Annual lecture questions American foreign policy

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Park University held its 27th annual Dr. Jerzy Hauptmann Distinguished Guest Lecture on Sept. 12.

The annual Hauptmann Lecture began in 1982 to celebrate the contribution of Jerzy Hauptmann, Ph.D., to Park University. Hauptmann was a professor of political science and public administration. He taught at Park for more than 50 years and died in 2008.

This year’s guest lecturer was Stephen Walt, Ph.D., a professor of international affairs in the John F. Kennedy school of government at Harvard. His lecture was titled “Can America still have a successful foreign policy?”

The U.S.’s grand strategy is based on liberal hegemony, Walt said.

“By liberal I don’t mean left wing,” he said. “Rather the sense of being committed to the traditional liberal values of democracy, open markets, rule of law, human rights.”

A hegemony is a country with no real competition from other countries.

Walt said the U.S. has used its hegemonic role to effect politics around the world. This makes the U.S.’s foreign policy different than other powerful countries throughout history. Most of the powerful countries of the past focused on keeping themselves on top and protecting their borders from attack.

“As a strategy this turned out to be fundamentally flawed,” said Walt. “Trying to spread liberal values around the world threatens all non-democracies.”

Trying to introduce democracy around the world threatens countries like Russia and China. In a response to these threats, these countries start to resist the U.S. Walt said one example of this resistance is Russia annexing Crimea. This was Russia’s response to NATO inviting former countries of the Soviet Union, most importantly Ukraine, to join the group.

“This strategy assumed we knew how to create liberal democracy in the way of regime change,” said Walt. This assumption led to failed states.

Walt said the liberal hegemony form of foreign policy not only failed in spreading democracy, but it also did not deliver with the expansion of open markets, also known as globalization. There were some people that benefited from globalization, but it didn’t match the high expectations foreign policy makers assumed it would meet.

“The bottom line here is that liberal hegemony was a failure,” said Walt. “And it was a bipartisan failure because this was the basic strategy followed by the Clinton administration, by the [George W.] Bush administration and also by the Obama administration.”

Walt suggested the U.S. should return to a strategy of offshore balancing, which means the U.S. would withdraw from allied countries, specifically in Europe, and let them be responsible for their own defense. Additionally, he said the U.S. should reduce its role in the Middle East.

“We should try to prevent any state from dominating the key areas of power in the world: Europe, Asia, and to some degree, the Persian Gulf,” said Walt.

They key area Walt said the U.S. foreign policy should focus on is Asia. This is because the U.S.’s closest competitor is China.

“I want to emphasize that this is not isolationism,” said Walt. “The United States would still be involved economically… and in some parts of the world, militarily, but we wouldn’t be squandering as many resources. We’d be devoting more time and… money addressing problems here at home.”

Jack MacLennan, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at Park University, was one of the people on the planning committee for this year’s Hauptmann Lecture.

The takeaway that MacLennan hoped people attending the lecture would get was “the United States can still do a lot of good in the world.”

“The way we’ve been going about [foreign policy] for the last few years, or as Dr. Walt will say, the last couple decades, has been sort of ill advised. It has led to social, economic and political costs that are really amounting to a lack of capacity on the part of the United States, that could have been avoided had different choices been made,” MacLennan said.

An example of what could be seen as a mistake a decade from now is Trump backing out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, said MacLennan.

“A lot of people, like Dr. Walt and like myself, in my more obscure, humble way, said that this was going to back Iran into a corner, that this was not going to be good for stability in the region,” said MacLennan. “I think resent experience has illustrated that that’s true.”

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