What would America fight for?

THE ECONOMISTDec 11th 2021 edition

If the United States pulls back, the world will become more dangerous. Other democracies must start preparing

America is tiring of its role as guarantor of the liberal order. Its resolve is faltering and its enemies are testing it. President Vladimir Putin is massing troops on the border with Ukraine and could soon invade. China is buzzing Taiwan’s airspace with fighter jets, using mock-ups of American aircraft-carriers for target practice and trying out hypersonic weapons. Iran has taken such a maximalist stance at nuclear talks that many observers expect them to collapse. Meanwhile, a coalition of hawks and doves in Washington is calling for “restraint”.

The doves say that by attempting to police the world, America inevitably gets sucked into needless conflicts abroad that it cannot win. The hawks say that America must not be distracted from the only task that counts: standing up to China. And the relentless manufactured drama of partisan politics, over such things as disputed elections and mask-wearing, makes America seem too divided at home to show sustained purpose abroad. If the liberal order is to be preserved, argues our cover story this week, other powers will have to take on more of the burden⁠—both to prepare for a world in which they have less help, and to keep America engaged. Few tasks are more important, or harder.



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