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American primacy: what future?

By Rod Lyon and Julia Rabar

This report, authored by Rod Lyon and Julia Rabar, argues that the US faces challenges to its global leadership position both within and beyond its borders.  Domestically, a new mood of frugality is stalking the land, driving Americans back towards domestic spending priorities and exerting downward pressure on the US defence budget.  And externally, the US faces a set of rising powers, a greater number of players in the global commons, and uncertainties about its commitment to exposed peripheries. 

There is an increasing tendency to apply a qualifying adjective to the condition of US primacy, whether it’s ‘contested primacy’, ‘patchy primacy’, or some other variant.  Primacy in almost any form is a valuable asset. But as US relative power slips, the US will be drawn into more difficult choices about its own priorities.

Already, the Obama administration seems to be prioritizing its Asia-Pacific commitments. It has made clear that it does not intend to cede the Pacific to anyone.  And both the Libyan intervention and Gates’ speech at the recent NATO summit suggest Washington wants its European partners to carry more responsibility for their own region. Still, we face a more multipolar Asia, where US allies will all be doing rather more to help sustain US influence in the region.  Australia will be no exception to that rule.

Watch Dr Rod Lyon discuss the outcomes of this paper here.