Who Bears the Burden?

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Obama's national security strategy.

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“The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” Mr. Obama writes in the introduction of the strategy being released on Thursday. “Indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power.” - New York Times

This is a pleasing sentiment, but one that I doubt will have any material impact on the conduct of U.S. policy. Matthew Yglesias puts his finger on the heart of the matter:

The issue is that the US national security establishment suffers from a bit of schizophrenia with regard to burden-sharing and you see it manifest itself in basically the same way with regard to both Europe and China. We want other major powers to “do more” to address major world problems, but at the same time we want them to just do exactly what we want whereas they want to look after their own interests. We don’t want the loss of control that would come from washing our hands of certain important situations, but we also don’t actually want to carry the load of dealing with everything ourselves.

This is the contradiction at the heart of Obama's pledge to reform international institutions to reflect the rise of other powers: to the extent that we assert the right to define our interests expansively, we cannot accommodate other powers unless they accommodate themselves to us. And why would they?

(AP Photo)

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