Why the U.S. Can’t and Shouldn’t Try to ‘Police’ the World
Anders Fogh Rasmussen essentially wants the U.S. to govern the planet:
In this world of interconnections, it has become a cliché to talk about the “global village.“ But right now, the village is burning, and the neighbors are fighting in the light of the flames. Just as we need a policeman to restore order; we need a firefighter to put out the flames of conflict, and a kind of mayor, smart and sensible, to lead the rebuilding.
Only America can play all these roles, because of all world powers, America alone has the credibility to shape sustainable solutions to these challenges.
Rasmussen’s op-ed makes many familiar mistakes here. For one thing, the entire “village” isn’t burning, and the vast majority of the world is at peace. The need for both “policeman” and “firefighter” is exaggerated to make it seem as if the world will fall into chaos unless the U.S. acts as the author wants, but that isn’t the case. For another, it can’t possibly be the responsibility of any one government to do all of the things mentioned here. No government has the right or authority to do these things, and there is no single government with either the resources or the competence to police the world. Besides, there simply isn’t enough political support for such a role here in the U.S. Even if the U.S. could competently fill the role Rasmussen describes, it would be a mistake to do it.
The costs of such a role are not only exorbitant, but there is an inherent danger in justifying U.S. actions in these terms. Setting the U.S. up as the enforcer of order around the world effectively puts the U.S. above the rules that all states are supposed to follow, and it gives it an excuse to trample on the sovereignty of other states when the enforcer deems it appropriate. Even if our leaders had consistently good judgment, that would create many opportunities for abuse. Since we know our leaders often make poor choices about how and where to intervene, it opens the door to one disaster after another. We also know our government’s “enforcement” is arbitrary and selective, and when its allies and clients break the rules the U.S. is usually helping them or covering for them. Most of the world doesn’t need and presumably doesn’t want a “policeman” that can do what it likes, shield its clients from punishment, and never has to answer to them, and most Americans don’t want their government to act as one.
Of course, it is misleading from the start to think of a major military power as either a police force or a fire brigade. Both of these are typically services under the control of a local government in one’s own community. The U.S. role Rasmussen describes is necessarily very different from that. It isn’t local or accountable to the people being “policed,” and its “policing” is inevitably an intrusion from outside into their affairs. As for being a “mayor,” mayors are normally elected, but most nations around the world haven’t elected and wouldn’t elect the U.S. as “mayor” of the world. Most of the world doesn’t accept the U.S. as its “policeman,” and in quite a few places that role is vehemently denied.