21st Century America: Nature of a Nation: Planetary Evolution, Economics, Security & Stability 2008

ENGL 102      Composition                Prof. Campbell                        Timothy Sipp                       6/27/08

21st Century America: Nature of a Nation: Planetary Evolution, Economics, Security & Stability

            For America, the question of national purpose is in the forefront of foreign policy debate. What should America do with its overwhelming military and economic superiority? Should we attempt empire or embrace a multi-polar world with a handful of great powers?

An examination of vital national interests both informs national purpose and determines the best course of action. Regardless of personal convictions and political party preferences, most analysts agree that the core American values are liberty, prosperity and stability. To ensure continued liberty, prosperity and stability, we must assess our interests and prioritize them from vital to important to peripheral and determine the best policies to implement in pursuit of the political objectives. Once this net assessment has occurred, strategies can be developed to support the policies in place.

Robert J. Art, author of A Grand Strategy for America published in 2003 by the Century Foundation, states that there are “six overarching national interests for the United States. (Art. 2003. p. 7)” Art asserts that the most vital of these interests is the prevention of an attack on the American homeland. Art contends that the primary threats to our domestic security are grand terror attacks and the spread of WMD to hard-to-deter state leaders and fanatical terrorists.

The second most important American national interest, according to Art, is the prevention of great-power Eurasian wars and/or curtailing the intense security competitions that could make those wars more likely. Art insists that any threats to Eurasian peace would be from an aggressive great power or any potential regional hegemons looking to extend their grasp.

The third most important American national interest is preserving access to a reasonably priced and secure supply of oil. The greatest threat to this interest comes in the form of an unstable Middle East, more specifically, an aggressive Iran and an Iraq at war.

America’s fourth most important national interest is the preservation of an open economic order conducive to international trade and sustainable globalization. The greatest concerns here come from great-power security competitions, great-power wars, and economic nationalism.

America’s fifth national interest, according to Art, is the promotion of our values; fostering the spread of democracy and respect for human rights abroad, and preventing genocide or mass murder in civil wars. The greatest difficulties with this interest are ruthless leaders, civil wars, and the thwarting of economic growth.

Last and least in Art’s assessment of American national interests is global warming, especially the adverse and potentially catastrophic effects of lasting climate change. The continued threat to national security from global warming comes from unfettered carbon emissions around the world.

Art assesses the status of the threats to these interests as either “Partially Present” or “Not Present”. His conclusion is that only the threats to interests one, five and six are “Partially Present” and therefore, more worthy of immediate attention (Art. 2003. pp. 78-81).

            Of the three more immediate needs, countering climate change presents the most challenges. According to Art, “ … all three assessments – damage estimates, adaptation-abatement cost comparisons, and the probability of catastrophic climate change – point strongly toward a single policy. The United States should take the steps necessary to avert a large and probably severe change in the climate… Global warming presents a potentially severe, even catastrophic threat to the United States.” (Art. 2003. pp. 78-79) This leadership position will have its short-term sacrifices and costs, but will not be without lasting rewards for America and the world (Art. 2003. p. 79).

            The sacrifices assumed to be necessary involve estimations of adaptation and abatement costs in place of business as usual. The focus of these concerns is economic loss, not necessarily technological capability or social awareness of the problem and willingness to make the sacrifices. The major concern with implementation of a carbon regulatory system is the burden it would place on the economy and the potentially detrimental affects on growth and prosperity.

            A healthy economy is essential to a nation’s stability. Good economic relations between nations are conducive to good political relations between nations. “The development of sound economic relations is closely related to security… Past experience makes clear that close and enduring cooperation in the political field must rest on a sound foundation of cooperation in economic matters (Layne. 2006. p. 44).”

            Art reveals that “Global economic growth is facilitated by a deep peace in Eurasia and secure access to energy supplies…” and that the greatest impediment to an open international economic system is “Intense great-power security competitions, great-power wars, or public backlash against globalization, any of which could produce virulent economic nationalism (Art. 2003. p. 80).” According to Layne, “Economic nationalism depressed world prosperity, and economic distress, in turn, caused domestic political turmoil, which allowed totalitarians and militarists to seize power (Layne. 2006. p. 44).” This was the vicious cycle that led to the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan and eventually caused WWII.

            To prevent economic nationalism from happening today, the U.S. must concern itself with multi-lateral policies that promote open international trade and secure energy supplies for not only itself and its allies, but also the emerging great-powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China (Layne. 2006. p. 189). Additionally, the U.S. should explore any viable possibility of diminishing the importance of Middle Eastern oil with respect to its energy security due to instability in the region, the fact that the American presence encourages Islamic terrorism and the widespread affects on the global economy from wild price fluctuations (Layne. 2006. p. 188).  

            Thomas Homer-Dixon tells us in his June 16th, 2003 piece, Energy and Ingenuity (http://www.homerdixon.com/download/energy_ingenuity.pdf), that what we are missing is a sense of ingenuity with regards to energy policy; that both technical ingenuity and social ingenuity are requisite components of any evolution or revolution in energy-related affairs. Homer-Dixon defines technical ingenuity, as “recipes for reconfiguring matter to make technologies like laptops, cars, and furniture.” (http://www.homerdixon.com/download/energy_ingenuity.pdf) He subsequently defines social ingenuity, as “recipes that tell us how to arrange people to form key organizations and institutions, like court systems, markets, and parliamentary democracies.” (http://www.homerdixon.com/download/energy_ingenuity.pdf)

Homer-Dixon warns us that most of our attention is focused on new and promising technologies and not on the social structures necessary to successfully implement these new technological fixes. He insists that social ingenuity is a prerequisite factor in the development of technological innovation. “In fact, social ingenuity is a prerequisite for technical ingenuity: we don’t get the new technologies we want unless our economic institutions—especially our markets—reward innovators for the risks they take; and well-functioning markets take huge amounts of ingenuity to design, set up, and run.” (http://www.homerdixon.com/download/energy_ingenuity.pdf)

            Layne tells us that, energy security in the U.S. is not merely a question of market forces and economic theory, but a matter of the utmost importance regarding national grand strategy. Therefore, Layne argues, that the government of the United States should determine a viable, sustainable, workable energy policy that weans us from foreign sources located in historically unstable regions. Layne proposes a radical solution; “The United States should embark on a ‘Manhattan Project’ to develop new energy sources that ultimately will render the Persian Gulf strategically and economically irrelevant (Layne. 2006. p. 189).”

            What does a workable solution look like with regards to technical ingenuity and social ingenuity? How will a new technology answer questions of energy security, economic prosperity and political stability for the U.S., its allies, and the rising great-powers? The answer is, it won’t, not without the social ingenuity needed to reward inventors and investors for the risks they have taken and enlightened, forward-thinking socio-political actors to encourage technology proliferation without fear of losing our competitive advantage in the near future.

            “U.S. hegemony is fated to end in the next decade or two regardless of U.S. efforts to prolong it (Layne. 2006. p. 190).” However, globalization presents the U.S. with an opportunity to craft an international economic environment friendly to U.S. interests well after the unipolar moment has come and gone.  “To those who might think that globalization is simply an American ploy to open up other economies to America’s rapacious economic behavior, I would point out that the developing states of the Third World have consistently argued that they need trade with the rich states at least as much as they need aid (Layne. 2006. p. 224).”  According to the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in his 2003 Norton book, Globalization and its Discontents:

            Today, globalization is being challenged around the world… Globalization has helped hundreds of millions of people attain higher standards of living, beyond what they, or most economists, thought imaginable but a short while ago… the countries that benefited the most have been those that took charge of their own destiny and recognized the role government can play in development rather than relying on the notion of a self-regulated market that would fix its own problems.

            But for millions of people globalization has not worked. Many have actually been made worse off, as they have seen their jobs destroyed and their lives become more insecure. They have felt powerless against forces beyond their control. They have seen their democracies undermined, their cultures eroded (Stiglitz. 2003. p. 248).

            We are compelled to reform globalization before it is too late to effectively use the embedded structures to affect positive circumstances for continued American prosperity and global stability. Stiglitz admits that, “It’s not easy to change how things are done. Bureaucracies, like people, fall into bad habits, and adapting to change can be painful ( Stiglitz. 2003. p. 252).” Art, Layne, Homer-Dixon and Stiglitz all agree that the best way to secure America’s future and maintain favorable international conditions conducive to continued prosperity and stability is for the U.S. to forgo aspirations of hegemony, and to replace one-sided economic policies with a more equitable globalization that delivers on the promises of liberty, prosperity and stability. It’s this manifestation of social ingenuity that could lead to a peaceful balance of regional actors with the U.S. as the sole superpower, a magnanimous giant among ascending great-powers.


Robert J. Art, A Grand Strategy for America. 2003. Century Foundation.

Christopher Layne, Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present. 2006. Cornell University Press

Thomas Homer-Dixon, Energy and Ingenuity. 2003. (http://www.homerdixon.com/download/energy_ingenuity.pdf)

Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and its Discontents. 2003. Norton Books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *