Hagel: Gallup leadership ratings should be a wake-up call for the US

Hagel: Gallup leadership ratings should be a wake-up call for the US
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After 50 years of traveling to every part of the world in my various roles — as a soldier in Vietnam, a businessman, the president of an international service organization and a senior U.S. government official — I’ve come to recognize certain realities in a global world order.

One is that a trusted, global geopolitical center of gravity is indispensable. That center of gravity, which the U.S. and its allies have anchored since World War II, has helped the world adjust, adapt and progress through unprecedented changes and challenges.

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It has helped nations resolve differences, accommodate different perspectives and assure citizens with a prospect for hope and success rather than despair and conflict.

The future of the U.S. and its interests in an interconnected world is tied to its friends and allies across the globe. We are always stronger and better together, with an inclusive, global community sharing mutual interests and values and peacefully resolving differences.

This world order has not resolved every problem over the past 70 years. But what if that world order hadn’t existed? Do we think the world today would be a safer, freer, more prosperous or better place? 

The formation of international organizations and institutions were the building blocks of the post-WWII order. These were coalitions of common interests:

  • the United Nations,
  • the European Union, 
  • the Organization of American States, 
  • the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
  • the World Trade Organization, 
  • the World Bank,
  • the International Monetary Fund and
  • dozens of international development banks and organizations.

Flawed and imperfect as the post-WWII world order has been, it is still the most successful period in history by any measure. There has been no nuclear war, nor have there been any major conflagrations. In addition, there's been unprecedented progress in every discipline: healthcare, medicine, science, space, food production and technological advances.

There are more people free, more democracies, more economic progress and more hope in the world than ever before. Freedom House just released its annual report noting 116 democracies in the world today. In 2000, there were 77, and in 1970, there were 32. But it also noted that 2018 represented the 13th consecutive year that global freedom has declined.  

Which brings me to Gallup’s 2019 report on global ratings of the world’s leadership. Gallup’s report shows that the median global approval rating for the U.S. among adults in 133 countries was 31 percent in 2018, with large disapproval ratings, including among some of America’s strongest, oldest allies. This number is basically unchanged from the record low the U.S. set in 2017

These numbers are a clear warning to the U.S. A wake-up call that represents a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. The world has lost trust and confidence in America. As we know, trust and confidence are the coins of the realm in all matters and especially in international relations.

China and Russia have gained ground, however, according to the new report. After tying with the U.S. in 2017, China’s leadership edged ahead in 2018. At 34 percent, this is China’s highest median leadership approval rating since 2009.

Russia’s approval rating rose to 30 percent in 2018, tying its previous high in 2008. It’s worth noting that the approval ratings of the U.S. and Russia are now on par for the first time.

The world disapproved of U.S. leadership more than the leadership of these other countries in 2018. The median U.S. disapproval rating was 40 percent. This disapproval rating of U.S. leadership was higher than disapproval ratings of Germany’s (22 percent), China’s (28 percent) or Russia’s (31 percent).

When you review U.S. disapproval ratings in nations that have been historically reliable allies over the years, the picture is very bleak. In the U.K., 64 percent disapprove of U.S. leadership; Germany, 73 percent disapprove; France, 65 percent disapprove; and Canada, 79 percent disapprove, to name a few. These ratings speak to the seriousness of where America is today in the eyes of the world.

The warning for the U.S. is clear. Gallup’s report shows a world drifting — where hope is lost, and authoritarianism is rewarded. Over the last 70 years, nations working through international institutions of cooperation have produced a more productive and hopeful world than at any time in history.

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Two billion more global citizens will join the human race by 2050, bringing the Earth’s population to 9 billion. The world cannot survive the real threats of economic and environmental disaster, pandemic health outbreaks, nuclear exchange, cyberattacks and other serious threats with the breakdown and absence of strong relationships and institutions built on trust, confidence and common interests.

Nations and institutions must constantly adjust and adapt to new threats and challenges as well as opportunities. This requires constant maintenance and skillful navigation along the way. 

But it will be impossible if the center is hollowed out and the global institutions of change are so weakened that common consensus is near impossible to reach. Hope has always underpinned man’s vision of a better world and a better future. 

Wisdom, courage, resources and structures are required to turn that hope into reality. If the world slips into a sense of hopelessness driven by mistrust, lack of confidence and authoritarianism, it becomes a world defined by our differences not our likenesses. 

That is not the world we are nor the world we want. 

Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelWhite House aide moves to lobbying firm Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip MORE is the former secretary of Defense and a former Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska. He is a senior advisor at Gallup.