A four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, William J. Fallon, talked about economics, technology and leadership when he presented a lecture in Driscoll Auditorium last Thursday. Fallon, a University alumnus, served in the Navy for over 41 years and carried out his last military assignment as the Commander of U.S. Central Command from March 2007 to March 2008.
Fallon noted that the world is a much different place than it was when he graduated college in the late 1960s. Specifically, he asserted drastic changes in the United States’ role in the world and the positions it takes on global issues.
“Today, we live in a very multi-polar world,” Fallon said. “The United States shares influence and power, I believe, to a stunningly less degree than it did 50 years ago.”
Starting with economics, Fallon explained that because the United States emerged as the world’s preeminent powerhouse after World War II, it was able to play an active role in rehabilitating the global economic order.
“The United States played a key role in the creation and organization of government and regulatory institutions that basically put the world back on its feet after the fantastically devastating world war in the 1940s,” Fallon said. “We helped to establish a new financial and economic order that ended up stabilizing the world and that helped to resuscitate a very shattered Europe and many places in the Far East.”
Now, however, although the nation retains its status as the globe’s economic superpower, its influence has been diminished because of factors such as the financial crisis, its focus on domestic industry and its constant position of debt in relation to other powerful nations. This situation, Fallon said, has not only weakened America’s prestige but also allowed countries like China and Brazil to surpass the United States in implementing more sustainable economic models.
With respect to technology, Fallon said that while information systems and instantaneous access to information have transformed the world in a positive manner, the technological revolution has eroded America’s hegemony by “vastly increasing [its] interdependence worldwide.”
Thirdly, Fallon attributed America’s changing role in the world to ineffective political leadership.
“U.S. leadership is increasingly challenged, ignored and even shunned in some cases,” Fallon said. “This is very different than it was 50 years ago.”
Fallon explained that U.S. policymakers have an extremely tough time formulating and enacting policies to guide the country.Additionally, the lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have been operationally successful yet strategically questionable and have weakened the credibility of American leadership in the eyes of foreign nations.
“In summary, in less than 25 years the United States has gone from being the sole superpower to just one of the powers,” Fallon said. “What’s the net effect of all this? Increasing interdependence in [the U.S.’s] relationships in a way that tends to diffuse global power over several centers.”
Fallon proposed a long “to do” list to help America recapture the influence it once had, arguing that if the nation is able to resolve its internal issues, it can rebuild its strong international reputation.
“What I think we need to do, individually and collectively, is use our gifts, our innovation and our entrepreneurial spirit, all the things that have made this country great and put them to work to start fixing things that need to be fixed right here,” Fallon said. “And if we’re able to do that, we’ll be able to play a major role in making this world a better place, which I think we have a responsibility to do.”