Who's Afraid of Mr. Big?

Who's Afraid of Mr. Big?

Mini Teaser: The "soft" nature of America's international primacy has so far dissuaded other nations from forming a military coalition to balance against the United States. But the prospect is not unthinkable.

by Author(s): Josef Joffe

The puzzle persists: Why is the world not "ganging up" against the "last remaining superpower"? Why has history not claimed its due a dozen years after the end of the Cold War, the twentieth century's last and longest dominant conflict? For history (and theory) asserts that the international system abhors imbalances, that great power will spawn counter-power. At this point, the United States is the mightiest nation on earth. Its reach spans the globe. Its economy dwarfs the next-largest, Japan, by a factor of two and a half; its defense outlays exceed those of the next five-biggest spenders combined. Nor is it just a matter of "hard power." America's "soft power", to invoke Joseph S. Nye's term, looms even larger than its economic and military assets. U.S. culture, low-brow or high, radiates outward with an intensity last seen in the days of the Roman Empire--but with a novel twist. Rome's and Soviet Russia's cultural sway stopped exactly at their military borders. America's soft power, though, rules over an empire on which the sun never sets.

Yet history (still) refuses to kick in against Number 1. The Soviet Union's demise in 1989-91 has not produced the expected outcome. There is no "reversal of alliances" as after World War II, when the United States inducted defeated Germany and Japan into its anti-Soviet coalition. Nor has America's Cold War coalition crumpled, as history would have suggested. The alliance against Revolutionary France was essentially dead by 1822, seven years after Waterloo. The anti-German alliance of World War I began to unravel in Rapallo in 1922, three years after Versailles. But twelve years after the Soviet capitulation in the Cold War, there is not even a trace of real, that is, military, balancing against the United States. No armed coalitions, formal or informal, are being organized by former friends or foes.

So much for the puzzle. One way of cracking it is to frame the issue in different terms. Just because there is no explicit counter-aggregation of military power does not mean that there is no balancing at all. Hence we might distinguish between three different types of balancing: psycho-cultural, politico-diplomatic and military-strategic--a distinction to which classical balance of power theory has paid no attention. No, there is (as yet) no strategic balancing against Number 1, but on the two other levels a different picture emerges. To elucidate its nature, this article will focus on the Atlantic relationship within the global post-bipolar context. The gist of the story is this: psycho-cultural balancing--high; politico-diplomatic--medium; military-strategic--low. Why is this so, and what are the implications for America's grand strategy?

Balancing Against the Barbarians: The Contest of Cultures

A recent Newsweek essay was titled "Europe: The Un-America." The author, Michael Elliott, makes short shrift of a common transatlantic civilization. To set the stage, he quotes columnist Polly Toynbee from the British Guardian:

The two [American party] conventions [in 2000] displayed all that is most repugnant and alien in a political system corrupted beyond recognition. . . . God's chosen people, uniquely blessed, nurture a self-image almost as deranged in its profound self-delusion as the old Soviet Union.

The thrust of such a critique is directed not at what America does, but at what America is. As depicted mainly, but no longer exclusively, in the liberal media (officials are far more circumspect), the United States is what Europe is not, nor wants to be. Hence, Europe as the "Un-America." The indictment, to caricature it with maximal authorial license, is threefold:

America is morally retrograde. It executes its own people, which Europe does not, and it likes to bomb others, which Europe does only when dragged along by the United States. It is the land of intolerant, fundamentalist religion, while Europe is charting a path toward enlightened secularism. The United States is a nation that will not submit to the dictates of global goodness; hence it will not respect climate conventions, nor will it ratify the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the land mine ban. Internationally, it is "Dirty Harry" and "Globocop" rolled into one--an irresponsible and arrogant citizen of the global community.

America is socially retrograde. It is the land of "predatory capitalism" (in the words of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt) that denies critical social services, like health insurance, to those who need it most. Instead of bettering the lot of the poor and unskilled, it shunts millions of them, mainly dark-skinned minorities, off into prison. Europe, on the other hand, metes out rehabilitation, not retribution. America accepts, nay, admires gross income inequalities, whereas Europe cherishes redistribution in the name of social justice. The United States lets its state school system rot, not to speak of the public infrastructure.

America is culturally retrograde. It gorges itself on fatty fast food, wallows in tawdry mass entertainment, starves the arts and prays only to one God, which is Mammon. Instead of subsidizing the good and the high-minded, as do the Europeans, the United States ruthlessly sacrifices the best of culture to pap and pop. Its great universities (for the rich and well connected only) conceal vast illiteracy and ignorance of the world. In matters sexual, America is both prurient and prudish, a far cry from the wiser ways of Europe.

America, in short, gets it both coming and going. It is puritanical and self-indulgent, philistine and elitist, sanctimonious and crassly materialist. It is a society where Europe's finest values--solidarity and community, taste and manners--are ground down by rampant individualism. It is the "Un-Europe."

This is, to repeat, a polemical exaggeration, bereft of all cross- and counter-currents. But whatever the caricature's fidelity, there is a deeper problem with such an indictment. Europe--indeed, most of the world--also wants what America is. Nobody has ever used a gun to drive Frenchmen into one of their 780 McDonalds. No force need be applied to make Europeans buy clothes or watch films "Made in usa." Germans take to "Denglish" as if it were their native tongue. So might the French to "Franglais" if their authorities did not impose fines on local djs when they do not call a "hit parade" a "parade de frappe", as it were.

In fact, European governments must resort to the force of law to stop their citizens from imbibing all things American. This is where "cultural balancing" takes on an operative coloration. In 1993 the French coaxed the European Union to insert into its commercial treaties a "cultural exception" clause exempting cultural products, high or low, from normal free-trade rules. Other European nations impose informal quotas. The purpose is a balance of power policy of sorts. It is to contain American cultural clout--to erect trade walls instead of real turrets and battlements. The enemy is not America the Conqueror--not the "Imperial Republic"--but America the Beguiling.

But why the bad-mouthing of America if it is so alluring? This is where a related type of balancing comes in; let us call it "psychological." Shall we ask Professor Freud to explain? He would mumble about "reaction formation" and "projection", about feelings of deficiency and dependence breeding assertions of moral-cultural superiority. Trying to be up to date, he might launch into a discourse on "HHMMS", the "Harvard and Hollywood, McDonald's and Microsoft Syndrome." The problem, he would conclude, is that America is both menace and seducer, both monster and model.

Harvard stands for America's towering intellectual dominance where the Sorbonne and the University of Göttingen once ruled the roost. Now Europe's best and brightest would rather go to Stanford and the California Institute of Technology than to one of those faceless mass universities that have replaced the Continent's ancient centers of excellence. Books, even the high-brow kind, travel overwhelmingly west to east across the Atlantic.

Hollywood signifies America's supremacy in pop culture--not only in the film and tv market, but also in music, "airport literature" and off-the-rack fashion. Europe reads John Grisham and wears DKNY. Even the French would rather watch Gladiator or ER than their own more sophisticated, but apparently more boring, fare. Indeed, Europeans tend to prefer Tinseltown to one another's movies.

McDonald's symbolizes America's irreversible occupation of Europe's palaces of basse cuisine. Ironically, Europeans have also begun to eat bagels, which were originally boiled and baked in the southwest of Germany, whence they wandered to Jewish Eastern Europe and then to the Lower East Side. To top these horrors, Starbucks has begun to invade Europe, once the proud stronghold of the espresso and the demitasse.

Microsoft is a shorthand for America's steamroller economy. Even as the U.S. economy began to look at a not-so-soft landing in 2001, while Europe was still on an upswing, the EU remained stuck with close to double-digit unemployment. The stuff that drove, and will continue to drive, the New Economy hails from Seattle or Silicon Valley. Worse, since it is America that keeps inventing the "new new thing", it gets to name it. Reports the publisher of a standard German dictionary: "We just had to add 5,000 new words, and most of them are American derivatives."

In short, history's first global civilization is "Made in USA", and it needs no gun to travel. Yet seduction is worse than imposition. It makes you feel weak, and so you hate the soft-pawed corrupter as well as yourself. Worse still, seduction is subversion. America is not just Number 1 in terms of strategic, economic and cultural power. It is also modernity's global ramrod, and to compete, Europe has to emulate the barbarians at least part of the way. It has to rethink short work weeks and long vacations, unassailable job security and munificent welfare benefits. The French may insist on their exception culturelle, but it was the Socialist Jospin government that cut taxes and (some) labor market regulations. It was the Social Democratic Schröder government that began the partial privatization of social security while abolishing taxes on the sale of corporate cross-holdings, which will not only do wonders for competition and transparency in the land of "Rhenish Capitalism", but also overturn cozy business ways dating back to the nineteenth century. When Europeans talk about "best practices", they look to American accounting standards; when they seek to reform corporate governance, they consult the American model.

Like any revolution, this one threatens old power, status and entitlement structures. Unwritten social contracts that have upheld distinctly Continental notions of distributive justice are under attack from abroad, and "abroad" signifies mainly "America", hence the conflation of "globalization" with "Americanization." To catch up, Europe has to become at least partly what America already is; no wonder that it dislikes the idea as well as its purveyor. The natural "reaction-formation", as Professor Freud would pontificate, is to assert Europe's moral-cultural superiority, holding it up against the depraved ways of its eighteenth-century offspring--or to project its angst about modernity's cruel progress on the vast canvas that is the United States. This is, of course, an old story in the annals of Euro-American relations, but the drama has gained more oomph and speed in an age of instant mass communication.

Hence Europe as the "Un-America", hence the psycho-cultural balancing against an America that is what Europe fears to become but cannot totally resist. What is "un-European?" Here is a nice list as provided by French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine in his book, Les Cartes de la France à l'heure de la mondialisation: "ultraliberal market economy, rejection of the state, nonrepublican individualism, unthinking strengthening of the universal and ‘indispensable' role of the USA, common law, anglophone, Protestant rather than Catholic concepts."

Balancing Against Ubiquity: The Political Contest

The effort to balance America's "soft power" is caught between seduction and "reaction-formation." To caricature the ambivalence: Frenchmen will cheer those who trash a McDonald's and then repair to one of the 779 still standing for a shake and a Big Mac. Germans will rail against Hollywood's cultural imperialism while watching Eurocops, a local series that mimics the U.S. model down to the last zoom and jingle. Given this comic equivocation, one should not expect too many operational consequences. Save for the French-inspired "cultural exception" clause, there is no hard and fast counter-action. The struggle is high on vocality, but low on penalties. Temptress America seems destined to prevail--though not forever. If the Europeans take up the challenge, a familiar dialectic is bound to carry the day in the market of culture: first imitation, then appropriation, and finally equalization and sectoral domination.

In the political and economic arena, the duel has more palpable repercussions, ranging from the unconscious to the blatant. The problem, whether articulated or not, is obvious. First, how to constrain an economy that seems to defy the usual strictures of the international market (for why else would the dollar rise in tandem with exploding trade deficits?). Second, how to contain, or at least compete with, an America that dominates the diplomatic field from Pyongyang to Jerusalem, from the World Trade Organization to the International Monetary Fund, from the heavens above (where it might sacrifice the Anti-Ballistic Missile [ABM] Treaty to national missile defense[NMD]) to the grounds below (where it refuses adherence to the land mine ban).

In this realm, the demise of bipolarity did have consequences. Shorn of their former strategic dependence on the world's one and only superpower, the Europeans are defying the United States in a lasting manner. The "Chicken War" of the early 1960s was quickly resolved--with the help of a Soviet Union that had conveniently unleashed the crises over Berlin and Cuba. Yet the "Banana War" continued for eight years before the Europeans countenanced a compromise in 2001 (that will not be fully operational before 2006). The ban on "hormone beef" and genetically modified foodstuffs continues with no end in sight.

With Cold War discipline gone, the Europeans can afford to balance against Mr. Big in ways that help their own farmers while hurting those of the United States (which is also no stranger to the "consumer protection" game). On weightier matters than soybeans and steaks, Europe's common currency makes a better case in point. Nary a politician or pundit has failed to stress the political rewards of monetary union. Above and beyond facilitating intra-European trade and investment, the euro would serve as a bulwark and counterweight against the Almighty Dollar. Indeed, the language was straight out of the balance of power vocabulary. Turning into a co-equal reserve currency and unit of account, the euro would impose discipline on America's profligate ways by curbing its power to issue debt in its own currency, vulgo: flood the world with checks that will not be cashed. And so the euro would bring about a bipolar or, along with the yen, tripolar system in the financial arena.

Politico-diplomatic balancing kicked in against the United States long ago. Since the Gulf War, the eu has fitfully tried to insert itself into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in order to break the U.S. monopoly on mediation. As the United States tries to hang on to the "dual containment" of Iran and Iraq, the EU has insisted on a "cultural dialogue" with Tehran. To curtail U.S. influence in the region, the French have opened separate diplomatic channels to Baghdad and Tehran, escalating the competition against the United States in 2001, when they openly condemned the February 16 Anglo-American bombing of Iraq.

With his counterpart Vladimir Putin at his side, French President Jacques Chirac has openly castigated American missile defense plans while in Moscow. Diplomatic balancing can also involve doing nothing at critical junctures in world politics. When the Bush administration was caught in a terse standoff with China over its crippled spy plane held on Hainan Island this April, the European allies reacted with deafening silence. Such thrusts and parries belong in the category of "subcritical balancing", for they fall far short of the real thing, i.e., formal counter-aggregations of power. So do the routine invocations of "strategic partnership" between Moscow and Beijing that entail neither partnership nor strategic consequences.

More interesting (and novel) is the indirect, nay, unconscious "ganging up" against Number 1. The common denominator of such actions is the attempt to constrain American power within universal or at least regional control regimes. Take the European, Russian and Chinese opposition to NMD. The message is: "You must adhere to time-honored arms control regimes as embodied in the ABM Treaty." Yet the purpose, perfectly logical from a non-American perspective, is to suppress a quantum leap in what is seen as already excessive American power. Assume though, by a flight of fancy, that NMD really works. In that case, it will not only devalue the strategic arsenals of the lesser players; worse, it will add to America's "proactive" power by enhancing its "escalation dominance." Concretely, if America could really shield itself against missiles, it could inhibit Chinese sallies against Taiwan or intervene against any "rogue state" with little risk to itself. That would grant a nice margin of usable power to the United States, a prospect that does not reassure the rest of the world.

Take the Land Mine Convention or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to which the United States refuses to adhere amid a chorus of international chagrin. Again, the lesser players correctly see America's waywardness in balance of power terms. Anti-personnel mines deliver a nice shield for power projection abroad, while continued nuclear testing helps to build more sophisticated, say, sub-kiloton warheads that might just be more usable. That, too, concerns those who worry about unbridled American power, and rightly so.

Or take America's refusal to submit to climate conventions. Though the Europeans frame the issue in terms of global good citizenship, the underlying point is again untrammeled American power. As the Europeans suspect, the United States will strengthen its economic position relative to the EU if it continues to take liberally from the global commons by refusing to limit its CO2 output. So even the politics of goodness imply balancing against Number 1. Negotiations about the implementation of the Kyoto climate protocol held in The Hague in November 2000 ended amid bitter recriminations against the United States. Notes the Economist: "Some European ministers made it clear that they wanted Americans to feel some economic pain more than they wanted a workable agreement."

America's refusal to submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) also involves an unarticulated balancing game. For both sides, the issue is American power. Clearly, the United States does not want international bodies to scrutinize its interventions abroad by way of prosecuting malfeasants in its military ex post facto. Clearly, the Europeans see the ICC as yet another regime that will punish or deter the use of force not sanctioned by international bodies such as the UN. Though the ICC is directed against the Slobos and Saddams of this world, it might also constrain those, like the United States, who have been known to take the law into their own hands.

  The general point is this: Hegemonic powers are loath to submit to international regimes they do not dominate. Lesser powers like such regimes precisely because they strengthen the many against the one. Naturally, the United States cherished the UN all the way into the early 1960s when the votes could be guaranteed; naturally, Washington turned against the General Assembly in the 1970s when it began to churn out anti-American votes in the manner of an assembly line. In a world that does not (yet) gang up formally against the "last remaining superpower", international regimes have become the functional, though unarticulated, equivalent of classical balance of power politics. Number 1 knows it, and so do numbers 2, 3, 4, et al. But since this game is played by allies as well as undeclared adversaries, it is high on implicit intent and low on explicit affirmation.

Balancing Against Hegemony: The Strategic Contest

Let us return to the original puzzle: Why is there no real ganging up against the United States? Why does NATO endure, why is there no "GTO", a "Global Treaty Organization" directed against the one and only global power?

The simplest answer is because it is not necessary. The United States is a hegemon different from all its predecessors. America annoys and antagonizes, but it does not conquer. Indeed, the last time the United States actually grabbed territory was a hundred years ago, when it relieved Spain of Cuba and the Philippines. This is a critical departure from the traditional ways of the high and mighty. For the balance of power machinery to crank up, it makes a difference whether the rest of the world faces a huge, but usually placid elephant or a carnivorous tyrannosaurus rex. In the days of the Habsburgs, Bourbons and Hohenzollerns, counter-alliances formed so rapidly because expansion and war was the full-time job of kings and potentates, not to speak of Hitler and Stalin.

This is not the place to review the burgeoning literature that seeks to explain why postindustrial democracies like the United States no longer go to war for land and glory. Suffice it to say: he who does not conquer does not provoke literal counter-alliances and war. America's "hard power" inspires discomfort, not existential angst, pace Messrs. Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and Osama bin Laden. Still, such an assessment cannot completely assure the others. For great power creates balancing incentives willy-nilly; an elephant, no matter how benign, is no pussycat.

Since America's existential sting is well concealed or well contained, strategic balancing against this hegemon falls short of the classic pattern; it is internal, illicit or implicit. Internal balancing is what the Russians and Chinese do when they try to preserve (Moscow) or expand (Beijing) their military panoplies. Illicit balancing goes by the name of international terror. It is deployed against the United States more or less privately, as by Saudi freelance bombardier bin Laden, or more or less officially, as by those Arab countries suspected of being sources of "state-sponsored terrorism." Implicit balancing is what the EU does when it fields a rapid reaction force under the umbrella of its "European security and defense policy" (ESDP).

The label "implicit" is deliberately chosen. For its purpose is not to countervail the United States in the ways of a classic alliance. The size of the rapid reaction force is as modest as its objective. The latter was laid down in the "Petersberg Tasks": policing rather than warfighting, peace maintenance rather than peace enforcement. These tasks dovetail nicely with the force's compact size of 60,000 (akin to the numbers deployed in Kosovo after the bombing in 1999).

More ambitious objectives would have to contend with declining post-Cold War defense budgets, which, in the case of Europe's biggest country, Germany, have fallen to 1.5 percent of GDP (the United States extracts twice as much from a $10 trillion economy). To field an autonomous fighting force, which would have to detain a goodly measure of escalation dominance, the EU would not only have to raise the numbers to, say, 200,000. It would also have to acquire an additional triple capability: long-range (satellite-based) intelligence and assessment, long-range projection assets, long-range standoff munitions. The latter is particularly critical, given the democracies' well-known aversion to suffering casualties.

But assume Europe puts its money where its mouth is. This will leave the eu with another big question it has scrupulously avoided: Would it want to intervene alone--without a reinsurance policy underwritten by the U.S. cavalry, so to speak? In a setting that actually entailed peace enforcement, i.e., real warfighting, sensible policymakers would want to make sure that there is a Plan B with an American component. The U.S. cavalry would have to come in either for the rescue or for the evacuation. But if the United States is to be in on the crash, it would naturally want to be in on the take-off. And so autonomy, in any real sense, seems a long way off.

Nonetheless, the European rhetoric on the rapid reaction force is shrouded in equivocation. Atlanticist stalwarts like Britain and, to some extent, Germany talk about a force within NATO. Usual suspects like France depict the force as a first step toward "further progress" on the road to a full-fledged EU army, as did defense minister Alain Richard. One French official, speaking anonymously, has put it with Gallic acerbity: "The train [of an independent European defense policy] is already moving. NATO is not on board. It is not the engine. It is not even in the tender or even in the passenger compartment." This is how Washington views the force. Hence, the three D's issued as early as 1998: The ESDP must not diminish or duplicate NATO, nor discriminate against non-EU NATO members.

Whatever the European rhetoric, the ESDP is a balancing mechanism in nuce. The thrust is implicit rather than explicit. Its purpose is not to oppose the United States outright, but to enhance Europe's relative power vis-à-vis the United States with an asset that might increase European autonomy or diminish U.S. preponderance. As such the rapid reaction force is a perfect example of "neo-ganging up." It unfolds within, not between, alliances. It is not a duel here and now, but a down payment on the future.

The Alliance and America: Implications for Grand Strategy

History says that alliances are the victims of victory. A French official, of all people, has added an interesting twist to this tale: "We may have to reverse Palmerston's dictum that nations have neither permanent allies nor permanent enemies, but only permanent interests. Today, nations have changing interests, but permanent allies." The point is contrarian, but correct. Unyielding interests can no longer be so easily defined in an Atlantic world bereft of existential threats and geospatial competition. What is the "national" interest in highly privatized democracies where politics no longer stops at the water's edge? Once defined by a sheltered establishment, the interests of liberal democracies now tend to reflect the ever-changing kaleidoscope of domestic claims.

Yet there is a set of core values that stretches from Berlin to Berkeley. These are milieu rather than possession goals. Call them democracy, welfare, prosperity, peace, the "pursuit of happiness", rule-encased conflict management. By definition, milieu goals require collective action, hence stable coalitions of the like-minded. Even the mightiest nation in all of history needs partners when it comes to keeping nuclear stuff out of Saddam's hands or stabilizing the Balkans against either the Serbs or the Kosovar Albanians, and so, of course, do the Europeans. This may be one crucial reason why the Alliance has not gone out of business--why the contest over a new distribution of power has remained safely confined within the common Atlantic fold.

Nonetheless, the power gap between the United States and Europe is growing. This places a particular burden on the "last remaining superpower." Why, again, has the rest of the West not ganged up on Number 1 for real? One explanation is the "self-containment" of the United States; the elephant lumbers, but usually does not throw its weight around. In the Eight Years' War over bananas, it awaited two favorable rulings by the WTO before imposing trade sanctions on the EU. Even in the crunch, as in the bombing run against Saddam in 2001, the United States tried to act at least à deux (with Britain).

The second answer has to do with the provision of "public goods." In the past, at least, the United States has acted as foremost producer of global/regional public goods. The essence of public goods is that anybody can profit from them once they exist. That gives the lesser players a powerful incentive to maintain the existing order and to accord at least grudging acceptance to the main provider of such benefits. Conversely, it diminishes their incentives to gang up on him. Who else would otherwise uphold international security or financial stability?

While numbers 2, 3, 4, et al. surely resent America's clout, they have also found it useful to have the United States in the game. Europe and Japan regularly suffer from America's commercial hauteur, but they also know that the United States is the ultimate guarantor of the global freer-trade system. Britain and France almost came to blows with the United States in the early phase of the Bosnian war, but were only too happy in 1995 to let American cruise missiles help drive the Serbs to the negotiating table. Ditto four years later in the Kosovo war. The Arabs hardly love the United States but they did cooperate when Bush the Elder mobilized an international posse against Saddam Hussein because they were unable to uphold the regional balance by themselves.

When lesser powers cannot deter China in the Taiwan Strait, or persuade North Korea to denuclearize, it is nice to have one special actor in the system who has the will and the wherewithal to do what others wish but cannot achieve on their own. Indeed, such an actor is indispensable. In the language of "public goods" theory: there must always be somebody who will recruit individual producers, organize the start-up, and generally assume a disproportionate burden. That is as true in international affairs as it is in grassroots politics.

Previous hegemons sought to conquer; the United States has built institutions, which is another word for "public goods"--that is the difference. The genius of American diplomacy in the twentieth century was building institutions--from the UN to the IMF, from NATO and its enlargement to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the WTO. These provided the rest with two valuable goods. They cocooned and multilateralized American power, and they advanced American interests by serving those of others.

The problem with this flattering assessment is that most of the world's great institutions were built during the Cold War--when it was clearly in the interest of the United States to shoulder the burden and sign the checks. Now, it is no longer so clear that the United States puts more resources into international institutions than it seeks to extract from them. America's old penchant for free trade has been diluted by "managed", that is, regulated trade. Nor is this just the failure of the Bush fils administration. The Helms-Burton sanctions bill (penalizing non-American investments in Cuba and Iran) became law in the Clinton administration. The refusal to pay UN dues was also a Clinton-era phenomenon (though it was rescinded at its very end).

Things have not improved yet in the Bush era. The first moves of the new administration were marked by obliviousness bordering on orneriness--by blatant "unilateralism" in diplospeak. Here are some examples. If need be, "Star Wars, Mark II" will be pursued at the costs of ancient arms control regimes. Cold-shouldering climate conventions? It was done without even a perfunctory nod to the spin doctors, although Washington could have marshaled plenty of good arguments against the rigidly unrealistic goals of the Kyoto Protocol. Just as abruptly, the administration walked away from three mediation efforts so dear to the heart of its predecessor: in Korea, Northern Ireland and the Middle East. In all of these cases, unilateralist injury was compounded by an appearance of sheer indifference.

Clumsiness in the intercourse with allies and rivals has beset every new postwar administration; a steep learning curve has always followed. Yet the issue is not an additional dollop of politesse, but a matter of principle. To the extent that the United States turns unilateralism into a habit or cuts its contribution to the production of public goods, others will feel the sting of American power more strongly. And the incentive to discipline Mr. Big will grow.

The choice is all too clear. Primacy does not come cheap, and the price is measured in the currency of obligation. Leaders succeed not only because of their superior power, but also because they have a fine sense for the quirks and qualities of others--because they act in the interest of all. Their labor is the source of their authority. And so a truly great power must not just prevent but pre-empt hostile coalitions--by providing essential services. Those who respect the needs of others engage in supply-side diplomacy: They create a demand for their services, and that translates into political profits, also known as "leadership."

Power, in short, exacts responsibility, hence a vision that transcends narrow self-interest (which usually breaks down into a series of even narrower domestic claims). As long as the United States continues to provide international public goods while resisting the lure of unilateralism, envy and resentment will not escalate into fear and loathing. Balancing against the United States is still implicit or illicit. Here are the proper maxims for a Number 1 that wants to ward off the real thing: Pursue your interests by serving the interests of others.  Transform dependents into stakeholders. Turn America the Ubiquitous into America the Indispensable.

 Josef Joffe is editor and publisher of Die Zeit and associate of the Olin Center for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.

Essay Types: Essay