Democrats have lost their way on foreign policy. The party has been stuck in post-Cold War drift--confused by the Somalia syndrome, wedded to outdated notions of alliances, and unable to get its arms around America's enormous power. Democrats have overemphasized the importance of transnational issues and "soft power", ideas that, while important, do not play a dominant role in international affairs. Americans instead want a foreign policy that reflects the reality of U.S. power while remaining committed to the values of which they are proud.
There is an alternative path, one that will put Democrats on a course that is both realist and promotes traditional Democratic values. "Real Democratik" is firmly rooted in the fact that the structure of international relations, defined as the distribution of capabilities among states, heavily shapes the policies of states. The contemporary international order will be marked for at least the next several decades by unprecedented American unipolarity. Despite the debacle of the Iraq occupation, Real Democratik views this unipolar world as normatively good and empirically inevitable.
Democratic foreign policy must take advantage of the current unipolar world to prolong and improve this benevolent order, and Democrats must promote core U.S. interests. Only an American-led order can bring stability to the turbulent post-9/11 world, and only this order can facilitate the spread, where appropriate, of democracy and human rights. Multilateralism should be the instrument of choice for a Democratic administration--though unilateral action is appropriate to protect vital U.S. interests. The new course will require a steadfast period of repair to the damage caused by President George W. Bush's predilection for unilateral policies. If these policies are not halted, they will continue to provoke other states, hasten the decline of America's unipolar era, and make more difficult the pursuit of America's vital interests.
Politically, Real Democratik's hard-nosed approach to U.S. interests will appeal to conservative Democrats and independents, while its clear preference for multilateral action and promotion, where possible, of American values will appeal to more traditional Democratic constituencies. The prescriptions elaborated in this essay argue that Washington can and must "walk and chew gum at the same time": America can focus on its vital interests without ignoring the moralistic vein so deeply embedded in its history.
The argument of this essay is presented in two parts. The first, theoretical section argues that unipolarity is the seminal aspect of international relations, but that a set of interconnected factors (including alliances, institutions, legitimacy and terrorism) also can affect the duration and nature of the unipolar order. Because it is so important, unipolarity must be the starting point for incisive analysis of both international affairs and American foreign policy. The second part provides a policy framework by weaving together theoretical considerations and concrete U.S. foreign policy goals into specific policy recommendations.
Realities of the International Order
Democrats have had a hard time coming to grips with the unprecedented power possessed by the United States, a stark problem because the extent of America's predominance is remarkable. Today's structure is marked by unprecedented U.S. unipolarity. In 2002, America's military spending was more than double that of the expanded EU, seven times that of China and Russia, nine times that of France, Japan, and Britain, and ten times that of Germany. America commands an overwhelming superiority in conventional, nuclear and other capabilities and is widening its already huge qualitative advantage by far outspending others on research and development. American economic predominance is somewhat less profound, but still very significant. America's GDP in 2002 was 1.5 times that of the expanded EU, 2.6 times that of Japan, about 6.1 times that of Germany, France and the UK, and 8.5 times that of China. This economic dominance surpasses that of any other great power in modern history. The numbers for the EU--America's closest statistical competitor--must be discounted severely in the military realm (where EU budgets, capabilities and organization are low) and to a significant extent in the economic realm (where breadth has predominated over depth in EU enlargement and the outcomes of constitutional and other issues central to union are unclear). While American dominance in these categories is clear, what makes the extent of U.S. unipolarity historically unprecedented is dominance in each category simultaneously.
Unipolarity is the primary reason that other great powers have not and will not soon balance against America's preponderant power. Formal balancing can take two forms: organized anti-U.S. alliances or internal military buildups to counter America. Balance of power theory predicts that preponderant power should give rise to opposing power, because preponderance makes lesser powers feel threatened. However, less powerful states should be expected to balance only when they believe that doing so can be effective.
The current unipolar structure strongly deters balancing, primarily because no coalition of states could expect to rival America's dominance. In effect, the balance of power has been suspended. The gap between the United States and other states is just too big for competition to be fruitful. Balancing is suspended for several other reasons as well. The U.S.-dominated order provides goods to other nations which they value.