Realism and the US Hegemony

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United States hegemony is unwavering. A Realist perspective about the current balance of power would tend to agree that the United States is the leading State actor in the anarchic system of International Politics.  For the United States to maintain it’s dominance it must maintain a strong national will, a large and technological superior army and further the spread of free market philosophy.

“The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice.” (Hobbes, p. 120)  Thomas Hobbes, one of the forefathers of realist thought, lived in a time of turmoil and anxiety.  His response to the constant fears of war was to promote the idea that the state’s purpose is to provide its citizens with security. Being the only actor that prevents the ‘the war of all against all’ the state’s sole purpose should be to maintain the welfare of its citizens by any means necessary.  At the root of Economic Realism is Hobbes’ argument that the state should be concerned with maintaining security and increasing its power and role in the international system.

Realist thought focuses on power, politics and security matters. Historically, realists have neglected the importance of economics, but since the end of World War Two the role of the economy in the international system has changed dramatically, altering the perceptions of many realists.  Now it is common realist thought to accept the economy as an important factor in international relationships.

Realist thought has become commonplace among the policy makers in the United States.  One of the central thoughts that run parallel to realist thought is hegemonic stability theory.  This theory asserts that for the international system to function properly there must be a hegemon.  The hegemon must be able to create and enforce international law and norms, set precedent in technological and military prowess and be willing to assume the role of world power.

The world system will suffer without a hegemon because international laws cannot be enforced, trade slows down and financial centers collapse.  The United States has assumed the role of hegemon since the collapse of the Soviet Union, since then there has been unprecedented economic cooperation, growth and security.  With rational policy makers and sound economic policy the United States will remain the hegemon for many more years.

The U.S. has displayed the will and ability to be the world’s hegemon.  China or the European Union are underdeveloped and lack national will to ascend to the role of hegemon.  With a GDP of $13.62 trillion, the E.U. is ready to challenge the United States economically. Similarly, China has a GDP of $10 trillion, but most importantly maintains an annual growth rate around 9% (www.cia.gov).  But, the U.S., with a GDP of $13.22 trillion and a growth rate around 3.4%, still is in the best position to lead the world for the next century.

The international system has always been and will remain anarchic, violent and a place with few winners.  If the United States is to maintain its position as world superpower it must maintain its economic power and independence.  Opening foreign markets to U.S. companies and investors is the most efficient and expedient method for maintaining economic power.  Companies that are well established and operate on a large scale will have a considerable advantage against smaller and lesser known companies.  When Coca-Cola moves into a new market and is able to sell its new and well known product for cheaper or the same price as local competitors; Coca-Cola will assume control of that market.

U.S. companies already have the means of production, supply, transportation, finances and overall ability to flood the world’s markets with goods.  Unfortunately for U.S. companies not all world markets are open and free; many are still operated as a command economy.  Gradually the pressure against these command economies will force them to open, thus allowing U.S. companies to expand and prosper.

Once U.S. companies expand into new markets it will be very difficult for any new companies to start up and respond to the U.S. companies. U.S. companies will see larger profits and more business being conducted, they would have a lot more demand for their products because of the new free markets.  U.S. companies’ profits would turn into more employment opportunities for Americans and more tax revenue for the government.  With an expanding economy that has many new markets to infiltrate the U.S. will be able to increase its security spending, thus delaying the downfall of U.S. hegemony.

Security has been the primary concern of the United States since the end of World War Two.  The cold war and subsequent events such as Sept. 11th have caused the U.S. to increase its military spending every year.  Currently, (2007) the U.S. spends $420.7 billion annually on defense which comprises 43% of the total world defense spending (GlobalIssues.org).  That is expected to continue to grow with increased civil violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the emergence of new nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran.  The United States must secure vast amounts of petroleum in order to combat the military threats from North Korea and various Middle Eastern countries and to combat the economic threats from gas guzzling countries like India and China.

The distribution of resources has been and will continue to be an issue of great consternation. The U.S. must have access and financial control over some of these resources, such as petroleum; in order to main its power.  The greatest threat to U.S. control of these resources is unfriendly Middle-Eastern and South American states.

The recent ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that has gripped Venezuela and its oil-rich lands will become the greatest threat to U.S. economic stability in the near future. Venezuela is in the process of becoming a control economy.  The oil fields, telecommunications firms, electric companies and numerous other industries have or are in the process of becoming nationalized.  The boisterous leader, Hugo Chavez, knows that he is in a position to take a stand against the U.S. and has done so on numerous issues.  But, the U.S. is by far Venezuela’s largest market for petroleum and consumes 1.539 million barrels of Venezuelan petroleum daily.  Chavez would destroy his country’s economy if he stops trading with the U.S.  It is when China and India start consuming more oil that the U.S. will have to be concerned with Venezuela (economist

2-1-07). In preparation of China and India consuming more petroleum, the U.S. must secure its own stable oil source, otherwise petroleum prices will continue to rise within the U.S.  To combat this, the U.S. must remain free of foreign interests.

The U.S. is tied down by to many foreign interests.  In order to maintain U.S. power, it should be policy to remove the umbrella protection for Japan and military assistance to Israel.  For a hegemon to remain in power it is necessary to avoid large scale wars, because they are draining on the state’s economy.  The umbrella protection the U.S. military provides for Japan could lead to a large scale conflict with China.  A war with a state as powerful as China would cost the U.S. a lot of money and resources.  The drain from this potential war could lead to economic hardship and the eventual downfall of U.S. hegemony.

Alliances, such as the ones the U.S. has with Israel and Japan could end up costing the U.S. more in the future.  Israel exists in a region that is oil-rich, unstable and predominantly anti-Semitic. The U.S. provides Israel with more military aid than any other state.  The pro-Israel lobby provides U.S. candidates and parties with more than $56 million in donations.  The pressure for the U.S. to provide aid and assistance to Israel is growing.  The U.S. should decrease support for Israel and their interests.  It is important to maintain good relations with Israel, but not at the expense of U.S. superiority.  (Economist 3-17-07).

Iran’s charismatic and aggressive President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has openly declared Iran’s intentions to obtain nuclear technologies.  Iran, which already funds insurgents in Iraq, has said that it wants the elimination of Israel (Washington Times).  The U.S. cannot afford a decade long war in Iraq facing off against Iranian soldiers or Iraq insurgents.  If a war ensues, oil prices will rise and economic consequences will be felt in the U.S.

The policies prescribed here are intended to maintain future U.S. stability.  There will be consequences the U.S. will feel if alliances are altered, however those consequences will be less severe now than compared with the future. The future power of the U.S. is influenced greatly by the current war against terrorism.

“The United States of America is fighting a war against terrorists of global reach. The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism— premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents” (N.S.S. of the U.S.A., Bush).  The United States will continue to serve its role as world superpower, world police and enforcer; even though it is constantly threatened by many enemies.  To combat these threats it is important for the U.S. military to remain technologically superior and adaptive to differing situations.  Even if the U.S. has the best army in the world, it is useless unless the people want to use it.

“America has never been an empire. We may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused – preferring greatness to power and justice to glory” (George W. Bush, 11-1999).The strong national will of a hegemon is one of the most important elements.  The U.S. has struggled to find its national will.  The closest thing the U.S. has to a national will is the will of the policy makers to destroy control economies and install democracies that are open.

The national will of the U.S. is inherently selfish.  Some hegemonic stability theorists argue that a hegemon should be benevolent.  The realist perspective of hegemony requires it to refrain from benevolent actions; instead a hegemon should be concerned with self interests.  What makes U.S. hegemony so unique is that it is deceitful.  U.S. foreign policy has, over the past fifty years, seemed to be based on a feeling of mutual cooperation.  But, in reality, the U.S. has been slowly assuming control and the position of hegemon.

“The term hegemony is used when the distribution of power is extremely unequal” (Cohn, p.74).  Like many world powers, it is difficult to pinpoint the reason as to why the U.S. has been successful.  Over the past fifty years the U.S. has gained control of many of the worlds IO’s.  The UN Security Council, IMF and World Bank are all relatively controlled by the U.S.  This means that the most powerful state in the world controls who can get loans, who will get sanctions and/or who we will go to war with.  This puts the U.S. in the best position to be the hegemon of the future.

The E.U. is too decentralized and lacks the national will and identity to assume the role of hegemon.  China is still industrializing and lacks the human rights, military power, technology and national will to be the new hegemon.  In the future the U.S. will most likely remain the hegemon; at the very least the U.S. will be one of a few superpowers.

The international system has no police enforcer and is anarchic in nature.  In a violent system, such as the international system, a single power is likely to emerge.  Once that power is established and has the power to enforce laws and norms, and then mutual cooperation can start to occur.  In economic realism there is no room for friendships among states, instead a state must be strictly concerned with their own well-being.

Unfortunately, the international system is complicated and cannot be dealt with in straight power terms.  It is the balance of realism and liberalist thought that has made the U.S. the most powerful state actor.  When realism or liberalism hold control over a state as powerful as the U.S.; that is when instability occurs.  WWII was one such occasion where realist thought gained too much strength within Japan, Germany and Italy, resulting in a world war.  U.S. hegemony is not going away.  The U.S. is in a position to fight wars on a global scale and to control economic activity worldwide.  The future of U.S. power relies on U.S. determination to maintain that power.  “America is therefore the land of the future, where, in the ages that lie before us, the burden of the World’s History shall reveal itself” (Hegel).

“We have about 60% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its’ population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

– George Kennan, former Head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, Document PPS23, 24th February 1948

Author’s Note: This article was written in 2007.

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