What happens when a superpower is not so super anymore? If you accept the premise that in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating economic impact, most Americans on both the left and the right will come to view U.S. global leadership as “a luxury rather than a necessity,” as Steven Metz put it last week, then what would the post-Pax Americana world order look like?
Most observers think America will step back after COVID-19, and that sounds about right—although it is far from clear whether that would be a few years on the bench, until the U.S. is back on its game, or a permanent reordering. Will China emerge victorious as the world’s autocratic patron while Russia plays global bad cop? Will extremist groups like the Islamic State step into the breach and continue their quest to conquer poorly governed territories?
Given that the United States has already spent close to $3 trillion in response to the pandemic, and that its economic slide continues unabated, it seems reasonable to expect that the United States will be forced to recalibrate its very expensive national security strategy. This is what New America’s Peter Bergen and Daniel Rothenberg have called a “hinge event,” a chance to reset American priorities, foreign and domestic. They may be right that there’s reason to hope that America might shrink its bloated military-industrial complex and emerge from the coronavirus chaos leaner and stronger than before.