Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: U.S. Not Up To Being Sole Superpower




Lone, lone superpower," sang the Madeleine Albright "clone" during the musical review ending the Singapore summit. That nagging motif of the loneliness of a global superpower is felt in works of a much more serious genre than a remake of the old American classic "Home on the Range." In, for example, the recent interview that the real Madeleine Albright gave to the magazine Stern, or in Zbigniew Brzezinski's book "The Grand Chessboard."


I have several times had the opportunity to discuss Brzezinski's book in Russia and have often had the impression that I read a completely different book than a majority of my colleagues. It was read in Russia as a triumphal hymn to the U.S. victory in the Cold War and the reinforcement of its role as the only world superpower. But Brzezinski is too smart and has too much foresight to limit himself to the statement of such banal and already-becoming-obsolete truths.


The book is about something else - the unclear and worrisome future. Even now, at the height of America's economic, political and military might, Brzezinski is thinking about the transitory nature of a period in which there is only one superpower, about the inability of American society (by virtue of its democratic institutions and because of its hedonistic, consumerist precepts) to take on the burden of the only global power, not to mention playing the role of the world's policeman.


It seems to me that the assessments and impression of this distinguished political scientist were confirmed during the Kosovo crisis. Outwardly, the result of this crisis demonstrated the resolve of the U.S. and its NATO allies to restore peace, stability and justice in regions hit by ethnic conflicts. Such a new agenda for the North Atlantic alliance was proclaimed in the new concept adopted during the April summit in Washington.


But in fact the course of the Kosovo crisis revealed serious political, psychological and cultural restrictions on the ability to project U.S. might in regional conflicts. It turned out that the United States was organically incapable of committing ground forces even when faced with political humiliation and the threat of a very serious split within NATO. All Western countries, and the United States most of all, proved to be obsessed by a zero-casualties concept of war. And NATO turned out to be not very well designed for waging a war. The alliance of 19 democratic nations, each leader of which has its own coalition and opposition, cannot be a very effective military instrument. It was lucky that its first military operation in its 50-year history came after the end of the Cold War.


The general feeling in the West at the end of the Kosovo operation was a sigh of relief after a narrow escape. In mid-May, I talked to one prominent U.S. diplomat who had served as ambassador to NATO for many years. I noted that we had the interesting opportunity to discuss simultaneously the new NATO strategic concept and the first test of its application. He spontaneously interrupted me: "Not the first," he said. "The last. There will be no other Kosovos in the foreseeable future."


I guess this is the prevailing mood now in the United States. Kosovo may turn out to be the last victory and triumph in an overseas operation of the lone, lone superpower.