America’s G-Zero Moment

NEW YORK – The 2008 financial crisis marked the end of the global order as we knew it. In advance of the upcoming G-8 summit, it is impossible to overlook the fact that, for the first time in seven decades, the United States cannot drive the international agenda or provide global leadership on all of today’s most pressing problems.

Indeed, the US has trimmed its presence abroad by refusing to contribute to a eurozone bailout, intervene in Syria, or use force to contain Iran’s nuclear breakout (despite strong Israeli support). President Barack Obama officially ended the war in Iraq, and is withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan at a pace constrained only by the need to save face. America is handing off the leadership baton – even if no other country or group of countries is willing or able to grasp it.

In short, US foreign policy may be as active as ever, but it is downsizing and becoming more exacting about its priorities. As a result, many global challenges – climate change, trade, resource scarcity, international security, cyber-warfare, and nuclear proliferation, to name a few – are bound to loom larger.

Welcome to the G-Zero world, a more turbulent, uncertain environment in which coordination on global policy issues falls by the wayside. Paradoxically, this new environment, though daunting, is less troublesome for the US; in fact, it provides fresh opportunities for the US to capitalize on its unique position. The G-Zero world is not all bad for the US – if it plays its cards right.