Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Foreign Policy on the Edge

Steven E. Meyer


Now that the United States “officially” has ended its armed military engagement in Iraq and we have begun to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan, the American foreign policy cognoscenti has begun to debate the future of  how this country will engage the rest of the world in the future.  But for the most part, it is a phony debate.  We see arguments for “smart power,” re-born “realism,” a “new liberalism,” more use of “soft power” and even continuing military “dominance.” Each of these positions is based on a surreal dream world that continues to see the U.S. as the “indispensable nation,” the “arsenal of democracy,” the benevolent “hegemon.” It is past time to discard such hackneyed shibboleths.  The structure and function of the world has moved beyond these worn-out 20th century norms.  We need new theories, new policies, new practices and new partnerships that reflect the world as it is and the real state of American power.

We cannot elaborate a new framework for American foreign policy here, but we can initiate a process of discussion that defines the fundamental questions and begins to bring some clarity to them. Perhaps most importantly, we can challenge ourselves as Christians to bring reason, faith and justice to this new world.

First, what are the conditions that are emerging in the world of the 21st century?  American influence and power are in decline.  We carry the weight of crushing debt that no longer allows us the freedom to engage in overseas adventures the way we did in the past.  At the same time, the structure of the global system is in the midst of tectonic change.  The state, while still highly relevant, is in decline as non-state actors become increasingly numerous and powerful and all actors become part of an increasingly globalized world.  The ebb, flow and interaction of state and non-state actors, especially emanating from Asia, increasingly will dominate the course of events and the exercise of power.  Add to this mix the impact of climate change, an increased number of nuclear-armed powers, an expanding gap between rich and poor and the rise of post-democratic regimes, and we have a world that is far different from the one we are leaving behind.

Second, what are our interests in that world?  These interests are even more intimately entwined with other actors than they have been in the past.  In this context, arguably, three broad areas frame American interests and those of an increasingly interdependent world: physical security, including terrorism; economic prosperity, including job creation and security; and, environmental security, including climate change.  

Third, what policies and institutions do we need to secure those interests?  We can only answer this question once we have decided the first two questions.  This is why the current debate over funding the military is so feckless.  The President wants deep cuts in defense spending, while Presidential hopefuls want to protect military spending.  But how can we know what the level of spending should be unless we know what the military is for?  The same applies to the intelligence community, the State Department and every other Federal institution.  What institutions do we need, and what are they to do? 

For Christians, the challenges have never been greater.  Our moral imprint needs to be felt and our voices heard on all of these questions.  The stakes are too high not to be involved.  But where and how?  As a start, perhaps our most effective voice can and should be felt in support of policies, programs and institutions that control and eliminate nuclear weapons, address poverty, and advocate for effective climate change programs.  This can be done through the ballot box, financial support, educational programs, pressure groups, inter-denominational cooperation, letter-writing campaigns, direct action by churches and, of course, prayer.

—Steven  E. Meyer, Ph

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”