Global Agenda Council on the United States 2012-2013
In the second half of the 20th century, the United States and its allies sought to uphold global order, provide strategic political leadership and military strength, and underwrite stability through assistance for reconstruction and development. Although at times more successful than others, the United States has arguably made itself synonymous with vision and responsibility for maintaining order and a stable balance of power, and it has carried this charge perhaps more than any other nation in the modern era. However, America’s natural leadership has been challenged, and the first decade of the 21st century has presented unparalleled obstacles to the United States’ dominant position in the economic and geopolitical spheres.
Domestically, the recession affecting much of the western world has had a strong impact on America. It now faces its deepest economic recession in 70 years, while extreme partisanship characterizes the political landscape. In this presidential election year, questions have been raised about the current administration’s ability to stimulate growth and job creation during such difficult economic times. Globally, the USA remains the world’s foremost military power, yet a shift appears to be taking place in geopolitical spheres, including threats from terrorism and opposition to liberal democratic ideals, compounded by an economic shift from developed to developing economies, global warming and resource scarcity. Within this increasingly complex and evolving global landscape, the purpose and effectiveness of America’s traditional leadership role now faces new questions.
- In 2011, military spending declined by almost US$ 9 billion, the first time this sector of government spending has decreased since 1998; even with the decline, military spending accounted for 42% of global expenditure on defence.
- US public debt in 2011 equalled 67.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), placing the country 35th in global rankings (Zimbabwe was first, with public debt equivalent to 220.1% of GDP).
- Since 1975, almost all gains in USA household incomes have gone to the richest 20% of households.
“The present world order – characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations, greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known, and a long peace among great powers – reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it.”
Bob Kagan, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
“With economic challenges, a changing external environment, political difficulties at home and a presidential election, the United States is at a strategic inflection point. There is widespread concurrence that the United States should lead in the world, but little agreement about precisely what form that leadership should take. The [Global Agenda Council] on the United States will debate American power and purpose in the world, and examine the kind of leadership the world seeks from America.”
Richard Fontaine, President, Centre for a New American Security
“Influence is a combination of purpose and resources. There is a danger of USA disengagement on issues as diverse as Syria and the ripples from the Arab awakening, to managing the institutional changes required to integrate emerging powers. We can play a key role in thinking through the challenges and priorities for American leadership, and how Washington can work with its partners to address them.”
Fred Kempe, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Atlantic Council of the United States
Public Meetings of the US Federal Election Commission
15 November and 20 December 2012
Washington DC, USA
US 3-Month and 6-Month Bill Announcements; US Jobless Claims Announcement
29 November 2012
State of the Union Address
29 January 2013
Washington DC, USA
The Council will stimulate a series of discussions around how the USA can effectively provide strategic leadership in the current global context. These discussions will be framed around two pillars: leadership intention, or "American Purpose", and leadership capability, or "American Power".
American identity is based on shared cultural values, championing principles of individual opportunity and open societies; in the international context these values generate the American Purpose. The Council will consider various dimensions of American Purpose, including diplomacy, development assistance and education, with a focus on the following questions:
- What should the appropriate nature and form of American leadership be in the world?
- What does the international community want from the USA?
- What are the implications of greater USA isolationism or disengagement from the world?
- How will America maintain its military and development commitments in the face of fiscal challenges and the emergence of new international actors in the realm of development?
- What form of global order does the USA seek in the future?
Additionally, the Council will look at USA strength, which is derived not only from its GDP and military size, but also the effectiveness of its institutions, the cooperation of public and private sectors, and a population with an adequate skills base. Thus, the focus areas will be military leadership, economic strength, soft power and influence, with these considerations:
- In what key areas does the USA need to lead the international community?
- What kind of military will America be able to maintain given current commitments and declining defence budgets?
- How does the USA account for the enhanced role of other countries in the evolving global order?
- How can the USA continue to lead globally when there is increased inequality, unemployment and slow domestic growth?
Research Analyst: Stefan Hall, Global Agenda Councils, firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Manager: Matt Miller, Associate Director, North America, email@example.com
Forum Lead: Paul Smyke, Senior Adviser, North America Constituents Engagement, firstname.lastname@example.org