The Agenda

Larison and Auslin on the Post-Hegemonic Future

Daniel Larison suggests that Michael Auslin’s portrait of a post-hegemonic world is far from alarming. Larison is an incisive thinker, and his analysis is well worth a look. But I was surprised and disappointed by his failure to engage one of Auslin’s more interesting, and more persuasive, arguments.

And, as we hollow out our capabilities, China will be fielding ever more accurate anti-ship ballistic missiles, advanced fighter aircraft, and stealthy submarines; Russia will continue to expand its influence over its “near abroad” while modernizing its nuclear arsenal; and Iran will develop nuclear weapons, leading to an arms race or preemptive attacks in the Middle East.

Under such conditions, global trade flows will be stressed, the free flow of capital will be constrained, and foreign governments will expand their regulatory and confiscatory powers against their domestic economies in order to fund their own military expansions.

While Larison focuses his attention on the first of these two grafs — essentially, he argues that these developments will happen regardless of our efforts to maintain a preponderance of military power — the second of the two is worthy of note. As a critic of cosmopolitanism, it’s very possible that Larison wouldn’t see the end of what we might call the Second Globalization Era, after the First Globalization Era that stretched from the late nineteenth century through the Great Depression, as a great tragedy. 

But for those of us who believe that global trade flows, the free flow of capital, relatively free migration, and market-friendly governments are a good thing, Auslin raises an important question, namely whether the fact that much of metropolitan Europe and East Asia “free-rides” on American military power creates benefits that outweigh the costs. Perhaps the security competition that would result from a U.S. grand strategy that focused on offshore balancing rather than the more active and interventionist posture of the present would prove manageable. Military budgets would swell slightly, but new collective security arrangements would emerge to keep the peace at reasonable costs. Or perhaps the security competition would spark dangerous spirals of aggression and counter-aggression. It’s difficult to tell, though I tend to think that the former scenario is somewhat more likely. 

Let’s assume a middle series projection in which military budgets do indeed increase, and, as Auslin suggests, states pursue more activist economic policies — including aggressive capital controls and migration controls — to finance this military expansion. Is this a friendlier world for classical liberals than one in which the benevolent global hegemony of the U.S. persists, or rather efforts to extend BGH persist?

Again, I’m not sure. I do think that such a world would prove somewhat less prosperous and more dangerous at the margin, though I can also imagine a comparatively freer United States flourishing in this environment. So really, much depends on your preferences and how you weigh American lives relative to the lives of foreigners in the regions where conflicts might intensify. Alternatively, much depends on how you weigh the relative risks. The status quo, as Larison would remind us, is far from risk-free.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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