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,
- Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
- America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
- A Cold War Odyssey, 1997
LECTURE: THE LIMITS OF AMERICAN HEGEMONY
(Presentation to the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, September 19, 2006, at the Cherry Hills Country Club)
Hegemony and Empire: How do they Differ?
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Western Europe desperately needed U.S. economic aid to survive,
and the Marshall Plan (1948) was Washington's answer.
- Moscow prevented Eastern Europe from joining this plan, and the
Berlin Blockade (1948-49) was Moscow's response to U.S. moves.
- 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
- 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
- The Suez Crisis (1956) caused Eisenhower to break with Britain
and France over their ill-fated invasion of Egypt.
- Lyndon Johnson's decision to send troops to Vietnam (1965)
caused France, Britain, Canada, and others to refuse support for that
- 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
- 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.
- Bush persuaded Britain and France to accept German reunification,
with assurances that Germany would remain in NATO.
- 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
- 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).
- 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
- George W. Bush's response to attacks on the country established
his credentials with Americans and allies as a forceful leader.
- 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).
- 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.
- The growing insurgency in Iraq (2004) resulted in a sharp
decline in U.S. hegemony around the world, the most serious since WWII.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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