A Publication of WTVP

Twenty years ago, the world experienced tremendous change as the Cold War came to an end. The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own economic and political burdens. Nearly two dozen new countries were born out of the rubble of the former USSR, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the combustion of Yugoslavia. The bipolar world of East versus West changed rapidly to a world with one major superpower—the United States—and multiple lesser powers with economic, military and political potential.

Shift to a Multipolar World
This bipolar world has been replaced with a multipolar world. Twenty years ago, there were eight countries that were recognized as economic leaders. Today, the G-20 serves as a reminder that economic power can rival, and even trump, military power. The United States remains the bastion of excellence in higher education, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in the world. These traits have been the backbone of our economic strength, and continue to offer the U.S. an advantage over other economies. However, these traits are being learned, adopted and exported to our neighbors as companies around the world seek ways to be more competitive and prosperous in an increasingly interconnected global economy.

Energy needs have also contributed to the ever-changing shift of power in the world. Countries that have energy resources sell those valuable goods to the highest bidder, and those transactions have generated strange bedfellows. China, for example, has reached far into Africa and Latin America, not to spread its still-Communist ideology, but to secure its growing energy needs. Countries around the world, including the U.S., are working to minimize their dependence on foreign resources of energy, and energy independence is a new measure of power in the global arena.

The United States remains the single most developed and effective military force in the world. As we have found, however, there are threats that even the best trained and equipped military finds challenging. Terrorism has added another dimension to our changing world. With the ease of modern international travel and the spread of cyber technology, fears of terrorism are not confined to a single country or region. The ability to cause terrorism is a powerful tool for many countries in the world today.

Human Development and Opportunity
Human development has also been a force of incredible change in the world. Efforts to reduce poverty, cure or curb the spread of diseases, improve opportunities for women, and provide potable drinking water are beginning to show nominal signs of success in some areas of the world. Human development has emerged as one of those measurements of the future potential of a country to grow or continue to fall further behind the rest of the world.

One aspect of human development that has seen phenomenal change in the past several months has been political development. The “Arab Spring,” as it is being called in North Africa and the Middle East, is a manifestation of the people’s frustration with their respective governments’ responses to poverty and lack of opportunities for their citizens. The protest movements seem to be ushering in democratic development in a part of the world characterized by autocratic rulers, and at this time, the U.S. supports the right of self-determination and democracy. However, the U.S. has learned it cannot impose democratic change, as we learned our lessons from our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our leaders are carefully considering how these changes will affect our interests and our allies in the region.

A Compass for Change
Change is constant and unavoidable, unpredictable in its scope and pace. Changes in the global arena are an amalgamation of changes in the individual countries of the global neighborhood, and vice versa. Recognition of that interconnected relationship between domestic and foreign policy is the key to the successful realization of global power.

The United States is more than capable of adapting to changes in the world, and continuing as a world leader. The U.S. is a dynamic and agile foreign policy player, weighing strategic priorities against our moral and ideological goals. It is imperative that our country’s citizens understand that what happens in the world affects us within the U.S.—and here in central Illinois. U.S. citizens need to be informed, engage their leaders in discussions of foreign policy as well as domestic policy, and prepare to be active facilitators of change in their own communities. We must be prepared to adapt to global change and shape the direction of future change by continuing our role as a global power.

In the past two decades, the global neighborhood has continued to change, and some of those lesser powers of that Cold War era have realized at least part of their potential. At the same time, the United States has recognized its own altered global footing. It took time for us to adjust to the “new world order” described by George H.W. Bush in his speech to Congress in 1990. Some might argue that it was our own hubris that made the U.S. into the big brother of the world in the 1990s and the scapegoat for the world’s problems in the past decade. Regardless, the world is a different place, and it is imperative that the U.S. finds its compass to continue to excel in this ever-changing environment. iBi