Perspectives on US Hegemony

Reveron and Mahoney Norris CH 8, Zakaria, Bacevich, Ferguson, Joffe
Why do we care about US hegemony?
Should the US maintain hegemony? Can it?
What is meant by “the rise of the rest”?
Does the “rise of the rest” threaten US
foreign policy?
The US remains the sole superpower in the post Cold War
 Stance on failed states, democracy, the peace process,
climate change, etc. has international ramifications
Debates over US decline and its ramifications for
international politics focuses on several questions:
 What role does US hegemony play in international
 How should the US maintain hegemony?
 Should the US seek to maintain hegemony?
Joffe 2009
Fears about US decline are nothing new
 Pundits and scholars habitually raise concerns about the decline of US
▪ 1950’s-1970’s: Soviet Union
▪ 1980’s: Japan
▪ Today: EU/China
 Even in the midst of a major current crisis, forecasting decline ignores the
unmatched nature of US influence/strength on all real indicators of power
(cultural, economic, military, diplomatic)
 Patterns of “glee and gloom” obscure this reality
▪ US military and higher educational system places it in a league of its own
▪ China typically cited as the most likely “threat” to hegemony”
▪ But China does not threaten US supremacy
Ferguson 2004
US hegemony is a fancy term for empire.
 Although the US hates the term the US is an “informal empire”
World benefits from a liberal empire
 Protect rule of law, reduce corruption, maintain economic
markets, etc.).
 The US is the only state which can play this role
Accepting the mantle of empire has both materialist and
altruistic components.
 Materialist: deposing despots and containing epidemics makes
the US safer.
 Altruism: humanitarian intervention is sometimes necessary
and the US is often the only state with the resources to act
Bacevich 2008
US interventionism often justified on the basis of a supposedly existential threat from
fundamentalist Islam.
 Open-ended “war on terror” motivated by an attempt to consolidate power within the
executive branch and the military-industrial complex.
US falsely believes that its strength makes it indispensable and that hegemony gives it the
right to impose beliefs and values on other nations.
 Focusing on the periphery is damaging for US foreign and domestic policy.
Belief in invincibility led the US to ignore internal threats (i.e. 9/11).
Resorting to force in the name of freedom undermines US values.
▪ And boosts and imperial presidency that undermines Constitution
The belief that the US is beyond challenge fosters a belief amongst the American public
that they deserve more than they are willing to sacrifice
 Led the US into massive debt and increased dependency on foreign goods (and oil)
 Led Americans to believe that their values are universal (and the are not).
Ferguson 2004
 Yes; the world needs US leadership.
 But the US is currently only effective in defeating enemies, it is
not able to rebuild states.
 The US must accept this imperial mantle and fix its
internal politics in order to be effective
▪ Economic deficit: relies far too much on foreign
capital; massive debt is problematic.
▪ Manpower deficit: small military force /should work
with the EU/UN to coordinate peacekeeping forces.
▪ Attention deficit: American public not willing to stay
the course.
▪ The first two can be fixed more easily than the third.
Bacevich 2008
 No.
 Iraq war is an example of the worst excesses in this “global unending
war against terror”
▪ But could also be the “last straw” which forces a fundamental rethink of US
foreign policy.
 Maintaining the trappings of empire in the name of “freedom”
damages US interests.
▪ Makes US less secure globally.
▪ And undermines US democracy.
▪ Debt is unsustainable and threatens to damage the nation.
 Politicians must make it clear to the public that power has its limits.
▪ Bringing our goals in sync with the rest of the world will boost US strength.
▪ Abolishing nuclear weapons
▪ Take a leadership role in fighting climate change
▪ Stop preaching to others about democracy.
Kagan 2007
Yes; the world needs US leadership
 Regional competition could destabilize the system without a strong US influence
 Ensures liberalism retains its international viability in fight against authoritarianism
 Creating an alliance of democracies critical for signaling international commitment to
 US does not need to blindly push democracy, but the concept is important
 Joffe 2009
 No alternative; The US is the “indispensible nation”
 The “default power does what others cannot or will not do”
 US flexibility can stave off decline to ensure it remains ‘indispensible”
 US advantages coupled with its “warrior culture” critical for ensuring global public goods.
 Warrior culture: military a function of prestige and social advancement
▪ Liberal empires key for global public goods
 Autocratic states do not concern themselves with global goods
 Excludes China and Russia as alternatives
 Europe lacks the “warrior culture” mentality to take up this mantle
Zakaria 2008
Polls suggest that Americans are feeling less
optimistic about their future.
 The “inevitable” rise of China
 The fall of the Roman empire and the end of the
British empire “reinforce” this feeling of decline
But the US is not the British empire; the British
empire had weaknesses the US does not have.
 The US has greater economic strength; problems are
 The UK had political strength but was weak
Zakaria 2008
Overextension in Iraq and Afghanistan will not bankrupt the
 The US is not “in decline”
US demographic and educational flexibility will preserve its role as
global leader far into the future.
 US is not facing the same demographic crunches as Europe and Asia.
 Emphasis on “how to think” rather than rote memorization will boost
efficiency and innovation.
What we are witnessing is not the decline of the US but the “rise of
the rest”
 The world the US created (predicated on liberal economic norms) is
improving the lives of many around the world.
This “rise of the rest” does NOT threaten the US.
 Welcoming the “rise of the rest” allows the US to project influence
 But US domestic politics is making this difficult
Zakaria 2008
The world benefits from US leadership
 But it can only be undermined from within
Domestic political trends favoring isolationism threaten
US hegemony
 Examples:
 Trade restrictions against China
 Limits on immigration and restricting student visas.
 US provincialism (lack of language study etc.)
 Puts the US at a strategic disadvantage vis-à-vis the rest of the
Attempting to undermine this rise would result in
 Undermines US postwar leadership.
Note: New link for Fukuyama
Due between 11:30 and 2:30pm on 5
December 2011
 Location listed on TritonLink

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