Post–cold War Policy - Preserving american global hegemony

American foreign policy officials almost never use the word "hegemony" in their public discourse. When Henry Kissinger did so at his first press conference after being named President Richard Nixon's special assistant for national security affairs in 1968, puzzled reporters scurried to their dictionaries for help. Presidents and their advisers prefer more positive terms such as "global leadership" or "indispensable nation" to describe America's role in the world, yet "hegemony," because it is less loaded, better captures the essence of recent U.S. strategy. The ancient Greeks understood "hegemony" to mean preponderant international influence or authority, and preserving such preponderance has been a fundamental goal of all post–Cold War administrations.

At century's end the American economy had experienced the longest peacetime expansion in its history. Low inflation, sustained growth, and rising worker productivity had made it the engine of global prosperity and technological change. Americans owned more than half of the world's computers and received more than half of the world's royalties and licensing fees. The eight largest high-tech companies were headquartered in the United States. American pop culture was virtually ubiquitous, with Michael Jordan posters, McDonald's golden arches, and Hollywood movies its most familiar symbols.

The United States retained the globe's most powerful and expensive military establishment with expenditures larger than all of the other nations combined. Its forward presence in Europe, East Asia, and the Persian Gulf was secured by a host of garrisons, air bases, and aircraft carrier task forces. U.S. regional commanders often acted like Roman tribunes, not only leading American forces but also initiating direct diplomatic contacts with foreign governments. The technological gap between American weapons systems and those of other nations, already evident in the Gulf War of 1991, had become enormous by the 1999 Kosovo air campaign against the Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

At the same time, American global commitments expanded. U.S. ground troops landed in Somalia in 1992 to help end a famine (only to be withdrawn the next year as a result of casualties that were incurred after the mission had grown); returned Haiti to its ousted democratically elected president in 1994; and entered Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999 as "peacekeepers." American aircraft carriers protected Taiwan from the People's Republic of China, patrolled the Persian Gulf, and sailed the Indian Ocean. Its warplanes routinely bombed Iraq for more than a decade, helped end the war in Bosnia in 1995, and brought Yugoslavia to its knees in 1999.

Far from disappearing after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, at Washington's insistence, expanded into central and eastern Europe. In Asia, American planners anticipated maintaining troop levels at around 100,000 for at least twenty more years. And at the United Nations, the United States, under congressional pressure, prevented Boutros Boutros-Ghali from being reelected secretary-general, primarily because he had criticized the United States for failing to play a more active role in UN peacekeeping efforts in Somalia and Rwanda.

Surely such power and influence constituted "global hegemony," and American leaders, as well as those of a surprisingly large number of foreign nations, wished to preserve it. But domestic divisions surfaced about whether it could best be accomplished unilaterally or by working closely with allies and international organizations. This debate began in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War and by the millennium remained unresolved. President George H. W. Bush, envisioned America's role as that of benevolent hegemon, protecting the growing "zone of democratic peace" against regional outlaws, terrorists, nuclear proliferators, and other threats to world order. It would do so in concert with others, if possible, as in the Gulf War, or unilaterally, if necessary.

Work soon began in the Department of Defense to make this concept operational, and in March 1992 the results were leaked to the press. The main Pentagon planning group outlined a strategy of "global leadership" that presumed America's continuing international preeminence and argued that the United States should actively prevent the emergence of states that could challenge it. By using existing security arrangements to ensure the safety of its allies, Washington would view as potentially hostile any state with sufficient human and technological resources to dominate Europe, East Asia, or the Middle East. This strategy acknowledged that within a decade Germany or Russia might threaten Europe; Japan, Russia, and eventually China might do likewise in East Asia; and that the domination of either region would consequently imperil the Middle East. But this group suggested that the United States could create incentives for Germany and Japan to refrain from challenging American preeminence. No mention was made of the United Nations or any other international organization, and because the strategy smacked of unilateralism, a number of allies, led by France, condemned it. And, although its untimely release embarrassed the George H. W. Bush administration, these recommendations nevertheless reflected the thinking of an important segment of the foreign policy community.

Upon entering office in 1993, President Bill Clinton adopted—initially, at last—"muscular" or "assertive" mulilateralism to preserve America's position in the post–Cold War world, while he concentrated on reviving the domestic economy. But the poor performance of the United Nations in Somalia and the European Union's failure to halt the war in Bosnia gradually persuaded the administration that American leadership was, indeed, "indispensable." Nevertheless, many Republicans in Congress, fresh from their historic 1994 triumph at the polls, remained deeply suspicious of international organizations because they allegedly threatened American sovereignty and freedom of action. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Robert Dole, the Republican nominee, promised that when he was in the White House, "no American fighting men and women will take any orders from Field Marshal Boutros Boutrous-Ghali." Republican unilateralists opposed aiding Mexico during its peso crisis in 1994 and 1995, repeatedly criticized the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, refused to pay American dues owed to the United Nations, and tried to abolish the Agency for International Development (AID). Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for AID's replacement with a new international development foundation with a mandate "to deliver block grants to support the work of private relief agencies and faith-based institutions." The Senate defeated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 2000 with many members convinced that it represented "unilateral disarmament," and a majority in Congress opposed U.S. membership in the new International Criminal Court, fearing that U.S. military personnel stationed overseas could be hauled before it.

Although the Clinton administration attempted to discredit these critics by calling them isolationists, they were, in fact, determined to preserve American global hegemony by protecting it against the encroachments of international organizations. In effect, Republican unilateralists echoed many of the arguments made by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge against U.S. membership in the League of Nations after World War I.

While certain nations clearly resented America's preeminent position in the post–Cold War world, none was able to mobilize an international coalition against the United States. China grumbled about American "hegemonism," France complained about the U.S. exertion of "hyper-power," Russia deeply resented the expansion of NATO, and states like Iraq and Iran tested Washington's patience. Yet the stability and protection afforded by America's global predominance were welcomed, or at least tolerated, by the vast majority of foreign nations. East European states clamored for admission to NATO, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization participated in a U.S.-led "peace process," and countries from South America to Africa invited the United States to serve as an honest broker to help settle regional disputes.

Global preeminence, of course, has never been permanent. Previous hegemons were eventually humbled by overextension, a weakening domestic social fabric, or by rising competitor states. No doubt the "American century" would not endure forever, but in the absence of some unanticipated catastrophe like a nuclear war or a massive biological attack, it remained difficult to imagine an imminent end to American primacy.

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