After Pax Americana?

NEW YORK – It has become popular to suggest that when the dust settles from the global financial crisis, it may become clear that the United States-led post-war world has come to an end. If so, the global system that has secured peace, security, openness, and economic growth over the past six decades could be in grave danger.

Inspired by American leadership since World War II’s end, Europe, then Japan, then much of Asia and the world rose to new levels of prosperity; the world economy globalized upon the foundation of international institutions, norms, and standards; and foreign students educated in American universities returned home with new ideas about free markets, entrepreneurship, and democracy. The US military’s protective umbrella gave large swaths of the world a vacation from war, making it easier for them to focus on economic growth and regional integration.

America not only took the lead role in building the institutions of a globalizing world – the United Nations, World Bank, IMF, NATO– it also became the model that many other countries looked to for inspiration.

After eight years of compromised American leadership, a botched war of choice in Iraq, failure to take the lead in global efforts to address climate change, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, running up a $10 trillion debt, and igniting a global financial crisis – America’s once-glittering model has lost a good deal of its luster and America’s leadership has been questioned by many.