Toward a New Pax Americana

Toward a New Pax Americana

A “New Arsenal of Democracy” is needed to secure American power in the twenty-first century.

It means providing government subsidies to a handful of mission-critical industries (for example, semiconductors) whose onshore operations are vital to national defense and economic security while encouraging World War II-style public-private partnerships to accelerate productivity within the other sectors of our defense industrial base.

In that regard, an industrial strategy means shifting more of the defense budget to support innovative weapon systems that push the frontiers of physics and digital technology, like quantum computing and cryptography, directed energy, and artificial intelligence, without neglecting the need for adequate stockpiles of conventional weapons—a dual purpose defense industrial strategy that the Arsenal of Democracies model facilitates and expands.

Finally, restoring economic strength via our manufacturing and industrial base starts with the one manufacturing sector today that the United States still dominates, namely energy.

While both the America First and the Cold War 2.0 models see the economic benefits of a robust domestic energy industry—including nuclear power—the new Pax America also sees it as a decisive instrument for the Arsenal of Democracies, in binding together the United States and its allies to shape the global energy, and therefore economic, future (in contrast to the post-American World model, which looks to the Green New Deal to accomplish the same aim).

In fact, by pursuing a national energy policy that serves both national security and grand strategic goals, the United States can leverage its fracking revolution over the past two decades into an offset edge for the New Pax Americana not so different from the one its industrial base provided for the original Pax America.

The pieces for shaping a new Pax Americana anchored by the U.S. economy and military are already in place. Five steps can work to draw them together into a coherent working whole.

First, we need to reinforce our existing alliances with the high-tech, democratic nations in NATO and East Asia, along with Israel, through a broad Arsenal of Democracies strategy centered on crucial defense technologies. In the long run, this is a race in which China can’t seriously compete, let alone Russia and Iran, once the United States and its allies focus their productive muscle and innovative energies, including dominating the next Great Commons, namely space.

Second, a new Pax Americana requires a robust reshoring manufacturing strategy, from microchips to space satellites, while also viewing American energy independence as a strategic as well as economic asset.

This must include a renewed focus on nuclear power and investment in future Green R&D to gain a strategic leap ahead of China, the current beneficiary of our present-minded green energy policies that favor solar panels and electric cars.

Third, a new Pax Americana demands a U.S. military that is still second to none but has refocused its strategic priorities and its industrial base for capacity-building, as well as readiness and capability projection. While the earlier Pax Americana was focused mainly on the Soviet threat and a Europe-First strategy left over from World War Two, the New Pax Americana must be focused instead on an Asia-First strategy that clearly identifies China as the main threat and most dangerous component in the New Axis, both militarily and politically.

In that regard, the fourth step requires a new political strategy, one that explains to the democratic nations’ public what a world dominated by China would really look like. The original objectives of the old Pax Americana—to preserve democracy and promote free markets—became so taken for granted that its heirs forgot to renew and upgrade it when it was needed.

That time is now. The example of Hong Kong and China’s human rights record at home should dispel any illusions about the fate that Taiwan, Japan, and other allies in East Asia face under Chinese hegemony.

And not just in East Asia. A question Richard Nixon once posed to critics as well as friends of America was, as relayed by Kissinger, “What other nation in the world would you like to have in the position of preeminent power?” Then, the answer was clear: who would prefer a world dominated by the Soviet Union rather than the United States? We should be posing the same question to friends and neutrals today. Would they would prefer absorption in a Pax Sinica or a partnership in the new Pax Americana?

A safe bet is that most would prefer a stable and prosperous global order built around and sustained by a technologically advanced Arsenal of Democracies or, in the happy Abbasid phrase, “a garden protected by our spears.” Such a garden would also cultivate democratic values and free market principles, which are the true guarantors of not only freedom and prosperity but also security.

To quote Richard Nixon once more, “An unparalleled opportunity has been placed in America’s hands. Never has there been a time when hope was more justified—or when complacency was more dangerous.” It would be wrong to think that a New Pax Americana will rest on the foundations of the old. But it would also be wrong to waste an opportunity to “think anew and act anew” (to quote another American president) before events overwhelm the possibility of reform and change.

Arthur Herman is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II.