Hegemony is as old as Ancient Greece, but no era lasts forever!
The concept of “hegemony” is difficult to qualify in both political terms and in philosophical terms. Hegemony has different supporters and interpretations and hegemony in the context of the American “hegemon” is usually defined as having overwhelming or preponderant material power as well as the ability to exercise this power to dominate others.
But history has shown international relations are in a constant state of flux and military pre-eminence is not a prerequisite for national security. Powers of all persuasions care deeply about their survival and have little choice than to play close attention to their position in the global balance of power and act accordingly to this if they wish to survive.
After the European global hegemony took hold at the end of the 15th century, a hegemony which had no central control, based on commercial interests executed by private operators and the different nations in competition with each other’s resulting in conflict and war. By the end of the 18th century – after the Seven Years War (1756-63) – the British Empire dominated the 19th century after which European hegemony started to decline in the twentieth century as a result of two world wars and the decolonization wave.
The U.S. established Pax Americana, by analogy with Pax Romana, and no doubt during the last seventy years, our world has often been influenced for the better by American commitment to freedom and liberal values. The U.S. has long been the leading power among the free nations recognizing the highest aspirations of all humans embodied in liberalism is to be free and have their rights recognized leading to peace and stability among major countries.
Liberal hegemony which is only possible in a unipolar word as Professor John J Mearsheimer states in his book “The Great Delusion, Liberal Dreams And International Realities” is a recipe for regime change, endless wars, and the diminishment of human rights abroad and civil rights at home.
Since the end of World War II in 1945, with Pax Americana a period of relative peace in the Western World arrived, coinciding with the military and economic dominance of the United States over Western Europe, East Asia and the Middle East/Persian Gulf.
America played a key role in the economic and political restoration and creating stability of war-ravaged Europe by supporting the foundations of a rule based international order.
It can thereby be argued that the “liberal hegemonic order“ created by the U.S. as the leading state left behind the classical Westphalian system, rooted in the primacy of the modern, territorially bounded sovereign state, and replaced this with a post territorial global order, based on consensus and characterized by a high degree of constitutionalism.
Nevertheless the order is often perceived as a narrow ideological, economic and strategic framework reflecting and advancing the interests and identity of the Western nations led by the US.
In this framework, the realized position of hegemony with United States control over the U.N. NATO, World Bank and IMF, which institutions are important instruments of statecraft, has given the U.S. great economic advantages and prosperity, resulting from this exalted but declining status.
This hegemonic status has resulted in a global and foreign policy which is based on U.S. domination, as a national security strategy.
It can be argued that the ideas behind American hegemony have their origins and justification in Hobbes’s political theory, the balance of the powers theorized by Metternich, George F Kennan containment doctrine and the power preponderance theory put forward by Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth defending American hegemony over the world.
For, so the argument goes, if power preponderance causes peace, it is not just the interest of the U.S. but also the interest of the entire world to have American military preponderance and, consequently, American hegemony over the world.
This might be so, but it’s important to acknowledge history, in order to safe Democracy today, as there is a well-documented interference in other countries affairs from South America to Asia and Russia, whereby America violated principles of non-interference in other countries’ elections and affairs and has done more to hurt democracy than to support democracy, based on the maxim “democracy concerns are surpassed by U.S. national-security concerns.”
During my lifetime, as a obstinate minority of one, for me the first recognizable cracks in the façade of American democracy came to the surface with the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, effecting the social fabric of the country for decennia to come.
It pains me to say this because I admired John F Kennedy, like I did his brother Robert F Kennedy who I still believe was America’s best hope for a more balanced society, but during the John F. Kennedy administration America started to lose its way, when the concentration of power triggered abuses of power, which given its overwhelming power enable aggression to military inferior countries such as seen in Iraq during the last five decades. With Vietnam, the American hegemon became unsafe for the world and for peace.
The suggestion that American hegemony with its crusader mentality is durable and beneficial to both the United States and the world is therefore debatable, as it lacks any form of distribution of power; lacks great diversity; fails to have a deep engagement with China and Russia thereby facilitating the return to the balance of power strategy; reduces competition and bestows significant benefits to the United States and the Western Countries.
Next to its commitment to freedom and liberal values (democracy promotion, free trade, interdependence, and multilateral institutionalism,) the foreign policy toolbox of the US entails also less positive instruments to further American unipolar interests and to shape and direct global events as the foreign policy agenda involved concepts like regime change, benevolent hegemony, unipolarity, pre-emption, and American exceptionalism.
In the immortal Wilsonian words of the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, about using force by the benevolent hegemon
The National Security paper central assertions since the turn of the century all but expunged the instinctive internationalization of Roosevelt and Truman. America’s global power must not be challenged, whereby the U.S. reserves for itself the right to decide who might be its enemies and how they are dealt with.
No other nation can be permitted to challenge U.S. primacy and as Woodrow Wilson stated during WW I, “There is one response for us, force, force to the utmost, force without stint or limit, the righteous and triumphant force which shall make right the law of the world.”
Predictably after the end of the cold war in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union the Bill Clinton administration embraced liberal hegemony from the start in 1992, a policy which was continued by the Bush and Obama administrations, who all played a critical role in the killing, destruction and destabilizing the greater middle east region. Their policies also resulted in the crisis with Russia over Ukraine.
With the arrival of the George W Bush administration in the 21st century the “winds of our times” changed and the “dogs of war arrived” and the national security state increased with eroding civil liberties, which begged the question in which age did President Bush live at the turn of the 21st century.
With President G.W. Bush US hegemony in the world became much like the Pan-German expansionism of Wilhelm II, before 1914, unrealistic geopolitical ambitions and a pre-emptive strategy for dealing with opponents. He created enemies faster than he could kill them.
For Europeans like me, American policies and objectives have evolved into something I can no longer support or admire. The benevolent hegemon is no longer trusted, except for its good intentions and this made me deviate at the turn of the new millennium, seeing more clearly its nature of the beast.
Fareed Zakaria concludes in his 2019 article The Self-Destruction of American Power
“American behavior abroad during the Bush administration shattered the moral and political authority of the United States, as long-standing allies such as Canada and France found themselves at odds with it on the substance, morality, and style of its foreign policy.”