Edward Snowden’s declarations triggered a mass of reactions unheard of, at least until now, casting a slur on United States’ image. Yet, these revelations have a broader effect than one might see if just analyzing what goes on in newspapers and on the media in general. Alongside with wars waged by industrialists, torture, illegal detentions, and other sorts of behavior that are not compatible with the traditional American values, the United States is facing a run out of political legitimacy. The shortage of political capital, thoroughly demonstrated by the inefficiency of multilateral bodies, is a direct indication that the United States will have to revise the fundaments of its’ international action.
One might say that this is the way that United States has always conducted its international action, with a flower and a book of principles in one hand and a gun on the other. Besides, what kind of respected country does not maintain a secret service of information? Since the Cold War, when spying developed from messenger-pigeons to high-tech communications system, surveillance became not just acceptable, but also a worthy appraisable, by the risk of having nukes on Arizona’s sky in a moment of distraction. Furthermore, a single incident with some information given by a national traitor cannot mean anything significant, and soon enough the world will turn a blind eye on it and the CIA will go back to the schedule, restraining information access to a fewer group. After all, if you want to be the hegemonic power, the least you can do is to have an edge on your enemies.
This hollow analysis, however, squanders a chance of deepening our knowledge about United States’ position on the international arena. First, we should sketch a few underpinnings of the current American way of presenting itself to the world. Although force was ever an option, it always had a good reason, for the sheriff would only use his authority on bad people. Hence, as a protector of an ordered international system, where liberalism should suffice to promote all the goodness a nation might desire, the United States would be guided by morality, ethics and an never-ending struggle against injustice. As though as this seems a piece made by a lampooner, strikingly there was a great force on these words.
The would-become world power once, when it was shaping what J. Ruggie defined as “Embedded Liberalist” order, conceptualized an international order maintained by the efforts of all, with multilateral bodies, international aid, free commerce and, above all, liberty to every single human being. Nations thrived under the auspices of an ordered system, which even USSR, by little disturbs on the Caribbean Sea, could not shake. In times of war, promoting coups was a justified action in order to guarantee freedom, a small toll in face of the perils of the Communist upheavals. In that time, although the UNSC was facing a deadlock, the multilateral system obeyed the principles defended by the United States. Finally, the liberalist, capitalist and freedom of speech made its way to the international fore. These were the guidelines to nations on the 1990s. Any nation seeking development would only achieve it if it followed the Liberalism’s recipe. It was a time that the American order was not only respected, but also taken as a canon.
It is important to notice that the post-Cold War situation was the peak to the American foreign policy, commonly known as the “Unipolar Moment”. Albeit Mogadishu was a roadkill, the system functioned in a high pace. In that decade, the UNSC approved more resolutions than ever before, The WTO was created, environment issues began to be checked and regional integration was all over the world. Security issues were objects of museums; all that mattered was the world economy: free trade, government procurement and copyrights; all American priorities at the time.
Once this brief historical background has been presented, now the question posed is: Does the American values retain just as much power as they did once? The clear and undoubtedly answer to that question is no. The dwindling of the American influence is due to two sets of complex variables: on the one hand, the relative ascendency of other actors, remarkably on the economic, social and environmental arenas; and on the other, the difficulties to preserve a coherence on the conduction of the American foreign policy.
Firstly, as shown by the reactions from allies to enemies, the surveillance system leak proved to be a major loss to United States’ defense of liberty. Countries became more worried by their security and, with good reason, also outraged by the audacious movement of the American program. In a clear resemblance to the Iraqi case of non-founded weapons of mass destruction, the international community has gone more and more resentful about the actions undertook by Washington. Therefore, the international community doubts the true aims of the United States, standing that it will not accept this kind of sovereignty invasions anymore. Besides, the incapacity to implement an international action coherent with its principles undermines the power to gather support to the North American initiatives.
Secondly, this event must be addressed in face of the new set on the international system. It is not hard to notice that the American prominence is becoming increasingly dependent on China and Europe’s economy. Asia and Europe are very important to the international commercial flow and start to have real power to defend its own interests, thwarting any attempts of unilateral action. Socially, the lack of legitimacy of the United States’ initiatives is more problematic. Obama’s actions have relegated human rights, liberty and freedom of expression to a back burner. Henceforth, the United States sees its’ power of movement being restrained, notably by its’ incapacity to adapt a new kind of practices to the traditional principles of the Washington’s diplomacy.
Together these sets of variables indicate that the United States’ capacity to promote the international interest is narrowed by the lack of commitment to its discourse. In a nutshell, Edward Snowden’s revelations and the difficulties of the United States to put hands on him depict the very image of a power that is losing the coherence and the respect of others to act.
Stefanos Georgios C. Drakoulakis is a Undergraduate student at the University of Brasilia and a member of the Programa de Ensino Tutorial – PET- IREL -UnB (email@example.com)