctrine are inconclusive. Would a move like the liberal internationalism step taken by Bush the Father after the Cold War still work today? As Hook and Spainer mentioned, after the Cold War, no other country had the ability to use worldwide energy for the betterment of humanity. But are credibility and resources of America today sufficient for such an attempt again? Judging by the recent public opinion and events, it is not enough. But maintaining this status is crucial to the preservation of Pax-Americana.
Or would policies similar to Kissinger’s realpolitik policies, which saved the United States from post-Vietnam instability, suffice? Things seem to have changed for Biden, who took classic American liberal foreign policy steps in the early days of his presidency. As Eric Posner noted in Project Syndicate, “US President Joe Biden’s speech defending the withdrawal from Afghanistan announced a decisive break with a tradition of foreign-policy idealism that began with Woodrow Wilson and reached its apex in the 1990s.”
In his speech on the Withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden’s constant emphasis on national interests is an indication of his departure from liberal internationalism. So, will the USA, which has left Afghanistan, withdraw from many crises in the world with a realistic vision? Will Pax-Americana remain credible if withdrawn? In the coming days, very important tests await Biden and American Foreign Policy in the diplomatic arena. But the fact that the United States fled Bagram Base is a very negative image for Pax Americana. For some, this image is a sign that Pax Americana is over and American Chaos has begun.
Research by Berke ERŞAN