Saturday, April 27, 2013

I Guess I Missed That Part

This is an interesting Stratfor essay on hegemony and stability, marred only by the confusion of not remembering one kind of critical part of the narrative.

If one power is dominant in a system and that dominance is accepted, I can appreciate that the system will be stable. Ponder this:

Indeed, from the end of World War II until very recently, the United States has performed the role of a hegemon in world politics. America may be democratic at home, but abroad it has been hegemonic. That is, by some rough measure of international consent, it is America that has the responsibility to lead. America formed NATO in Europe, even as its Navy and Air Force exercise preponderant power in the Pacific Basin. And whenever there is a humanitarian catastrophe somewhere in the developing world, it is the United States that has been expected to organize the response. Periodically, America has failed. But in general, it would be a different, much more anarchic world without American hegemony.

Wait. What? America was the hegemon after World War II?

The Soviet Union didn't accept our hegemony.

China didn't accept our hegemony.

The parts of the world that aligned themselves with the Soviets and Chinese communists didn't accept our hegemony.

India didn't accept our hegemony.

France didn't accept our hegemony.

Even the British didn't accept our hegemony when they sailed off to Suez in 1956 with the French; and in 1982 (although we did the right thing to support Britain, in the end) when their war to recover the Falklands threatened to foul our attempts to reach out to Latin America.

And for much of the period, we projected very little power into the Middle East, preferring to let the British handle the region east of Suez and later hoping that the Shah's Iran could be our proxy. And when we did project our power into the Middle East's Persian Gulf region it was to fight tooth and nail against threats rather than reigning over those who accepted our hegemony.

In what possible sense of the word was the United States--indisputably the strongest economic and military power, I concede--a "hegemon" that produced stability, or at least less anarchy (a hard claim to disprove)--as the end result? I think things were better because we stood between the Soviets and other bad actors on one side and the world of potential victims on the other. But at best, we were herding cats.

Indeed, the end of Soviet support for various bad actors has made the world better and quieter. But that is a different cause than being from our dominant position that has not risen to the level of hegemon.

At best you can say we were the hegemon within the Western world. That's to our credit. Friends and allies trusted us to help them.And even after the end of the Cold War, our allies didn't scramble to balance us in the absence of the Soviet Union as balance-of-power thinking might have predicted. Again, that is to our credit. We just didn't appear threatening to them.

Note in contrast the Chinese assumption that they should be the hegemon in east Asia and their apparent frustration that their neighbors don't seem to want to accept the many benefits of stability that Chinese hegemony would supposedly provide.

Like I said, an interesting article. But I can't recall that glorious period of American hegemony--as the term is defined in the article--that the author notes. At best, there was a period of maximum American influence in the 1990s. But hegemony? I wish.