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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The first among equals

In the 8-23-12 post on Obama’s foreign policy I wrote:  I think we should move away from the (unsustainable) KATN (kick ass and take names) U S foreign policy and toward the next proper (and sustainable) American role in the world: that of being first among equals.  For an example of how that could work without being (or appearing to be) weak, see Fareed Zakaria's book:  The Post American World, 2.1.

Two questions about the expression “First among equals” have been raised to me.  One wondered what it meant the other claimed that it was just BS.  So I thought that I would say what I mean by it.  Modifying Wikipedia’s definition from persons to nations would look something like this: 

 A nation is the first among equals if it is formally equal, but looked upon as an authority of special importance or unofficial leader by their peers.  

Illustrations of why I would classify America as a "first among equals" nation.

For three generations the world’s reserve currency has been the US Dollar.

Twice in this century the world has formed international organizations that they hoped would maintain peace among the great powers.  The League did not have the US in it and failed, the UN did have the US in it and is, more or less, successful.  (Also the UN chose to have itself in the United States.)

After Kuwait was invaded, a large group of nations  followed American Leadership in ejecting the Iraqis.

U S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said that “America is the indispensible nation.”

The Iranian dissidents, who were protesting against their theocratic government, appealed in the streets to the American president to stand with them.  They did not, as far as I know, appeal to the Russian President, or the French President, or the Pakistani President, or, well you get my drift.  Did you ever notice how many countries have "president" as the title of their head of state?  I wonder how that got started.

Candidate Romney's assertion that the World "yearns for American leadership" may be an overstatement,  but as Tom Friedman has said, "If you think you don't like the middle east with American power, just wait until you try the middle east without American power." 

Feel free to make suggestions for this list.  Future additions will have the date added.

(I do not include our leadership of the group of nations in Afghanistan because we were the aggrieved party and therefore there was nothing special about our leading that.)

Some things that I mean by KATN are:

The unilateral invasion of Iraq.
The fact that half of all of the military expenditures on this planet are made by the US.

P S I would agree that KATN was much more appropriate during the cold war.

P P S Secretary Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937, is perhaps a biased witness.  She also said:  “I was a little girl in World War II and I'm used to being freed by Americans.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the definition.

    I interpret that as equal “de jure” but not necessarily equal “de facto”.

    With that in mind would a person who supports the “first among equals” doctrine advocate the dissolution of the Big 5 in the UN Security Council?