Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


(Presentation to the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, September 19, 2006, at the Cherry Hills Country Club)

September 2006

Hegemony and Empire: How do they Differ?

  1. Hegemony is the exercise of political, economic, and military pressure against another sovereign country, in order to persuade it to change course. This is how America exercised its power after World War II.
  2. Empire entails the governing of a subjugated nation, where the imperial power exercises final authority over all major decisions. Britain, France, Belgium and Holland exercised imperial control in much of Africa and Asia until 1945. Also the U.S. in the Philippines.
  3. Collective hegemony is exercised by a group of powers that decide to impose a set of rules on states which violate them. The League of Nations and United Nations represent efforts at collective security.
  4. Unilateral hegemony occurs when collective security breaks down. The United States took on this role when the Cold War began in 1948

The Exercise of America's Hegemony after World War II

  1. In 1945 the United States emerged as the only undamaged power. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, and the Soviet Union all had been invaded or heavily bombed, and were exhausted by war.
  2. Western Europe desperately needed U.S. economic aid to survive, and the Marshall Plan (1948) was Washington's answer.
  3. Moscow prevented Eastern Europe from joining this plan, and the Berlin Blockade (1948-49) was Moscow's response to U.S. moves.
  4. The North Atlantic Pact (1949) was formed to protect Marshall Plan countries from Soviet political and military pressure. It under-scored the reality: America was the hegemonic power in the West.
  5. The Korean War(1950-53) expanded U.S. hegemony into East Asia, with security guarantees to Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, Australia.

European Challenges to U.S. Hegemony During the Cold War

  1. The Suez Crisis (1956) caused Eisenhower to break with Britain and France over their ill-fated invasion of Egypt.
  2. Lyndon Johnson's decision to send troops to Vietnam (1965) caused France, Britain, Canada, and others to refuse support for that war.
  3. Nixon and Ford sought to restore NATO solidarity on Soviet policy (SALT), but allies were astonished over Nixon's impeachment (1974).

Renewed Allied Cooperation to End the Cold War

  1. Reagan and Bush brought the Cold War to an end by forging allied solidarity and confronting Moscow with military power. Thatcher, Mitterrand, Kohl, Reagan were the "four horsemen" in this effort.
  2. Bush persuaded Britain and France to accept German reunification, with assurances that Germany would remain in NATO.
  3. Bush built a broad coalition to fight Iraq in the Gulf War (1991) and negotiated agreements to establish bases in the Persian Gulf. This established America as hegemonic power in the Middle East
  4. After the Soviet Union's demise (1991), Clinton pressed NATO to expand to Eastern Europe. He continued good relations with China and Russia and helped Europe to stop a civil war in Bosnia (1996).
  5. Clinton expanded U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, but he failed in a major effort to achieve lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace (2000)

Impact of 9-11, Iraq, and Shattering of America's Complacency

  1. George W. Bush's response to attacks on the country established his credentials with Americans and allies as a forceful leader.
  2. However, his invasion of Iraq split NATO more severely than did the Vietnam War. France, Germany, Canada, Belgium, and Turkey did not support America, Britain, Italy, Spain (which withdrew in 2004).
  3. No Arab country joined the invasion, but Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States permitted the use of their territory. This contrasted with their active participation in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.
  4. The growing insurgency in Iraq (2004) resulted in a sharp decline in U.S. hegemony around the world, the most serious since WWII.
  5. Whether the Iraq War was necessary for strategic reasons (Gulf oil, defense of Israel) will be debated by historians. In 2006, the real question is whether the U.S. public will insist on a quick withdrawal from Iraq, and disengagement on other major issues (Korea, Iran).

Three Options for Future U.S. Foreign Policy

  1. Continue to exercise unilateral hegemony around the world (Cheney, Gingrich, Bolton). U.S. should remain in Iraq with smaller forces, and warn Iran that force may be used if it does not change course.
  2. Return to collaborative hegemony of the 1980-90s (Rice, Baker, Scowcroft). Work closely with allies to resolve issues such as Iran, North Korea, Lebanon, Afghanistan in order to reduce risk of war.
  3. Adopt a non-intervention policy on foreign policy issues, reduce the size and budget of the Defense Department and withdraw troops from abroad (Dean, Kerry, Pelosi). Rely on U.N., and on diplomacy.

Conclusion: U.S. elections in 2006 and 2008 will likely determine which of the three courses is preferred by the electorate. However, the values and views of the next president are crucial in deciding the direction of U.S. policy. A president's role in foreign policy is currently expanding.

File last modified on Saturday, 01-SEP-2006 12:50 PM EST

Feedback to Author