Term Paper: Declines of American Hegemony

Pages: 6 (1769 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 22  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military  ·  Buy This Paper

American Primacy: Good for America and the World?

After the end of World War II, the United States emerged as the most powerful nation on earth. Many foreign policy strategists at the time advocated a plan to prevent any rival from acquiring the same level of power, and thus maintain American primacy in the world. Nonetheless, most political scientists consider post-war era as a bipolar one, dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R., however, disintegrated in early 1990s, and the questions regarding American primacy became a centerpiece of political debates. Terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, gave further impetus to the idea that American primacy was good in a new volatile world. Many foreign policy theorists and political commentators began to advocate American primacy as a new political order that was beneficial to Americans and the world. Even among those who believe that maintaining American primacy is untenable in the long run, the conviction that "it is in America's interest -- and the world's -- to have it last as long as possible" persists (Thayer 37). This paper questions this conviction. It is the position of this author that the quest for continuous American primacy will endanger international stability and order and the health of democracy in the United States.

It was Dwight D. Eisenhower who once said that "anyone who becomes immersed in international affairs soon realizes that no important issue exists in isolation; rarely is it only bilateral" (Cited in Jervis, 1999, 32). President Eisenhower was talking about the bipolar world and even then, as he noted, issues of international relations were rarely bilateral. In other words, international affairs cannot be decided by one or two state actors. The question of American primacy is an issue of fundamental importance for the entire world, and to convince the world that the American primacy is good for all countries is literally impossible. While there might be some small and weak countries that may be content with American domination (because of their inability to challenge it), powerful states are likely to reject American exceptionalism. As Waltz explains, "no state intends to participate in the formation of a structure by which it and others will be constrained" (91, 164). Such an issue of importance should be agreed upon by at least the majority of countries in the world, which is impossible. If, however, the United States decides on its own that it is best to pursue American primacy, American leaders will soon realize the wisdom of Eisenhower that such a decision cannot be made in isolation.

Advocates of American primacy contend that American primacy is likely to coerce many states into an alliance with the United States because of a bandwagoning effect. But as Stephen Walt argues, "states that are viewed aggressive are likely to provoke others to balance against them." Nazi Germany's provocative stance in 1930s which forced countries into an alliance against Germany is a case in point (25). States are often wary of bandwagoning because it increases resources available to the aggressive power and will force them to place their trust in a state they do not trust. There are many examples in history when powerful states made fundamental miscalculations by believing that an aggressive stance will force weaker states to bandwagon. For example, the Soviet Union tried to threaten Turkey into bandwagoning after World War II, but Turkey sought an alliance with the Western powers instead. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are obviously extreme examples, but when the Bush Administration pursued a robust foreign policy after 9/11, many states around the world viewed the United States as an aggressive power threatening their sovereignty.

According to John Mearsheimer, states that posses offensive power are likely to behave aggressively in international affairs because they have the capabilities and incentives to do so. A powerful state with marked power advantage over its rivals is more likely to implement in practice what Immanuel Kant proposed as a theory: that "it is the desire of every state, or of its ruler, to arrive at a condition of perpetual peace by conquering the whole world, if that were possible" (Mearsheimer, 34). But a quest to global dominance is likely to disrupt and endanger international order and security because, as Mearsheimer notes, one of the underlying assumptions behind state behavior is "that states can never be certain about other states' intentions" (31). American primacy in the world requires that other states, including powerful and adversarial ones such as Russia and China, believe in American goodwill for the entire world -- which will never happen. Mearsheimer argues that peace and order in international arena is better maintained by a balance of power. Even Geoffrey Blainey, who questions the effectiveness of the balance of power, admits that Germany and France did not go to war in 1880s -- likewise the United States and the Soviet Union did not go to war in 1960s -- because they "agreed on their relative distribution of their military might" (122).

American primacy means that the United States should possess significant political, economic, and military edge over its potential rivals. Maintaining military edge requires the adoption of offensive balance of military technology. And many international relations theorists argue that favoring such military strategy "increases the likelihood of war or contributes to empire-building" whereas defensive policies decrease the likelihood of war (Levy 219). Levy challenges these international relations theorists on the premise that the definition of offensive and defensive balance of military technology is vague and ambiguous. He argues that when we look at historical examples such as World War I, the reason for militarism did not stem from the accurate understanding of offensive superiority but because of the perception of it (Levy 222). But Levy's argument does not change the equation. It is irrelevant whether advocates of American primacy accurately believe in American offensive superiority or (mis)perceive it: the outcome will be the same, i.e. lead to a more aggressive foreign policy.

Posen argues that military organizations are generally in favor of adopting offensive doctrines. The offensive doctrines are preferable to military organizations because it is advantageous during warfare. Posen further notes that offensive doctrines allow military organizations gain size and wealth -- as well as grant greater autonomy (48-49). The quest for American primacy requires, as noted earlier, a powerful military that maintains American military edge over its rivals. Greater size and autonomy of the military in the long run, however, may endanger the health of democracy by restraining the sovereignty of the civilian government in running foreign affairs. Moreover, organizational behavior of the military and its doctrines may become systemic, passing on to future generations (Allison and Zelikow 153). There are historical examples that illustrate the influence military organizations may exert on civilian governments. In his study of offensive military posture by Germany and other states during World War I, Snyder argues that those states adopted aggressive policies at least partly because of the influence of military organizations that promoted offensive doctrines (109-110).

Following 9/11, the Bush Administration openly adopted the policy of pursuing American primacy. Bush and his associates also incorporated the aims of the Project for the New American Century into 2002 National Security Strategy. This led to the enlargement of the military and greater autonomy to military leaders who began to advocate preemptive wars (Bacevich); rendering Dan Reiter's theory that "preemptive wars almost never happen" obsolete (Reiter). Aggressive pursuit of American primacy by the Bush Administration was the major cause of adopting these policies. It should be noted that these policies not only led to greater distrust of American intentions in the world and lesser stability in the Middle East, but also the weakening of the civilian government whose foreign policy decisions became increasingly dependent on the wishes and interests of military strategists.

American primacy requires expansion of power. But as Jervis (1978) explained, expansion of power leads to a spiraling problem of an "expansion of responsibilities and commitments," which will require, "to meet them, still greater power . . . . The state will take many positions that are subject to challenge. It will be involved with a wide range of controversial issues unrelated to its core values. And retreats that would be seen as normal if made by a small power would be taken as an index of weakness inviting predation if made by a large one" (169). The experience of the Bush Administration in pursuing American primacy is a practical example of what Jervis proposed as a theory. The quest for primacy required greater commitments and responsibilities, forcing the United States to get involved in a range of issues contradictory to American core values. It is clear that the American economy cannot afford such commitments and responsibilities.

Advocates of American primacy argue that it is good both for the United States and the world. But a theoretical and historical examination of this assumption leads to an opposite conclusion. American primacy is neither good for America nor it is for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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