In an editorial in the Washington Post titled “Where’s the American empire when we need it?” (Kaplan, n.d.), Robert D. Kaplan worries about the recent decline in America’s capacity to respond to events that threaten to destabilize the international security system. Kaplan is concerned that the slow but steady erosion of American power will leave the current administration little choice but to recalibrate its international security commitments to better reflect America’s increasing inability to effectively fulfill its security obligations as the lone superpower in the post-Cold War era. If the United States is compelled to vacate some of its international security responsibilities, then for Kaplan the important question is who among the other powers in the system will assume the obligations that the United States can no longer fulfill?
The recent agreement between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil is another challenge to the United States’ already fragile foreign policy ego.[i] The agreement mediated by President Lula of Brazil attempts to resolve the tension between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the United States determination to curb them, using a regional partner, Turkey, to propose an alternative solution to additional UN mandated sanctions. Mr. Lula’s efforts at non-coercive diplomacy received a lukewarm response from the United States as a successful agreement jeopardizes the effectiveness of the sanctions Senator Clinton hopes to push through the UN Security Council.[ii] Senator Clinton indicated that Iran’s willingness to compromise should be considered superficial at best.[iii] The attempt to find non-coercive means for dealing with international conflict threatens what little international capital the U.S. possesses as a result of its faltering military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the United States forges ahead with its plan to impose sanctions (needing the support of China and Russia), non-great power actors like Brazil are challenging the dominant frame of power politics. President Obama, much like his predecessor President Bush, seems incapable of recognizing that the U.S. no longer has the power to deter countries from pursuing and developing nuclear technology. Nor does Mr. Obama seem willing to think beyond the stale realism and coercive diplomacy of the Reagan years. The question is not whether the U.S. should keep pursuing its current strategies abroad, of which Iranian case is but one example. Instead, the United States needs to recognize its declining influence in the global arena and adjust to these challenges without the use of lethal and often, ineffective coercive means.
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