Philip Stephens of the Financial Times recently pens a rather pessimistic piece on what Libya said about “Britain’s pretensions of influence.” Noting that the “campaign has stretched the armed forces to their limit,” he calls it a “last hurrah.” Now, the underlying tone of the piece is his criticism of PM David Cameron’s desire to pursue a foreign policy more independent of both the US and EU, thus reaching out to the emerging powers, but his overall use of the Libyan intervention got me thinking: isn’t this what we’ve always wanted in terms of a balanced world?
Think about it: Libya was a case in which the US dared not act alone, but likewise one in which NATO clearly couldn’t have pulled it off without us. The rebels never would have won without NATO’s air cover, and within NATO, France couldn’t have done it without the UK and vice versa. If you don’t want unilateralism and you don’t want interventions that aren’t welcomed by the locals, this is exactly what it looks like.
Yes, we can pull back the strategic lens and continue our worries about China’s rising military might, but the only way that truly challenges is if you believe in that country’s presumed linear economic growth trajectory lasting for a couple more decades – and that’s just fantasy to everyone save the US Air Force and Navy. Once the natural S-curve of growth kicks in and China’s restive – and growing – middle class steps up to protect its standard of living, Beijing’s currently limited strategic reach will be cast in very similar terms: a will that cannot be enforced without the consent of other great powers.
Contrary to the dreams of the Bush-Cheney neocon primacists, this is always what US grand strategy has sought.