Why US Will Stay A Superpower

  • 23 August 2014

Prospects for the American Age: Sovereignty and Influence in the New World Order, Edited by Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, Emirates Centre for Strategic Study and Research, 870 pages, £215.95

After the end of the Cold War there has been a raging debate over which country will dominate how the world runs its affairs. After 1989 the previous certainties of the bipolar balance between the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union gave way to a multipolar decade as regional leaders all over the globe found their new identities.

But in the 2000s a new expectation arose of a unipolar world in which the US would dominate, thanks to China’s hesitancy to put itself forward in international affairs — but more recently this idea has been challenged as China has become more strident in the Pacific Rim and by the obvious overreach of US power in the Arab world which left Iraq shattered, and by how the US failed to respond coherently to the revolutions of the Arab Spring of 2011.

But an important new book, “Prospects for an American Age”, dismisses these doubts with great confidence as Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi argues powerfully that the next century will be dominated by the US, as only the US has the economic power and military resources to match a political will to be involved in global affairs.

Al Suwaidi argues in 600 magisterial and well-researched pages (backed by more than 200 pages of additional references and bibliography) that a huge gap separates the US from other possible world powers such as the European Union, China, Russia, Brazil, India and others — which might aspire to compete with the US in the coming decades and centuries but will neither match nor overtake the Americans.

Al Suwaidi is the director general of the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and also a professor of political science at the UAE University and is a leading writer and commentator on international and Gulf affairs. This has allowed him to bring a deep understanding of the latest academic research into global politics in his book, while also offering a valuable perspective of what all the global shifts mean for the Gulf region and the UAE.

The early sections of the book form the complete overviews of present thinking on global governance and Al Suwaidi quotes extensively from a wide variety of Western and Asian thinkers, while also including contributions from the Gulf and other Arab thinkers who are often ignored in such global studies.

On the inclusion of the Arab world in the new global order, Al Suwaidi starts from the position that the Arab world and the West need to realise that there is a “diversity and difference in the values, standards and cultures of different peoples, and all nations, peoples and cultural entities have a fundamental right to be distinctive and different”. He makes this point in several places including when challenging Tom Friedman of the “New York Times” when he suggested that the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 were part of a “third world war”.

Al Suwaidi is not prescriptive about how nations should plan for the future he outlines in his book, nor how they navigate through it. He is determinedly academic throughout his logical structure taking the reader through the power structures of the new world order, and analysing the political, social, and economic factors driving it, coming to the various changes that he foresees.

Nonetheless he does not hesitate to point out failures of perception when making his review of present thinking, such as when he takes Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University to task for reducing the Islamic world to a grim binary choice of fascist organisations and terrorist groups while considering the Western world the sole platform from which to embrace cultural diversity in the contemporary world.

Al Suwaidi counters this by showing how Fukuyama is ignorant of the reality of political trends in the Islamic world, and he also disputes Fukuyama’s assertion that Osama Bin Laden gathered “immense popularity” throughout the Muslim world as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, arguing that Fukuyama is confusing popularity with notoriety.

Some of the most interesting observations are in the final section, when Al Suwaidi moves to more personal commentary, although retaining an academic objectivity, as he describes how he sees the new world order developing.

He sees globalisation continuing to spread and it is not possible to ignore integrating with it as it will become an integral part of the interests of the emerging economies, and will cease to be Western- or America-oriented.

The concept of international legitimacy will change but Al Suwaidi hesitates to predict if it will reflect a more dominant America and so legitimise its unilateral actions, or continue to be based around a more multinational process in the United Nations and international courts and other multilateral organisations.

Al Suwaidi is confident that nation state will continue in the new world order, but not as the absolute sovereign state that was defined in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) but rather as a more flexible entity that has to take into account non-state actors, and the variety of treaties that require state to share sovereignty

An important factor in the new world order is that China has accepted that the United States wants to maintain its position at the top of the new world order, says Al Suwaidi. The relationship between the two is complicated and interdependent and he thinks it is naïve to jump to the conclusion that military conflict is likely in the next two decades.

The Arab region will not see much improvement in the foreseeable future, and will remain vulnerable to outside interference. Al Suwaidi draws this gloomy conclusion from observing the toppling of long-standing regimes in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia, leading to a void in leadership that is being filled by the non-Arab world powers and regional neighbours such as Turkey, Iran and Israel.

The growing standing of the US in the new world order means it will benefit from Israel’s standing, prestige and status in the region. The book was written long before the present assault on Gaza but the lack of any international or American reaction to Israel’s assault bears out Al Suwaidi’s observation.

The changes of 2011 and 2012 mean the end of Arab nationalism and the rise of other influences that will determine the region’s future, such as ethnic, religious, doctrinal and sectarian identities.

This has been reflected in the diminishing importance of Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the collective Arab conscience, says Al Suwaidi, as Arab countries retreat into themselves and concentrate on domestic affairs.

“Prospects for the American Age: Sovereignty and Influence in the New World Order” by Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is published by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Study and Research. It is available in both English and Arabic, and both editions contain a CD and memory stick.

The UAE’s strategy to be a part of the global economy is strongly supported by public opinion among UAE nationals. Over 60 per cent of UAE nationals saw economic globalisation as beneficial, in an opinion poll reported in “Prospects for the American Age”, the new book by Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi.

This Emirati support for globalisation is well ahead of other demographic groups, which included Asians with 57.5 per cent, Westerners with 50 per cent, and a much more sceptical other Arab population of whom only 46 per cent were in favour of globalisation.

“Prospects for the American Age” reports that Emirates Centre of Strategic Studies and Research has developed a continual monitoring of public opinion across the UAE on various local, regional and international issues, which Al Suwaidi uses in a complete chapter to report on what the various elements of the UAE residents think about the new global order.

The Soviet Union has been clear that these polls are both to provide information to help guide policies, but also are a means to develop and enhance good governance by allowing the political leaders to be better informed about the needs and aspirations of the public. The poll quoted in the book interviewed residents of the UAE from a mix of nationalities.

There is a dramatic mismatch between low trust for the United Nations but strong support for more UN peacekeeping missions. These differing positions may reflect public anger at the weakness of the UN’s achievements in the Arab world and its failure to do much about the plight of the Palestinians, but also a desperate desire for peacekeeping forces that are not NATO or American-led forces which lack the moral authority of an international mandate.

The UAE nationals (9.1 per cent) and other Arabs (9.4 per cent) had the lowest trust in the United Nations among all the residents of the UAE. This contrasted with 66 per cent of Emiratis who supported the creation of a standing UN peacekeeping force, but they linked this in other questions to favouring reform of the UN Security Council by expanding the number of permanent members.