There is no organization or body in the international forum that acts like a policeman to enforce rule-based order and bring the rogue states to behave. The United Nations is more of a Panchayat with no authority and no apparatus to enforce civilized behaviour amongst the member states. Security Council comes very close to policing role in the UN but it has also been hijacked by the mighty five having veto powers. The difference of opinion or vested national interests often force powerful countries to use the veto to defang the UNSC.
After World War II, all nation-states felt the pain of war devastation and professed to start an organization for an international order. This is how the UN was born but it was no better than ‘The League of Nations’, which failed to prevent World War II. USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the world, after World War II and assumed for itself the role of so-called ‘Global Police’. A new balance of power emerged post-WW II, in which the United States would act as a global policeman. The hidden agenda was to provide the United States and Britain with a way to police the world while avoiding the appearance of empire-building. If the United States wanted to use military power, against a nation-state, then it might legitimize its actions with the tacit approval of the United Nations.
USA- self-proclaimed world policeman
Though the United States expanded its dominance in the Western Hemisphere in the 19th century, it didn’t emerge as a global military superpower until World War II. The European Colonial powers declined with World War II and the Queen was too willing to accede the position of the super cop to the USA. As the sole superpower, in the 1940s, the United States assumed the role of the world’s policeman, conveniently citing a moral responsibility to uphold freedom and democracy around the world. The United States felt that the world needs a policeman if freedom and prosperity are to prevail against the forces of oppression, and the only capable, reliable and desirable candidate for the position is only the USA. They felt that without U.S. primacy and policing the world, this planet will descend into a ‘dog-eat-dog’/ ‘might-is-right’ environment.
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After World War II, the United States found itself committed to a global agenda of liberty and human rights. It also assumed the role of checking crimes sans borders like terrorism and supporting the smaller sovereign countries against the hegemony of powerful neighbours and regional bullies. It also checked the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or anything detrimental to the civilized world. Therefore, America started intervening in foreign conflicts and wielding unprecedented global power, in the late 20th Century. That got further consolidated after the collapse of the Soviet Empire and Warsaw Pact countries. Global policing is a challenging job and 21st Century brings enormous challenges to the USA in performing this task satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the United States is not present everywhere and doesn’t act perfectly. They cannot right every wrong, nor intervene everywhere. Of course, this is true, but no police force is unbiased or above board.
Cost of global policing
America dons the mantle of the world’s policeman because there is nobody to protect peaceful countries from the ruthlessness of religious radicalism and international gangs of terrorists. We need someone strong to check nuclear proliferation or threats from biological or chemical warfare. There is also a need to protect the planet Earth, conserve energy resources and protect the environment from pollution. With globalization, international supply chains have increased manifold and they need to be secured. The U.N. has proven to be ineffective and its agenda is often hijacked by the powerful. Only the U.S. has the capability to lead, o act and enforce rule-based order. American troops are stationed from South Korea to Germany, to prevent aggression and a return of dangerous rivalries. Also, the US Navy patrols the world’s oceans, to prevent the closing of checkpoints at places like the ‘Straits of Hormuz’ and ‘The South China Sea’.
Today, the Pentagon controls around 750 bases in some 80 foreign countries and territories. Military action goes on against terrorism in 76 countries or 40 % of the world. It’s a global empire that spans the entire planet and also aerospace today. Bases are far away leading to prolonged separation and neglect of family life, which takes its toll on the troops and resources.
Global policing comes at a steep price and only a rich country like the USA can afford it. Research estimates state that world policeman duties cost America about $5.6 trillion, however, the Pentagon downplays it to $1.5 trillion, per year. These estimates predict that by 2050, the cost of world policing duties may increase to more than $ 8 Trillion. No country except the USA can financially sustain that effort. There is a rising concern within America, with learned citizens asking whether the USA should invest its resources and energy in such costly self-acquired global policing assignments. The super–cop role comes at a price and discomfort to own forces.
Today, if we do a geopolitical scan of world affairs, we find that in Eastern Europe, a resurgent Russia has brutally attacked Ukraine and the war is going on unabated for more than a year. Other countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Lebanon have become breeding grounds for terrorists. China is flexing its muscles against its neighbours like Taiwan and India. Countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Venezuela are almost on the brink of financial disaster. To top it all, rogue states like North Korea are threatening the world with a nuclear attack. These are only a few examples of what is now at stake as autocrats, terrorists and rogue states challenge the international rules-based order—which was created after World War II under UN leadership and which secured for the world, an unprecedented period of peace, progress and prosperity.
There are lots of international laws prohibiting genocide, landmines, biological weapons and other nasty things. But without enforcement mechanisms, they are as worthless. Presently, only America can play all these roles, because America alone has the credibility to shape sustainable solutions to these challenges. Europe is weak, divided and leaderless. The old powers of Britain and France are simply too small and exhausted to play the global role they once did. Russia is too obsessed with Ukraine’s war and rebuilding the old Soviet Union Empire. China is still primarily an emerging superpower and not capable of policing the world unbiased…
After the collapse of the USSR, the world almost became unipolar with the USA emerging as the most powerful country. This is being challenged in the 21st Century. The world is today changing from unipolar to multipolar where the supreme superpower status of the USA is being challenged. America is not able to maintain discipline and order in the world because smaller nation-states are challenging their authority to become self-styled global police and they dare to do that because of silent backing from some emerging regional powers. The USA has also been selective in their interventions, as it suits its national interests and the narratives are created accordingly. The crisis of U.S. supremacy has been in the making for decades, and probably, now reached its culmination. It would be better for the United States to “decline gracefully.”
America’s record at keeping global order is deeply flawed, but no other country is prepared and capable to take on that role. In the 21st Century, alliances of various countries having common interests like NATO, G7, G20, SAARC, SCO, AUKUS and QUAD are coming up. They are not only looking after the business interests of each other but are also prepared to stand together in hours of crisis if their interests are threatened by a regional bully. It’s a win-win situation for all.
All societies and nation-states, when they become sufficiently interdependent, due to globalization, need governance at the international level. Our society of sovereign countries has reached that point. International society needs governance and the United States provides it. This is in the interest of the growth of the global economy. American military deployments and policing assure the free flow of trade and the movement of capital goods sans frontiers. It has brought prosperity, development and livelihood to thousands of millions of people across the globe…
There is a realignment of power in the 21st Century. Developing countries other than the USA are also rising on the world’s geopolitical stage. A multipolar world and a more equitable balance of power – one not dominated and distorted by superpowers and dictators – must be the aim in the 21st Century. The rising awareness amongst developing regional superpowers is challenging the role of the USA as a global policeman. Their argument is that the US is a country and not a global government. They do not buy the argument that the USA is an impartial umpire in world affairs. The responsibilities of restoring rule-based order in the region should, best be assigned to regional alliances, with the UN Security Council monitoring that globally.