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End of empire? (Part 2)

Obviously, the apparent decline of American power will have enormous repercussions in global politics. When the “policeman of the world” suddenly diminishes in authority there would be shifts in international relations.

Some scholars offer the view that the absence of the US will cause a vacuum and thus will create dangers for the international community. I beg to differ. For one, even with the decline in the influence of America, it will continue play a major role in world politics and the global economy.

What will change is the terrain of international engagement. Increasingly, we are seeing more challenges to US leadership what with the flexing of the muscles of Russia and China. Russia for instance has slowly positioned itself as a major player in the Middle East. It has exerted more influence in the Syrian civil war and has redefined the dynamics in its relations with Turkey.

Do you remember the so-called Arab Spring? I was very familiar with the Arab Spring because the turns and shifts in the Middle East during that time was creating problems with our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) – an advocacy that is close to my heart.

But the Arab Spring – to Washington’s disappointment – did not bring democracy to the volatile region. On the contrary, the situation has become unstable and rife for extremism. It is this failure that Russia is capitalizing on with its recent overtures in the Middle East.

China is doing the same thing. It launched in 2016 the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which it said “is a new multilateral financial institution founded to bring countries together to address the daunting infrastructure needs across Asia”. Many viewed this as China’s way of advancing its position as a world economic leader challenging the US.

It would seem that even the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are imagining a regional order without its traditional ally across the Atlantic Ocean. With President Donald Trump focusing on “America First” and on “making America great again” the EU and NATO might have to consider certain realignments in its future direction.

This is the reason I wrote before that I believe that President Rodrigo Duterte was not getting the credit he deserved for reconfiguring Philippine foreign policy by focusing not just on our relations with the US but also with Russia, China and our other Asian neighbors.

Critics chose to focus on the President’s colorful language instead of looking into his brilliant foreign policy maneuver that reasserted an independent foreign policy and expanded bilateral relations based on mutual respect and sovereignty.

Another necessary consequence of the decline of the US is the increase in the challenges faced by western-style, US-exported democracy. Part of its duty as “policeman of the world” is to enforce worldwide American values which included its brand of democracy.

Philippine democracy, for instance, is essentially “made in the US’’. Increasingly many people from all over the world are challenging the assumptions and prescriptions of this American export. I am not saying that democracy as an ideal should also disappear. What I am saying is that, without a superpower exporting their kind of democracy, then nations, like the Philippines, can determine for themselves what kind of democracy is appropriate for them. In a sense, it can trigger the democratization of democracy.

The waning of American influence will also have some repercussions on the so-called “Washington consensus”. The Washington Consensus refers to a free market economic ideas, supported by prominent economists and international organizations, such as the IMF, the World Bank, the EU and the US.

Essentially, the Washington consensus is characterized by its aversion to large fiscal deficits and its insistence on tax reforms, trade liberalization, privatization, deregulation, among others. In our context, it has defined our economic policy especially in relation to our foreign debts.

With China flexing its economic muscles and regional influence through the AIIB, will the dominant economic philosophy endure? Will China introduce a contrary economic philosophy?

These are indeed interesting times. And as many established ideas and practices are slowly being challenged or, in some instances, giving way to new regimes, we might find ourselves worried about the future. Change always bring about anxiety. But change can also bring about better ways of looking at, and engaging the world. Let us understand and adapt to these changes rather than merely rejecting them outright. (Senator Manny Villar)