By Shen Yamei
Recently, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a speech titled "The Power and Purpose of American Diplomacy in a New Era" at Johns Hopkins University, in which he stated that the "post-Cold War world order has come to an end." His speech outlined the logic of US diplomacy under the Biden administration, reaffirming America's perceived threats, emphasizing that alliances are US's "greatest strategic asset" in diplomacy and highlighting the decisive significance of current US decisions for the next few decades.
In reality, the notion of the "end of the post-Cold War era," strengthening the alliance system, and enhancing partnerships is not new. These terms have repeatedly surfaced during events such as the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War, the 2008 financial crisis, and the 2022 Ukraine crisis. They reflect the US' confusion and arrogance as it lost its direction after the end of the Cold War and desperately sought a new identity.
Faced with a constantly changing international environment, the US continues to stubbornly adhere to old concepts and practices, to the point where it fails to see the reality of the world and find a path forward. As Blinken mentioned, US decision-makers must act decisively in the fog of reality, which, however, may objectively bring more uncertainties and dangers to the world.
In contrast to the Cold War era when the "Iron Curtain" divided the world into two blocs, the "international order" of the post-Cold War era is in its nascent stage and encompasses all members of the global community. This includes developing nations, countries with varying social systems, and diverse civilizations. The post-Cold War world order is currently undergoing significant evolution and development. It has not reached its conclusion; instead, it is imperative that we abandon antiquated notions and practices in American diplomacy.
Firstly, American politicians continue to view the world through the lens of domestic politics, but the world is not America's "laboratory."
American politics is often described as an "experiment," with the US's 50 states being touted as laboratories where different policies can be tested to determine what works and what doesn't. As a result, the US has, consciously or unconsciously, regarded other countries as testing grounds, arenas, or even training grounds, assuming that it can shape the world in its own image.
However, in a multipolar era, an increasing number of countries are determining their own development paths, and the US can no longer continue to impose its will on others. American politics is also often seen as a power struggle between different interests, with political parties vying for electoral victories through strategies that involve glorifying themselves, denigrating their opponents, and dividing voters. With the escalating hostility between the Democratic and Republican parties and within American society, the style of "extreme competition" has spread outward, prompting the US to engage in international competition, using other countries' core interests as tools of competition, means of provocation, and even sacrificing the interests of other countries to seek strategic advantage. Such notions and practices, which completely contradict the essence of diplomacy and seriously undermine the foundation of international relations, should come to an end.
Secondly, American diplomacy still clings to the traditional Western great power trajectory of dominance through war, conflict, and confrontation. However, peace, development, and cooperation are what the people of the world truly need.
The US places a strong emphasis on using geopolitical and military means to solve problems, which no longer aligns with the needs of the 21st century and does not promote the interests of the US or other countries in the world. During the George W. Bush era, a unilateralist approach was taken, using force to promote "democracy", resulting in strategic overextension and fundamentally disrupting the political ecology of the Middle East.During the Obama era, there was a shift towards multilateralism, but it was unable to reverse the trend of economic financialization, industrial hollowing, and political polarization in the US. It also introduced the practice of "soft balancing" in international relations.During the Trump era, populism was catered to, "America First" was promoted, the crisis of American values became apparent, and unpredictable Trump shockwaves were sent to the world. The Biden administration aims to repair America’s domestic institutions and international influence and seeks to return to the status quo of hegemony. However, it keeps returning to the Cold War toolbox, crafting a narrative of "democracy versus authoritarianism" and creating new divisions.
The US is keen on using policy tools such as "alliance", "deterrence", "checks and balances" and "confrontation" to spread the alliance system from the political and security fields to other fields such as economy and science and technology, and even call other countries "geometric variables of US diplomacy". It not only undermines world peace and development but also does not help solve common problems faced by the international community such as climate change and major public health crises.
Third, the US continues to innovate its narratives, but global affairs are no longer limited to American interpretations.
Since the Cold War, the US has employed discourse hegemony to promote the idea of "liberal internationalism", using it to cover up the history of Western colonialism and neocolonial ambitions. As more non-Western countries gain prominence on the world stage and act independently, American academia has produced a series of political theories, including "structural realism", "end of ideology", "end of history", etc. These theories seek to transform the concept of a nation into a standardized, universal symbol placed within the confines of American exceptionalism-based frameworks. At the same time, they downplay the historical and cultural aspects, ethnic characteristics, and political systems that other countries encompass.
The US' attempts to reshape others according to its own wishes from the outset have been wrong and, increasingly, unattainable in an era of diverse civilizations. In a world characterized by diverse civilizations, the US encounters more and more resistance. The majority of countries do not share the US perception of "threats", do not endorse the rhetoric of "democracy versus authoritarianism", and are unwilling to take sides in "great power competition", breaking the monopoly of the American narrative.
History has not ended, and the future awaits to be written. In the new multipolar world, the US should conduct a fresh evaluation of its diplomacy and step away from the logic of competition and confrontation, and instead, approach international relations with a mindset of inclusivity and equality, respecting other countries' legitimate rights to development. Ultimately, viewing the world through the lens of camps and alliances leads to division, conflict, and zero-sum outcomes. However, by embracing the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, the path forward lies in openness, cooperation, and mutual benefit.
(The author is the director of the Department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies)
Editor's note: Originally published on china.com.cn, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.