A Splintered Mirror: The World Reflects on the United States

Concerns over the future role of the United States dominate international discourse and policy. This issue’s symposium critically assesses the nature and impact of these rival perspectives onthe United States. Joseph Nye, the dean of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and former US cabinet member, opens our symposium by discussing the pragmatic benefits of soft power, which engenders goodwill and cooperation, allowing for the greater success of US policies. Professor Makram Haluani, chairman of the Department of Political Science at Simón Bolivar University in Venezuela, builds on Nye’s discussion of soft power to explain Latin America’s simultaneous admiration for US society and suspicion of US leadership.

But even as this unease over US foreign policy creates sources of conflict or tension, it presents an opportunity for a dramatic redefinition of the US role in the world. Professor Hall Gardner, chair of the International Affairs Department at the American University of Paris, writes that the source of international ambivalence toward US policy may provide the impetus for the formation of a new model of international peace and security based on multilateralism. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is optimistic about this possibility, viewing such multilateralism as consistent with the ideals embedded in US foreign policy and shared by Europe. Similarly, Associate Professor David Tucker of the University of Melbourne examines conflicting explanations of European perceptions of the United States, concluding that conflicts of interest—and not fundamentally different mindsets or goals—are the source of disagreement.

Overcoming these differences can, according to Javad Zarif, the permanent representative of Iran to the United Nations, be a major step toward the prosperity and security of the entire international community. But Zarif rightly points out that the tantalizing promise of successful multilateralism in the current international climate comes with a correspondingly destructive price of failure if the United States “confus[es] unilateralism with leadership.” Indeed, despite their diverse backgrounds and disciplines, the authors of this symposium present a compelling case for resolving the growing gap between the rhetoric and perception of US foreign policy. The solution requires the adoption of a multilateral approach to international relations.

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