The middle path for US foreign policy
text size

The middle path for US foreign policy

This file photo, dated Feb 19, 2022, shows a US soldier taking part in the Cobra Gold 2022 joint military exercise by helping in the construction of schools in Rayong province. (Photo: Royal Thai Army)
This file photo, dated Feb 19, 2022, shows a US soldier taking part in the Cobra Gold 2022 joint military exercise by helping in the construction of schools in Rayong province. (Photo: Royal Thai Army)

For decades, the United States' positioning in the international arena has been a battle between the desire to remain isolated within the confines of its own territory and the urge to extend beyond its boundaries to induce and cajole others on the values and benefits of democracy, freedom and a free market.

In the former case, many in the United States feel comfortable and secure with their lives in the land of the bountiful, knowing that they are protected by two great oceans on its coasts and neighboured in the north and south by less endowed and rather innocuous countries. In such a situation, there exists a general feeling that the United States should go about its own affairs, be content with itself and disassociate from the affairs of others, as no harm could ever come to the shores of the United States.

On the other hand, many Americans also believe that the United States has a moral obligation to help the world and ensure that all can live in peace and prosperity. Some in the United States even contend that the country should not be complacent and wait for challenges and threats to occur but instead be proactive in its approach towards installing the values that they hold so dear. They believe that it is better to establish a series of forward defence lines while ensuring that the United States' ships and aeroplanes could always roam freely in the high seas and skies.

As there are arguments to be made and examples to be referenced supporting and decrying each side of the issue, it would seem wise that the superpower moves forward, taking a more central approach which does not veer towards the extreme in either direction. It would be impractical and dangerous to suggest that the United States should completely extricate itself from the geopolitical scene and take a hands-off approach to the world at large. It is just the way of the world that some situations call for global powers to intervene for the greater good. However, what type of intervention occurs should be carefully deliberated, as it is of the utmost importance that diplomacy and dialogue are balanced with the need for military intervention.

The United States entered the First World War to prevent the rising imperial Germany from successfully establishing its dominance over Europe and adjacent areas. However, it then withdrew inward, as it was not ready to play the role of a global guardian by choosing to forgo participation in the League of Nations. After the Second World War, which the United States entered to oppose the global threat of German fascism, they immediately accepted such a global position, taking a forward approach to the world and leading the opposition against the expansion of communism.

The United States became the supreme global power after the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its leadership of communism. The world began to embrace and accept democracy and capitalist globalisation, but there was discontentment in both the United States and the world at large that had to do with the rapidly expanding concentration of wealth and power, the inequality between the haves and have-nots and the erosion of cultural identities, traditional values, self-respect and self-confidence. All are issues that have led to anti-globalisation sentiments and movements, which are further compounded by the decades of forced regime changes and the countless atrocities that coincided with them, which were all initiated and imposed by the United States and its allies in the name of anti-communism. The United States lost many wars, not because of its military weakness, but because it lacked the understanding and appreciation of the force of nationalism and human dignity among those who interpreted the United States' purportedly well-meaning and good-intended actions as an outright immoral intervention and imposition of view. The latest episode was the humiliating departure of the United States forces from Afghanistan, which started under former president Donald Trump, whose promotion of "America first" and constant complaints about the security arrangement of alliances reflected his position and isolationist thinking and posturing. The current President Joe Biden offers a return to the idea of "Manifest Destiny", the idea of the "white man's burden", and the forward defence concept.

These two juxtapositions have once again taken over American debates, namely moving forward with a policy of isolationism or internationalism that incorporates interventionism. As the United States is a global power with corresponding interests, which the international community depends on as a guarantor of peace, security and common prosperity, its decision moving forward will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. Interdependency and connectivity have dictated that the international community must live and work together.

Taking the middle path would strike a perfect balance between promoting the betterment of the world while still serving the interests of the American people. The key change, however, is that it would require the United States to stop and listen before isolating and intervening. They would be a mediator instead of acting as the global policeman. With such a change, they would still support their longtime friends and allies, but in a strategic manner instead of a militaristic one. Providing assistance in ways that go beyond helping the military would promote security throughout the world and also gain the truly genuine backing of the citizens.

An obvious example of where such a policy would be immediately beneficial is in Southeast Asia. China is an autocratic behemoth that has been successfully expanding its influence throughout the region and world. Instead of focusing solely on increasing its militaristic support of countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, the United States could counter China with greater soft-power support. If, for example, they helped countries in the region improve their education systems and helped build growing industries, said countries would not only potentially develop to the point of being able to counter China's influence on their own but their positive ties to the United States would actually be seen by the civilian populations, instead of only by their semi-authoritarian leaders and the military-industrial complex. If the United States were to present countries in the region a reason to move forward with them, beyond merely saying that they should not move forward with their neighbour China and supporting their militaries, they are likely to have much more success.

The countries that maintain a stronger position in the world share a greater responsibility and that is the reason why there is the United Nations Security Council, permanently composed of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France. The United States thus owes a legal obligation, as well as an international mandate, to serve the world at large. That said, the United States also has an obligation to its own citizens, and thus, a careful balancing of domestic interests and international involvement must occur. In other words, the United States should take the principle of the middle path to simultaneously handle its foreign policy and its domestic policy through the strengthening of its prosperity and stability at home, as well as strengthening its friendship and cooperation with friends abroad.

Kasit Piromya

APHR Board Member

Kasit Piromya is a Board Member of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), and is a former Thai foreign minister.

Do you like the content of this article?