John R. Quetsch Memorial Lecture: an imperial republic? The United States and the challenge of global leadership in the 21st century.
These lectures are considered to be the academic high point of the ASMC's professional development offerings. The lectures offer a forum for speakers to share their viewpoints on future trends in domestic and foreign policy and in government management.
The American Society of Military Comptrollers Quetsch lecture series was designed to stimulate and challenge the listener and to present the personal viewpoints of well-known leaders and scholars. This year's lecture, by Dr. Peter Ronayne of the Federal Executive Institute, did all of that.
Dr. Ronayne's topic was daunting: a challenge to understand our nation's place in the very complex arena of the world stage--"No issue is more critical for America's role in the world than its capacity to develop among its people the intellectual and professional expertise that will be required for leadership in international affairs, and that issue has never been more important than it is today."
He shared with us his thoughts on the notion of America as it fulfills the definition of an empire, although perhaps a reluctant one, conceived in liberty and engaged in the pursuit of liberty as a central feature of its policies, both foreign and domestic.
Dr. Ronayne stated that, although we exist today on one-half of 1 percent of the world's surface and have less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States is unrivaled both militarily and economically. Quoting from The Economist, he stated, "The United States bestrides the globe like a colossus. It dominates business, commerce, and communications; its economy is the world's most successful, its military might second to none."
He illustrated the military ability of the United States to "reach out and touch someone" by mentioning its 750 military installations in more than 130 countries, a defense budget equal to the combined military budgets of the next 12 nations, with upwards of 45 percent of all the defense spending of the world's nations. "The American empire dominates the military landscape to an extent and depth never seen before."
"America's reach" he said, "continues into the economic realm." The United States gross domestic product represents a third of world output, outstripping Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. It also is twice that of China, despite that country's recent extraordinary economic growth. According to Dr. Ronayne, "America is the engine of globalization."
As validation, he then pointed out that 59 of the largest companies in the world call America home (such as Exxon, Mobil, Coca Cola, Microsoft, AOL, Time Warner, McDonald's, and General Motors, to name a few). These companies drive the American domestic economy, and they drive the world economy. America invests twice as much abroad as the second player (United Kingdom), and 42 of the top 75 commercial product brands are American, as are 9 of the top 10 business schools.
Dr. Ronayne talked about the concept of "soft power," which consists of our ideals and values. "One can't underestimate the power and reach of our culture, our institutions of higher education, our high-tech sector, and the commitment of public servants to nonpartisan principles and integrity." He quoted Thomas Friedman, a columnist with The New York Times, saying, "So much of America's moral authority to lead the world derives from the decency of our government and its bureaucrats, and the example they set for others.... They are things to be cherished, strengthened, and praised every single day."
According to Dr. Ronayne, with that distribution of power, America "begins to look suspiciously imperial in reach, scope, breadth, and influence. So, if an empire is first and foremost a dominant power, a world political actor that leaves its mark on the international relations of an era, that rules the behavior of others around the world through outright force, through inducements, through intimidation, through inspiration, then empire it is."
But we are speaking of a republic perhaps with different purpose and intent than empires of the past. Dr. Ronayne asked us to recall the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He recalled a comment made at that point by an advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev: "We are doing something really terrible to you; we are depriving you of an enemy." Since that time, we, as a nation, have struggled in defining our role in the world. For the present, some of the gap has been filled by the Global War on Terrorism. Dr. Ronayne said, "We have an enemy: a decentralized, nonstate, high-tech, globalized, twenty-first century adversary."
But our sphere of influence is much wider than combating terrorism. The United States "can and does have major critical impact on every major issue of the day: trade, commerce, science and technology, law, global crime, transnational disease, environmental degradation, labor, human rights, travel, etc." Given these vast areas of influence, the citizens of this country must now define whom we want to be on the world stage and what we want as the defining characteristics and actions of American leadership.
Dr. Ronayne traced the evolution of American political thought from Jefferson's and Washington's inclinations for commerce and peace with other nations without "entangling alliances," to the twentieth-century concept of being trustees of the world's progress and the guardians of its righteous peace, to today's situation in which we are defending the freedom of every person in every civilization. He then looked forward to examining the form that American leadership might take for the remainder of the twenty-first century.
He proposed an Alliance of Democratic States that would unite countries with "entrenched democratic traditions," such as the United States and Canada, the European Union countries, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, India and Israel, Botswana and Costa Rica.
"Like NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] during the Cold War, the Alliance of Democratic States should become the focal point of American foreign policy. Unlike NATO, however, the alliance would not be formed to counter any country or be confined to a single region. Rather, its purpose would be to strengthen international cooperation to combat terrorism, curtail weapons proliferation, cure infectious diseases, and curb global warming."
It might be separate from or a caucus within the U.N. [United Nations]. "American leadership in creating an Alliance of Democratic States would satisfy the deep yearning on both the left and the right in the United States to promote America's values while pursuing its interests. Success in this effort offers the only hope of escaping the doomed alternatives of going it alone or pursuing a traditional multilateralism in which concern for procedure has long trumped a commitment to effectiveness."
Dr. Ronayne concluded his presentation with a personal charge to each of us: "America's legacy as an imperial republic will rely heavily on each and every one of us, our willingness to develop our global literacy; to engage the world outside our comfy confines and see its complexity; to combine American optimism with not-so-typical American patience; to travel; and to embrace the Web as a window into other perspectives on the events of the day. As Thomas Paine declared in 1776, 'We have the power to begin the world over again.' For this American imperial republic, we again have that power, and the time is now!"
Dr. Peter Ronayne
Senior Faculty Member, Federal Executive Institute
John T. Raines is associate director for Professional Development at the American Society of Military Comptrollers. He is currently working on the training portion of the Defense Financial Management Certification program. Previous work assignments include program and fiscal management for the Army Continuing Education System; Appropriation Director for Program 8 (General Personnel Activities), Army Budget Office, Headquarters Department of the Army; Chief of the Financial Management Education and Training Division, CFO Support Directorate, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller); and past Acting President of the Defense Business Management University.