Review by Logan M. Williams
The American Imperative: Reclaiming Global Leadership through Soft Power.
By Daniel F. Runde
Post Hill Press, February 2023
Daniel Runde’s new book, The American Imperative: Reclaiming Global Leadership through Soft Power, challenges many of our assumptions about a post-cold War world and attempts to answer the questions of how recent U.S. choices have led to a retreat from international leadership, the steps that should be taken to navigate great-power competition, and how to secure the United States’ present status as a global leader for future generations.
In Runde’s view, declining American leadership is a choice, one that the United States made out of myopia during the optimistic period following the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many United States politicians, government officials, and academics believed that it was an opportunity to disengage from the world. Without the existential threat of Communism to motivate U.S. foreign policy, American voters came to focus on issues that seemed to have the greatest impact on their lives, a shift in focus that was made famous during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and James Carville’s infamous one-liner: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Daniel Runde shows that the “peace dividend” — which many Americans believed was the United States’ just reward after its lengthy and costly defense of liberalism during the Cold War — shifted our priorities, had a detrimental effect on U.S. international leadership, and created a power vacuum that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and others rapidly moved to fill. This threat becomes clear as Runde sets out cases of Chinese competition within the world’s multilateral institutions such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The FAO works to mitigate food insecurity and famine worldwide; it also determines standards for food quality and agricultural labor internationally. In 2019, a Chinese diplomat was elected as the new Director-General of the FAO, a leadership position which Runde points out has been continually held by an American since 1992. This new leadership position gives the PRC considerable influence over developing nations who rely upon FAO investment as well as aid. In addition, it provides the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) an opportunity to garner influence over vulnerable states by bolstering its “South-South Cooperation” objectives and painting the United States as far-removed from the needs of post-colonial developing nations. This is only one of the many consequential examples that Runde provides throughout his book.
Runde’s examples underscore the importance of maintaining U.S. leadership positions — including through the use of “soft power “ — in the multilateral institutions that it built in the aftermath of the Second World War. These institutions were constructed to stabilize a global community that was rent by two major conflicts, that were built to secure the United States’ national interest in a free and stable world order, and that were constructed to defend the causes of human rights and dignity worldwide. As the United States begins to lose influence in these institutions it becomes less likely that they will be able to perform these functions. Just a few months after Runde published this book, the National Endowment for Democracy released a report titled “Defending the Global Human Rights System from Authoritarian Assault: How Democracies Can Retake the Initiative,” which outlines the actions taken by a coalition of illiberal nations to subvert the humanitarian goals of these multilateral institutions. The author of this report, Dr. Rana Siu Inboden, traces these circumstances to the same root cause as Daniel Runde does, i.e., the United States’ decision to retreat from global leadership.
The book is made that much more interesting and extraordinary by the fact that Runde, an avowed Republican, is courageously bucking the party’s trend towards populism, anti-intellectualism, and isolationism. Throughout the book, Runde often brings to bear his own experience within the field of international development. These examples serve to legitimize his theses and illustrate his unwavering dedication to his advocacy. Runde’s work is an testament to the good that can come from U.S. leadership.
Daniel Runde’s book is written in an easily accessible format, free from indecipherable jargon, and thus, it can be read by students of foreign policy as well as policy makers and scholars. Daniel Runde’s book should be viewed with a special sense of urgency, as it is a reminder that international competition with the PRC and others does not exist solely in the military and economic sphere, and is a step-by-step manual to engaging in that competition through soft power and U.S. leadership within the world’s governing bodies which form the foundation of a civilized and liberal world order.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel F. Runde is Senior Vice President and the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Runde’s work centers on creating a freer and more prosperous world. Renowned as a global thought leader, he has been at the center of Washington debates on soft power and development for two decades.
Previously, Runde held senior leadership roles at the World Bank Group and served in the Bush Administration at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Logan M. Williams is a foreign policy researcher working at The Center for a Free Cuba, based in Washington D.C. The Center for a Free Cuba is a human rights organization advocating for Cuba’s eventual liberalization. His interests include Ukrainian history and national identity, hegemonic theory,
the Cold War, and the international development/liberalization process .