The international challenge that confronts the new U.S. president is compounded in its complexity by the fact that it is occurring in the context of two simultaneous, and interacting, transformational developments on the world political scene.
The first concerns the emergence of global issues pertaining to human wellbeing as critical worldwide political concerns – issues such as climate, environment, starvation, health and social inequality. These issues are becoming more contentious because they have come to the fore in the context of a global political awakening.
The second pertains to yet another fundamental change: a shift in the distribution of global power from the West to the East. The 500-year-long domination of the world by the Atlantic powers is coming to an end with the new political and global pre-eminence of both China and Japan (respectively, the world’s number three and number two economic powers). Waiting in the wings are India and perhaps a recovered Russia, though the latter is still restless and unsure of its identity, ambivalent about its recent past and very insecure about its place in the world.
The monumental task in foreign affairs for the new president of the United States (beyond coping with the immediate financial crisis) is to regain global legitimacy for America by spearheading a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management. Four little but strategically pregnant words define the essence of the response required: to unify; to enlarge; to engage and to pacify.
To unify means to re-establish a shared sense of purpose between America and Europe (more specifically, between the United States and the EU), as well as in NATO, pointing towards more truly shared decision-making. To that end, informal but frequent top-level consultations are badly needed, especially after the last eight years of sloganeering under the banner "If you are not with us, you are against us."
However, it is much easier to define this as a desirable goal than to accomplish it. Americans and Europeans alike are very well aware that there is no such thing yet as a politically unified Europe. Therefore, the only practical solution in the near future is to cultivate a more deliberate dialogue between the United States and the three European countries that have a global orientation and, in varying degrees, global interests: the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
To enlarge entails a deliberate effort to nurture a wider coalition of principal partners who are committed to the principle of interdependence and prepared to play a significant political, as well as economic, role in promoting more effective global management. The partners have to be genuine practitioners of interdependence and be ready to participate in the necessary consultations, in the required institutionalization of the process, and in the assumption of some jointly determined burdens.