“In a period of change, the US security outlook is going to have to change with the system,” said former president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, when speaking at the JFK Forum on October 2nd, 2012. After playing a huge role in improving the international economy by modernizing the World Bank, expanding financing for developing countries, and encouraging them to set their own priorities, Zoellick has arrived at a very unique conclusion on the future of the United States’ role in the economy. According to Zoellick, “the United States will lose identity if it loses economic dynamism.” He explains that United States’ security in the international world is almost entirely dependent on its economic power.
He began his argument by leading a “revision to standard post World War II history.” He touched on the Boston tea party, Thomas Jefferson’s economic policy on embargos, the formation of NAFTA, and the theme of Western Hemisphere integration. He shed light on the shifts of American foreign policy, but concluded in stating that we “need to rewrite economics into Cold War history” and further approve of link between economics and security. He wants political and economic leaders of the day to realize that there shouldn’t and never was a separation between security and economy. During the cold war, “economics became a resource factor in national security state” and has remained thus ever since.
After tracing the history of political economy in the United States, he spoke of the economic and political situation of the United States today as one where the economy needs to be revamped in order to protect our nation. He pointed out how Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center, the twin symbols of US capitalism, in order to strangle American political and economic freedom. According to Zoellick, Hussein caught on to the fact that a powerful economy is power and therefore stated that he planned on, “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy,” essentially comparing bankruptcy to a nation’s death. Zoellick made a comment that if “unemployment is up, and confidence is down” in America, the economic leadership of developing countries is now in question. If developing countries take over the economy, they will be the new leaders of a system that they did not help create and had previously only benefitted from; an idea that fails to please Zoellick. He says the solution is in “rebuilding long term growth, through inclusive growth, [that] empowers all its citizens.”
Robert Zoellick expertly articulated the popular view that the United States needs to return to its economic prestige in order to be safe from international threats. However, his negativity towards allowing developed countries lead an international economic system they “did not design” and his statement in the Q&A that the European Union “should be able to deal by itself” sends an ambiguous message. It is unclear whether Zoellick wants the United States to remain isolated until the economy is strong enough for the US to once again assert international authority, or whether the US should continue to attempt to assert international authority over developing countries, regardless of its slow economic growth. When asked about his ideas towards inclusive growth, Zoellick clarified this ambiguity in saying that it’s all a ‘question of creating an international economic system that moves away from dependency,” therefore advocating for increased dissemination of information and assistance used to boost economic growth, not assistance as hand-outs. In his comments throughout the event, however, there were implications that Zoellick would much rather have a United States lead economy, than an economy where developing countries and developed countries would be on equal footing. Zoellick ended in a beautiful point about his vision for the future by saying:
“What we need is openness to ideas, goods, people, and change. Open countries are better to correct theirs and forge ahead. That’s what United States needs to do.”