New Delhi: The United States faces different, unequal but nevertheless significant threats from North Korea and Afghanistan. Throughout the Cold War, it faced extraordinary nuclear peril from the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent from China but it was never attacked. The United States entry into World War II was speeded by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. All the same, the US mainland was spared since America’s advent as a superpower save for the singular terrorism of 9/11 which emanated from Afghanistan. A recurrence of 9/11 is a nightmare that keeps the United States engaged in Afghanistan in search of a solution. If Afghanistan has defied a solution for more than fifteen years since the United States ousted the Taliban regime, it can go on for fifteen more years and indeed another fifteen while taunting America to bring peace to a land torn by endless civil war. Afghanistan is a quagmire that defies victory for foreign powers and nation-building will be a thoroughly wasted effort currently and for a long time to come.

North Korea presents another kind of threat for the United States. The Korean War inaugurated the proxy wars of the Cold War for an unprepared United States and the result was profoundly unsatisfactory. The war ended in a stalemate and reaffirmed the geographical status quo of the Korean peninsula ideologically divided between North and South Korea. Although North Korea started the war and compelled China’s entry after US forces headed towards the Yalu river, the absence of a formal declaration ending the war and a peace treaty between divided North and South Korea has kept North Korea on edge in all the subsequent decades. US-provoked regime changes all over the world but especially the deposition of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in the absence of deterrent weapons of their own triggered panic in the North Korean regime to go nuclear at the fastest pace. Belligerent Donald Trump’s inauguration as president forced Kim Jong-un in a race against time to develop and test WMDs and ICBMs that could target the US mainland. The threat this represents is cumulatively 9/11 and the nuclear terror of the Cold War rolled into one. But as with Afghanistan the United States is powerless against North Korea. It cannot roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons without provoking a holocaust.

The impotence of the United States faced with threats from Afghanistan and North Korea suggest that it has reached the limits of its global power. While in absolute military terms it is the preeminent Great Power followed at a considerable distance behind by China and Russia, it still cannot enforce its writ in states as comparatively negligible as Afghanistan and North Korea. How is the United States to overcome its power deficit? How is it to repair and recoup its overstretched resources which are the awful fate of all Great Powers? Although the United States has never been easy with the concept of the balance of power practised by Great Britain so consummately after ending the Napoleonic Wars, it is to it it must turn to salvage its global power and reputation.

Great Britain refused a place of permanence in the European power structure being created at the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon and reserved the right to intervene on any side of hostilities to preserve the balance in the continent. As a balancer Great Britain could afford a small land force with the backing of the almighty Royal Navy. The United States has the largest though considerably worn naval force of any state and more than enough troops to impose the balance of power to its advantage in any part of the world. How this should play out in respect of Afghanistan and North Korea is this. Respecting North Korea, it should devolve the responsibility on regional powers, including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, to pacify North Korea and recognize its nuclear status and the regime in return for withdrawing the threats made against the United States. This should do the trick. After all North Korea is not in competition with the United States for world dominion. The alternative is a war which will doubtless vaporize North Korea and the visitation of a similar fate to South Korea, Japan and parts of China could scarcely be a consolation. In Afghanistan the balance of power would also adequately secure the US mainland. While regional powers, including Russia, China and Iran, would have the first charge to stabilize Afghanistan, any threat to US interests would be met with limited and pointed US intervention. The threat of US intervention would preserve the peace to a remarkable degree.

The United States is a declining power. Unless it recognizes this reality and conserves its power and intelligently deploys it, it will find itself challenged and overcome with increasing regularity.