Don't Panic: America Will Continue to Be a Global Leader


One of the most serious issues at the nexus of national security and the global economy is successfully confronting the realities of globalization and meeting the challenges of spreading the potential benefits of globalization — broadly shared prosperity, rising real living standards, democratic and accessible institutions, and more open societies — to the bulk of the world's population who have yet to experience them. 

This is not a challenge that can be effectively addressed by intellectual silos of "defense policy," "development policy," "domestic economics," "agriculture policy," etc. These things are all interconnected and need to be leveraged together in a cogent grand strategy that has a real forward-looking vision and aligns our institutions, incentives, and policy making around a common goal. I was very pleased that Patrick Doherety, one of my co-panelists and the head of the Smart Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation, spoke very eloquently about this. 

Unlike some analysts, I don't believe that America is some kind of sinking ship, slipping beneath the waves of a global system soon to be dominated by China. In fact, I don't think there is any other country in the world better positioned for leadership in the 21st century. 

That being said, we should expect that leadership to be expressed differently over the next 50 years than it was over the last 50. American GDP will continue to make up a smaller percentage of the global economy as middle income countries continue to develop. As more and more nations succeed in bringing the bulk of their populations into the middle class, they'll expect to have a real voice in regional and global affairs. And increasingly affluent international consumers will mean that the American market will have to compete for a privileged share of exports and investment.

These realities, though, should not lead to fatalism. The real source of American power and influence lies not in the sheer size of our population or relative wealth, but in our forward engagement in the world, investments in our human capital, and stability and openness of our institutions. We can and should take a leading role in ensuring that the international regimes and institutions, that Americans have largely created, remain strong and relevant. By leading this renewal and expansion we will gain, not loose, global relevance. We must enhance, rather than shrink from, multilateral relationships and build the capacity of our allies. By doing that we can become a super partner instead of simply a super power. And we need to do the hard work at home to reshape and reform our domestic institutions, government structures, and economic policy so that we are once again able to make real investments in our people, govern effectively, and advance  a real and holistic grand strategy.  

There are those that are pessimistic about America's ability to make the changes necessary to put us on a track toward resurgent and smart global leadership, and there are certainly myriad problems in the status quo. But I was watching a documentary last night on industrial agriculture that ended with an observation from a farmer nearing retirement. He observed that the counter-productive practices that now seem so entrenched and intractable have only come about in the last 40 years. It was within his professional lifetime that things became completely remade. And it was that fact that heartened him. By simply making the right decisions instead of the wrong ones, we can remake our systems again, in remarkable ways. 

This essay was originally published by NDN at