With today's fraught global and political climate, American hegemony is over and the assumption that America maintains its status as a superpower is no longer a given. The divisions between us, economic changes driven by globalization and technology, as well as climate change, pandemics, and the resurgence of authoritarianism, make it difficult to be optimistic about America's future. But what if we use this moment as an opportunity to think about what might come next, and how to build what we need to succeed in the next era?
Here, former US Ambassador Daniel Baer argues that we are living through a transition moment and lays out the four tests we must face in the next ten years that will determine whether we succeed over the next fifty. These are: scale; investment; fairness; and identity. The first two tests are familiar to strategists, but we must think about the impact of scale differently when our country's population and economy are shrinking in relative terms rather than growing. And while investment is essential to productivity growth and economic competitiveness, investment in human beings themselves matters more than it ever has.
The second pair of tests may seem unusual for a book about geopolitics--but fairness and identity are crucial to the success of the United States as a political entity. Fairness is essential to sustaining both domestic economic and political systems and to building international influence as US military dominance declines. When the Founders declared that each person was entitled not only to life and liberty but also to "the pursuit of happiness," they recognized that one of democracy's tenets was its citizens' pursuit of a meaningful life of their own choosing--a life consistent with their own understandings of themselves and their place in their community. Identity, and minimum sense of security in it, is a core element of the purpose and process of democracy, and a prerequisite for the ability to fulfil our roles as democratic citizens.
While each test poses significant challenges, the US has advantages that some of our most vexing competitors lack. The Four Tests demand changes in behavior and culture--from politicians, corporate leaders, and citizens. But if we meet these tests, then we can be confident of America's future. The question is not whether we can succeed--but whether we will.
Daniel Baer is senior vice president for policy research and director of the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served in Governor John Hickenlooper's cabinet as executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education from 2018 to 2019. Under President Obama, he was US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from 2013 to 2017. Previously, he was a deputy assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from 2009 to 2013. Before his government service, Baer was an assistant professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, a faculty fellow at Harvard's Safra Center for Ethics, and a project leader at the Boston Consulting Group. He has appeared on CNN, FOX, MSNBC, BBC, PBS Frontline, Al Jazeera, Sky, and The Colbert Report. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, POLITICO, The Christian Science Monitor, and numerous other publications. He holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and a degree in social studies and African American studies from Harvard. He is married to Brian Walsh, an economist at the World Bank.
Baer will be in conversation with Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of P&P and presidential speechwriter in the Clinton White House and chief speechwriter for First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.