Every four years, a group of U.S. intelligence analysts tries to predict the future. And this year, in a report released just weeks before Donald Trump assumes the presidency, those analysts forecast a massive shift in international affairs over the next five years or so: “For better and worse, the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War,” the study argues. “So, too, perhaps is the rules-based international order that emerged after World War II.”
The National Intelligence Council (NIC), a unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is essentially marking the potential end not just of America’s status as the world’s sole superpower, but also of the current foundation for much of that power: an open international economy, U.S. military alliances in Asia and Europe, and liberal rules and institutions—rules like human-rights protections and institutions like the World Trade Organization—that shape how countries behave and resolve their conflicts.
Trump has repeatedly expressed opposition to key elements of this international order—specifically free-trade deals, U.S. alliance arrangements, and America’s promotion of democracy abroad. But he wants to preserve U.S. dominance in the world; he wants, after all, to once more make America great. And on Tuesday, Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, suggested that his boss might be more committed to the international system than assumed.
The Trump administration will “examine and potentially rebaseline our relationships around the globe,” Flynn said during an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace. But he added that “alliances are one of the great tools that we have,” that one of America’s strengths is its “unapologetic defense of liberty,” and that the United States “must and will remain a superpower” and “indispensable nation,” borrowing a phrase from the Clinton administration.