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Pax Americana
June 6, 2003
By Daniel Melleby

Two millennia ago, through the force of her silver and her legions, a rising young Rome expanded the reach of her influence to the corners of the known world during a two century period that became known as the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. Two millennia later, we as Americans face a choice that could determine the course of world events over the coming decades and beyond. For good or ill, the United States has become the most powerful nation on Earth. Unlike the Romans, however, we have become and remain a true democracy - and have the benefit of history to look back upon. Each American therefore can and should have a say in this most important question: do we want a Pax Americana?

An influential group within this administration is pursuing ambitious plans to use the force of American economic and military might to recast the world in an order to its liking. These so-called "neo-conservatives" believe that as long as non-democracies exist, they are a potential threat to the security of the United States. Regimes that are actively opposed to U.S. security must be overthrown. Those more amenable to U.S. policy will be cowed into submission. Democracies that disagree with us along the way will be brushed aside for their own good.

The neo-conservatives have calculated that extreme policies would be required to achieve their objectives - policies likely in violation of the current regime of collective security and international law built up over the years in the form of treaties and international organizations. According to the neo-conservative world view, this system, under which the world has lived for over five decades, must be discarded. The goals of the United Nations and perhaps even NATO will run counter to and limit American designs; accordingly, they need to be bypassed and, if they refuse to yield to American demands, eventually reshaped or bullied into irrelevance. Treaties will be rejected, diluted, or abrogated. Like Gulliver tearing free from his Lilliputian bonds, this administration is working tirelessly to undo the web of bilateral and multilateral agreements on everything from the environment to missile defense and the International Criminal Court. America is righteous and pure, they say; thus, unlike previous world powers, our ability to reshape the world should therefore be unbridled.

No one argues whether terrorism must be battled or that the spread of weapons of mass destruction must be thwarted. Should the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and other brutal regimes like them be relegated to the dustbin of history? Absolutely. Should the international community take a more activist role in nurturing functioning democracies, which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines as the inherent right of every human? Definitely. So why is it that recent American foreign policy has left the majority of the world and half of the American population feeling more insecure than ever?

The violence of the twentieth century taught us that the world community must come together under common principles of human rights and self-determination. Though this system has at times suffered tyrants to live in the name of stability, we have nonetheless made remarkable progress. Billions of the world's people now live under nascent, developing, or established democracies, and the rest yearn deeply for it. This adolescent system of global government and law has earned the grudging respect of even the most tyrannical dictators, who know they face steep penalties for openly breaching its covenants.

By sharing the costs of maintaining global peace and responding to threats, the world community is capable of more than even the most powerful nation can do alone. Why should we, who as Americans believe so deeply in democratic consensus, be so eager to dispose of the beginnings of an international order -constructed primarily by the United States and in the image and likeness of America itself - in the name of expediency or narcissism?

For many years, Rome bore the full costs of maintaining a peace that she alone had imposed, and while she burned brightly for two centuries, the death throes from her inevitable collapse cast the known world into a millennium of war and violence we now call the Dark Ages. Perhaps we should instead consider a strengthened international regime, forged through common ideals, shared burdens, and the blessings and participation of the world's only superpower as one nation among equals. Shall we be like Rome and use our overwhelming power to briefly reshape the world to our liking, or shall we break with history and leave an even greater legacy?

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