Related or contrasting ideas may be found in the following sections: Nuclear Weapons, Peace, Rights, Rule of Law, and the Social Contract




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The United States is a global hegemon


America believes it has a special mission to act on behalf of the world

Alan Brinkley (provost and the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University), “The future of the American idea: Messiah Complex,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 2007, p. 35-36

“But America’s self-image is more deeply bound up with a sense of having a special place in history than most other nations’ are. The American idea has had various emphases, good and bad, over the years: equality, social justice, racial purity, freedom — and in the 20th and 21st centuries in particular, material abundance. But among the most powerful forms of the American idea has been the conviction that the nation has a special, moral mission in the world. America was to be a ‘city upon a hill’ as John Winthrop said of 17th-century Boston, and the ‘last best hope of man on earth’ as Abraham Lincoln said at the time of the Civil War. ‘We are the pioneers of the world,’ Herman Melville wrote in 1850. ‘The political Messiah has ... come in us.’ For much of American history, this messianic sense of the nation’s destiny was a largely passive one. The United States was to be a model to other nations — a light shining out to a wretched world and inspiring others to lift themselves up. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, as America has ascended to global preeminence, that sense of mission has become linked to a series of attempts — after World War I, World War II, and the attacks of September 11, 2001 — to reshape the world. Despite the many frustrations those efforts have produced — in places such as the Philippines in the early 20th century and Iraq in the early 21st — the idea of American mission has shown remarkable durability.” [ellipsis in original text]


The U.S. embraced imperialism at the start of the 20th century

Eric A. Posner (Kirkland and Ellis Professor of Law, Univ. of Chicago Law School), “The Limits of Limits,” The New Republic, May 27, 2010, p. 37

“In 1898, the debate took place straightforwardly in terms of empire: should the United States have an overseas empire like those of Britain and France? In the presidential campaign of 1900, William Jennings Bryan ran on an anti-imperialism platform. ‘We hold that the Constitution follows the flag.... Imperialism abroad will lead quickly and inevitably to despotism at home.’ Bryan lost, and so did the anti-imperial forces in American politics. Today the moral and political case for exercising power abroad — no longer imperialism in the nineteenth-century sense of gunboats and colonies, but imperialist in effect — is virtually unquestioned within the United States.” [Ellipsis in original text]


The United States formally reasserted its foreign policy muscle in 2002

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 2

“The new outlook was well expressed by a senior Bush administration official in a conversation with a journalist in the summer of 2002. People in the ‘reality-based community,’ the aide said, ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality ... That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’ This statement subsequently was held up to great ridicule, particularly the bit about the ‘reality-based community,’ but there is little doubt that this senior administration official spoke a fundamental truth when he said that ‘when we act, we create our own reality,’ and that the rest of us are left to follow in its wake. As the senior administration official suggested, the Bush Doctrine is indeed an imperial program, one that must be placed on the ideological terrain of ‘universal empire.’ Critics, it may be conceded, are perfectly irrelevant to its trajectory, but they may find busy-work in soberly addressing its prospects.” [Ellipses in original text]


The US has an empire, even if it never deliberately sought one

Robert D. Kaplan (U.S. journalist, staff correspondent), “Supremacy by stealth,” The Atlantic, July-August 2003, p. 67

“Even as America’s leaders deny that the United States has true imperial intentions, Colombia — still so remote from public consciousness — illustrates the imperial reality of America’s global situation. Colombia is only one of the far-flung places in which we have an active military presence. The historian Erich S. Gruen has observed that Rome’s expansion throughout the Mediterranean littoral may well have been motivated not by an appetite for conquest per se but because it was thought necessary for the security of the core homeland. The same is true for the United States worldwide, in an age of collapsed distances. This American imperium is without colonies, designed for a jet-and-information age in which mass movements of people and capital dilute the traditional meaning of sovereignty. Although we don’t establish ourselves permanently on the ground in many locations, as the British did, reliance on our military equipment and the training and maintenance that go along with it (for which the international arms bazaar is no substitute) helps to bind regimes to us nonetheless.”


America can choose between global hegemony or national decline

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 2-3

“The general thesis is that imperial aspirations produce national decline, and this in both the material and moral realms. Achieving strategic solvency and moral legitimacy, to put the point in policy terms, requires the rejection of universal empire. Despite the weaknesses induced or exposed by the imperial strategy, the United States also enjoys certain intrinsic strengths that make its position far from irretrievable if it were to reject the imperial vision. What was long said of Russia — ‘not as strong as she seems, not as weak as she looks’ — is also true of America.”


The U.S. is explicitly pursuing military domination

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 4

“Finally, the Bush administration adopted and strengthened a doctrine of American supremacy first enunciated in a Pentagon planning document of 1992, but publicly disavowed at the time by the first Bush administration. This new official doctrine plainly avowed a determination to maintain indefinitely American military supremacy, holding that a peaceful international order was only possible if one state maintained absolute dominance, making any effort by others to overcome their own inferiority impossible and hardly worth trying. ‘America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge,’ the president observed at West Point, ‘thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.’”


A military rival for the United States is unlikely

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 10

“The emergence of a global military rival to the United States is very difficult to envisage, for the two most plausible candidates, the European Union and China, are unlikely to contend for those stakes, and Russia, India, and Japan are ‘hinge powers’ rather than potentially opposing poles. The EU will balance against American power, as it ought to do, but its balancing will take a constitutional and not a military form, consisting of verbal protests, refusals to ‘do the dishes’ when the Americans make a bloody mess of their meals, and an insistence that Europe gets representation in decision making if the United States wants it to share the burdens. The EU is likely to exercise great influence on many issues in world politics, but in crucial respects the internal character of the EU forbids it from creating a foreign security policy and defense identity that would enable it to be a world power in the military sense.”


The U.S. will not permit the emergence of a competing superpower

Karel Koster (Director of the Project on Nuclear Non-Proliferation in The Netherlands), “The best defense,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September-October 2004, p. 26+

“Two basic U.S. principles underlie this. The first is that no enemy power be allowed to place the U.S. population under direct military threat. The second is that the United States will not countenance the existence of a power or combination of powers capable of competing with it at a global level. This second principle is often explained in American political circles as necessary to guarantee the first, but it is also closely intertwined with various foreign policy goals such as control over vital resources like oil; control over the world’s vital waterways; and maintenance of a system of strategic bases from which U.S. forces can operate in peace or war.”


Success itself will build political legitimacy for American intervention

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 16-17

“The Bush vision supposes that the United States can forcibly create new democratic regimes in the place of tyrannies and that the world will be forced to smile at the result, according to the process a retrospective but nevertheless real legitimacy. It believes that it can get the rest of the world to accept the proposition, in the words of the neoconservative polemicist Victor Davis Hanson, that ‘“imperialism” and “hegemony” explain nothing about recent American intervention abroad — not when dictators such as Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein were taken out by the U.S. military. There are no shahs and Your Excellencies in their places, but rather consensual governments whose only sin was that they came on the heels of American arms rather than U.N. collective snoozing.’ If that claim is good, the whole question of American legitimacy would indeed be transformed; at the present time, however, the tenor of world public opinion is decidedly against accepting any such narrative. American eloquence is unlikely to cure them of the conviction that external invasion is not justified simply for the cause of deposing a tyranny.”


HEGEMONY BAD

Nonintervention is the dominant obligation in foreign relations

Robert E. Goodin (Distinguished Professor jointly of Philosophy and of Social & Political Theory in the Research School of Social Sciences. Australian National University), “What is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?” Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 4. (July 1988), p. 675

“According to the conventional wisdom about international relations, we have a peculiarly strong obligation to leave foreigners as we found them. ‘Nonintervention’ has long bid fair to constitute the master norm of international law. That is not to say that it is actually wrong to help foreigners, of course. It is, however, to say that it is much, much more important not to harm them than it is to help them.”


America’s predominant role in world affairs makes us a target for terrorism

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 12

“The unnerving possibility is that America’s vast capacity for intervention, far from being a real shield against terrorist attack, is basically useless against the most serious danger that threatens us because it does not add to our capability to intercept small groups plotting terrorist attacks. Worse, the use of American power, with its brutalities shown every night on television to hundreds of millions of Muslims, may at the same time endanger us by adding to the likely recruits for terrorist attacks. Such are the ways in which ‘ambition blindly labours for the destruction of the conqueror.’”


Hegemony creates insecurity

Philip G. Cerny (prof. of global political economy, Rutgers Univ.), “Terrorism and the new security dilemma,” Naval War College Review, Winter 2005, p. 18

“To begin with, attempts to address insecurities through traditional forms of state power, especially hegemony, create further insecurities that provoke backlashes. These backlashes in turn draw both states and nonstate actors farther into the quagmires of ethnic and religious conflict, warlordism, and tribalism, ineffective or collapsed states, and ever-increasing calls on military, political, and economic resources. Such responses simply provoke further resentment, frustration, and hopelessness, and breed endemic low-level conflict. Supposedly hegemonic powers are thus sucked into a widening security gap of their own making.”


The imperialist nation is driven to repeated military adventurism

David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor, Colorado College; member, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy), “The curious case of American hegemony: imperial aspirations and national decline,” World Policy Journal, Summer 2005, p. 12

“Unipolarity, then, has its hazards. Among them is a kind of inexorable pressure to continually demonstrate the efficacy of military power. On point is the maxim that became popular among critics during the Iraq war: ‘If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.’ Of course, people are perfectly capable of seeing that every problem is not a nail, but the realization has a habit of coming too late. Once committed, the imperial power cannot lose. It straps itself to the wheel, invests its resources in projects that will demonstrate its credibility, persists in enterprises that ought not to have been undertaken in the first place but which, once undertaken, immediately become vital interests whose sacrifice is unthinkable. It takes up enterprises, as Bush has acknowledged, that are difficult to achieve but would be dishonorable to abandon. The most paradoxical feature of the American security situation is the simultaneous conjunction of immense power and acute vulnerability.”


In the United States, the executive branch’s authority in international relations has swollen

Daniel Abebe (Assistant Professor, University of Chicago Law School), Great Power Politics and the Structure of Foreign Relations Law. The University of Chicago Public Law and Legal Theory working paper series #256, January 2009. Online: www.law.uchicago.edu/files/pl256.pdf, accessed April 15, 2009. p. 6

“As the assumed representative of the United States in international politics the executive has, gradually and incrementally, assumed many of the powers necessary for governance despite often lacking a clear textual grant of authority. For example, the executive has taken the predominant role in formulating American foreign policy, determining the U.S.’s position on customary international law, terminating treaties, and committing the U.S. to international institutions, all without specific Article II textual grants. Simultaneously, courts have developed various prudential tools — the political question doctrine, the act of state doctrine, and comity doctrines, among others — that result in high levels of deference to the executive. If Congress tends to follow the executive on most foreign relations questions, the contemporary breadth of executive power has far surpassed the initial constitutional allocation.”


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