Dangerous hubris

With the collapse of the USSR and end of Cold War, the US was further emboldened to pursue American “exceptionalism”

Zamir Akram July 13, 2021
The writer is a former ambassador and was Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and to the Conference on Disarmament. The views expressed here are his own

President Joe Biden’s mantra of “America is back” for “realising America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners”, and for “confronting the harmful activities… of China and Russia” by promoting freedom, democracy and human rights around the world, is actually a façade for his real agenda to ensure American global supremacy. In essence, such presumptive and sanctimonious hubris about America as the “leader of the free would” has been consistently espoused since the Cold War. But now with the emergence of China and Russia as strategic competitors, such American hubris endangers the global order. Confrontation rather than cooperation with China and Russia, in pursuit of America’s zero-sum policy for international domination, will exacerbate mutual tensions and destabilise the world.

Renowned American scholar, Andrew Bacevich, writes in The Limits of Power, that since the Cold War, “hubris and sanctimony have become the paramount expressions of American statecraft” to achieve the “self-assigned prerogative… to establish and enforce the norms governing the post-Cold War international order”. He recalls National Security Council directive NSC-68 of 1950, written by then Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Nitze, as still guiding American decision-makers, by using “fearmongering” to justify “permanent militarisation of US policy”. Nitze also advocated the “demonising of America’s adversaries” and the use of ideals like freedom and democracy to “camouflage American ambitions” for global expansionism. The targets were not just the Soviets or the Chinese but all those who defied the US, who were eliminated or removed, such as Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran, or Salvador Allande of Chile among more than 15 others worldwide.

With the collapse of the USSR and end of the Cold War, the US was further emboldened to pursue American “exceptionalism” through unilateralism and pre-emption as the world’s “sole-superpower”. Nitze’s legacy was embraced by the “neo-cons” including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, advocating permanent and unquestioned military supremacy as the cornerstone of post-Cold War policy, especially after 9/11, by waging a “war of no exists and no deadlines”. President Bush articulated this policy by claiming that “survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands” which in effect meant that as the “protector” of liberty, the US had the prerogative of waging war when and where it saw fit. The result was enforced regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Despite the disastrous consequences of these wars, including on the US, these policies continue.

Read More: China says US fuelling new Cold War due to presidential election

American hubris has squandered the opportunity for a stable international order through pursuit of “full-spectrum dominance” instead of cooperation with a resurgent Russia and a rising China. Seeking American unipolar supremacy, Russian security interests have been ignored with the expansion of NATO and promotion of Russian opponents in Georgia and Ukraine, leading to military responses by Moscow in Europe, the Black Sea and the Middle East. Recent imposition of sanctions, charges of cyberattacks, interference in Russian domestic politics, opposing Moscow’s trade relations with Europe and deriding President Putin as a “killer” have brought bilateral relations to their lowest point. Despite conclusion and subsequent renewal of the New Start treaty, America still continues its unilateral rejection of the ABM, INF and Open Skies treaties.

While China sought a peaceful rise through win-win cooperation based on extensive economic relations with America, successive administrations since Bush have tried to contain and confront China. Obama’s Pivot to Asia and Trump’s Quadrilateral Alliance with Japan, Australia and India has generated hostility in bilateral relations. Apart from seeking to control China’s vital maritime routes in the Indo-Pacific ostensibly to ensure freedom of navigation and a rules-based order, Washington has challenged Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea along with its regional partners. President Xi Jinping’s strategic option of establishing alternative continental routes through the BRI is also being strongly contested by the US. Interference in China’s internal affairs has increased as well with accusations of “genocide” against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Reacting to American unilateralism, Russia and China have moved increasingly closer through their bilateral Treaty of Friendship of 2001, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which encompass political, security, military, economic and technical cooperation. Both sides are also investing heavily in developing their conventional and strategic military capabilities. Yet, they remain far behind the US in terms of military assets and expenditure since the American military budget, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), is larger than the next 10 countries combined, including Russia and China.

There have been profound implications of America’s dangerous hubris on Pakistan which are likely to continue. Despite Pakistan’s advice, Americans pursued a military option against the Afghan Taliban for 20 years. Now they have retreated without ensuring a peaceful Afghan transition while planning “over the horizon” military operations and support for the Kabul regime which would provoke an Afghan civil war. To confront China, the Indo-US strategic partnership has militarily and politically encouraged the belligerent policies of the fascist Modi government, precipitating armed crisis with both Pakistan and China, apart from unprecedented repression in occupied Kashmir and against Indian Muslims. America’s four foundational defence agreements with India will also promote greater regional instability with India pursuing war-fighting doctrines like Cold Start and seeking pre-emptive first strike capabilities. Meanwhile Pakistan-US relations have reached an impasse since the Americans have used Pakistan as a scapegoat for their defeat in Afghanistan. Moreover, along with India, the US has tried to scuttle the CPEC project between Pakistan and China. Accordingly, Pakistan’s objective of improved relations with the US is unlikely to materialise.

Since Biden, like his predecessors, is intent upon using “freedom, democracy and human rights” as subterfuge for imposing American global hegemony, which is being increasingly contested by more assertive Chinese and Russian reactions, international stability is being dangerously undermined. A new tri-polar cold war is bound to occur due to American hubris. This will also pose multiple challenges for Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2021.

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