International Relations in the Age of US Decline: Orthodoxy of Knowledge and Obstructive Foreign Policy
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Greg Simons

Independent Researcher (Sweden).


ORCID: 0000-0002-6111-5325
ResearcherID: A-6514-2019
Scopus Author ID: 14322163700

Since the creation of the US-led unipolar global order the US has enjoyed the benefits of hegemony. However, the rise of non-Western powers within a still forming multipolar global order has sparked attempts by the US to limit the strengths and opportunities of those rising powers and thereby retain a relative power and influence advantage.


Evolving Global Order


The United States and many European countries are facing various crises – economic decline, social unrest and inequality, political legitimacy and so forth. These are often the result of their own making, the ravages of decades of neo-liberal ‘reforms’ and the ‘Endless Wars’ that were spawned within the frame of the Global War On Terror. An obvious result has been the decline in US and European political, military and economic power and influence, which has shaped the global order for centuries.

There is a gradually more evident and perceptible transformation of the hegemony of the global geopolitical order, from a Western-centric and US-led unipolar order towards a non-Western-centric multipolar configuration. There is a general agreement that the global order is transforming, but there is disagreement concerning whether this is reversible or irreversible, even among those US liberal academics that view US global hegemony favourably.

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1997 spoke of the strategic imperatives for the US and its global hegemony at the height of its unipolar power. He noted that to consolidate and expand its global influence and power the US needed to keep its ‘vassal’ and ‘client’ states compliant, to prevent the creation of coalitions that may challenge US supremacy, and to prevent the rise of powerful challenging states.

A Double Thucydides Trap
Dmitry V. Yefremenko
To describe the transformation of the world order most accurately it would be appropriate to use the formula “bipolarity overburdened by multipolarity.”


Orthodoxy of Knowledge


To influence target audience perception of the physical realm (in this instance international relations and the actors), the use of selective symbolic and interpretive information is communicated through the information realm in order to shape the cognitive realm of the various audiences. This is particularly important when the quality of the information affects the quality of the decision-making, both for better and for worse.

In foreign policy and international relations, the use of logic (logos), ethics (ethos) and emotion (pathos) can be achieved using “card stacking,” “glittering generalities,” “band wagoning” and “assertion”. It is done with the intention of gaining information dominance, which is a means of weaponizing the information realm to control the information flows on events, people and processes in the physical realm. The desired outcome is to better control the audience perceptions and opinions of communicated ‘realities’ that can be operationalised to create greater strengths and opportunities, while imposing weaknesses and threats to the operational choices of the opponent.

These above considerations are the road to what I term as creating an orthodoxy of knowledge. This raises the questions, what is the orthodoxy of knowledge and why is it important in international relations and foreign policy? Orthodoxy of knowledge occurs when one particular interpretation of the physical realm through the information realm occurs, which means this information becomes ‘sticky’ and dominates other interpretations and explanations of the specific object or subject under scrutiny. In effect, the result is to narrow the ‘allowable’ discourse because the orthodoxy aspect infers and enforces a rather monolithic interpretation that limits some international actors’ operational choices and broadens those choices for others. For example, the theory of democratic peace, which promoted the idea that democracies do not fight each other and set the context for a messianic-like spread of ‘democracy’ through various typologies of warfare. This process concerns the engineering of knowledge-based perception and policy through dominating the public narrative on the characterisation of an issue or actor.


Obstructive Foreign Policy


An established orthodoxy of knowledge can be operationalised to serve the basis of obstructive foreign policy. The aim of obstructive foreign policy (by word and deed) is to use the information realm as a means for politicising and influencing the cognitive realm where the initiator of the communication seeks to create a hostile diplomatic (including public diplomacy) environment that imposes constraints and restraints on decision-making and the ability of the target country to select or enact appropriate foreign policy options that can effectively cater towards that country’s aims and goals. In doing so, the target country is not as effective in pursuing their foreign policy programme and thereby creating an international relations environment where the US manages to retain relative superiority over any single contender.

For example, creating the orthodoxy of knowledge on cyber-attack attribution, which creates the impression of a defensive US and an offensive China and Russia. This however ignores a long history of US computer network attack operations, such as Stuxnet. This also applies to assertions of China’s alleged impending ‘invasion’ of Taiwan. The intention, together with disproportionate demands and attention (in the names of ‘democracy’ or ‘security’ or ‘peace’) is to put China and Russia on the defensive in responding to the assertions while not being limited operationally as attention is diverted away from US misconduct in international affairs.

By attempting to burn bridges and prevent positive relationship dynamics to be established or maintained, the US hopes to create the impression of a lack of foreign policy choices for Russia and China and thereby logically forced to compromise with the US. This is often done through the use of selective band wagoning, glittering generalities and card stacking propaganda on Russia’s sovereign foreign policy choices, and the application of false logics and ethos to China’s strategic geo-economic programmes such as the One Belt One Road initiative. These are intended to perform as cognitive shackles and constraints on the potential strengths and opportunities for the foreign policy agenda of challengers in the emerging multipolar order.


Where Are We Heading?


Given the decline of the global influence, power and prestige of the United States and the return of mainstream establishment liberal politics, there is likely to be an increased level of tensions and conflict around the world at the local, regional and global level. Joe Biden openly announced before the presidential election the desire of the US to lead the global agenda again. However, this is being done at a time of political and social fragmentation, economic decline and a military that has been weakened by decades of Endless Wars. The decline of the US is readily apparent to many observers around the world, which limits the credibility and viability of the attempt to insert themselves as the leader of the ‘democratic free world.’ The result is there is a great deal of hesitancy and caution in emerging powers being wooed by the US to follow them blindly into the abyss for the sake of preserving a crumbling empire.

Imperialism and the Rise of Populism
Rein Müllerson
Instead of pouring oil on the fire of the relentless struggle between self-declared progressivists and populists and looking for dragons (or bears) to slay abroad, Western politicians and mainstream media should resort to the art of compromise in dealing with their political opponents at home and accept that in international relations balance of power is even more important than separation of powers in domestic politics.