More Questions than Answers for the New Global Order

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Sep 29, 2015
by Heather Jaber
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More Questions than Answers for the New Global Order

Experts from around the world offer nuanced approaches to foreign affairs at SSASA’s latest session Fellows of SSASA 13 gather for the traditional group photo

The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World wrapped up on September 28, leaving the Fellows with more nuanced approaches to global issues of power.

In the latest program of Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), participants tackled the complex question of America’s role in a shifting world balance. Researchers and practitioners from 27 different countries gathered to share diverse perspectives of the future of US foreign policy and the implications for the rest of the world. At the culmination of the session, the Salzburg Global Fellows identified some dominant strands of thought, with mixed views on many issues of global concern. Chair and long-time SSASA faculty member Ron Clifton moderated the wrap-up, inviting the group to offer their final insights.

More nuanced questions than simple answers emerged, as participants discussed their views on media usage, the concept of the American century, and the role of the US in future world affairs.

The participants suggested four different roles that the US could take in future affairs: a hegemonic leader with negative imperialist connotations; an indispensable leader acting as an honest broker; the leader of a multipolar world with problematic conflicts of interest; or a leader which considers offshore balance and calculated interdependence.

“Do people want more American power and intervention in global affairs, do they call for greater invention?” asked one Fellow. “It’s a question people could not decide on.”

“Is it even in America’s interest to solve every crisis?” asked another.

However, the Fellows generally agreed that the US cannot continue as a unilateral power, and that it must take a more nuanced approach to power as it navigates within a potentially multipolar age.

The participants also complicated the notion that the US is in a state of decline. “Is change not maybe a better way to describe what’s going on?” asked a Fellow. 

There were mixed thoughts on the role of social media in foreign affairs, with some participants offering that it can be used as a tool for change and mobilization, and others citing negative impacts, like its use by fundamentalist groups. Contrasting perspectives seemed to stem from the age or level of media usage of the participants. 

The uncertainty about both mainstream and social media’s roles in global affairs also reflected the recency of the topic. Without hard facts, it is difficult to come up with conclusive answers to these questions. 

“It might just be too soon to tell what the digital revolution has brought about,” concluded a Fellow.

As a final wrap-up, majority views were shared through the results of a questionnaire on the US’ role in the world. Fellows identified major issues in Washington’s support of dictators and its relationship with the Middle East. China was identified as both a great challenge and an opportunity for the US. There were also mixed opinions on US interventionism, with some suggesting that the US should take a less interventionist approach, and others supporting a strong approach for national security.

America, the participants agreed, faces a transitioning global arena and an urgent need to use calculated collaboration to maintain stability.

The next SSASA session, Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes, will focus on the representation of America in media. A full report on the discussions and conclusions from the 2015 program will be published later in the year.


The Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World is part of the multi-year series Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.