Essay: DOES AMERICA LEAD THE 21ST CENTURY?

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  • DOES AMERICA LEAD THE 21ST CENTURY?
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INTRODUCTION

The recent past has seen a loss of international prestige and domestic inadequacies in the United States of America. This has led to a number of analysts, scholars, and other scholars arguing that the decline of the U.S. as a global power is eminent. Some of these assumptions are aligned with the Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST), which posits that world leadership is cyclic. This is interpreted to mean that the United States, which is the reigning world leader, could soon be supplanted by a new power. In the last two decades, scholars, policymakers, and military thinkers alike, have been keenly analysing the rapid rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Understandably, some are wary about the possible emergence of China as a world power. Thus, while American primacy seems to be eroding, global power seems to be shifting from the west to the “rising rest”. Asian economies are ascending steadily while the west is fixed in an economic rut.
Many experts have, in fact, suggested that China is positioning itself to replace the United States as a global hegemon. This view appears plausible given China’s formidable military build-up and impressive economic growth. Thus, the central question is whether the United States will lead the 21st-century world. A small, but a growing number of futurists argue that the US hegemonic demise is inevitable. While their arguments are persuasive, they forget that the rising powers such as China face several internal challenges that could seriously curtail national growth and their chances of succeeding the United States.

There is no doubt that the end is near for the long era of Western hegemony. However, the U.S. predominance is undiminished and the United State is poised to sit atop the global hierarchy for the indeterminate future. For one, the US military strength is yet to be surpassed by that of any country and its global economic output remains stable. Among the emerging powers, including China, India, Brazil, and Turkey, only China has the potential to compromise the interest of the Unites States. The others will either remain on the periphery geopolitics or align themselves with the U.S. China, the only threat at the moment and in the near future, lacks viability. The twist is that while the U.S. might be facing a decline in its global predominance, ironically, the rise of China is largely reliant on the stability of the American market.

Besides, there is not theoretical support for the anticipated Chinese hegemony, making it unfeasible in practical terms. The challenge is that unlike the emerging economies, the U.S. uses liberalism to maintain its hegemony. Liberalism advocates for the inevitability of human progress, scientific rationality, and freedom, something not even China is close to providing. It emphasises limitations on the powers of the state, democracy, individual rights, and constitutionalism (Burchill, et al., 2005). Liberalism is markedly Western and the U.S. functions as the cradle and midpoint of liberal internationalism. No country is likely to overtake the U.S. in this role; thus, despite its possible hegemonic decline, America is still leading the 21st-century world.

UNITED STATES HEGEMON AND DOMINANCE/ UNI-POLARITY

The United States currently stands at the helm of the world in terms of military prowess and economic prosperity. The U.S. boasts of the world’s highest gross domestic product at purchasing power parity (GDP-PPP), while China, the biggest threat to the U.S. hegemony, ranks a distant second (Carbaugh, 2014, p. 409). Moreover, the U.S. has a military presence around the world that surpasses that of any country. In fact, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is itself evidence of its military might. In addition, it has also been involved in the execution of the Libyan no-fly-zone. The United States has more than five hundred military bases both at home and abroad. This presence has enabled the U.S.

Air Force to establish unquestioned superiority over space and air. The power of the U.S. army is also unparalleled: it has served as a vital tool in the U.S. force projection since 1945 and established safe shipping lanes, making it the prevailing force in all oceans (Zakaria, 2008, p. 242). The sheer naval presence of the U.S. enables it to assert control over maritime movement, allowing it to it to either allow or deny access to naval waters at will. Moreover, the U.S. navy is so large that the combined forces of the rest of the world do not even come close. Give these realisms, there is no wonder that the United States stands at the helm as a single super power (Zakaria, 2008, p. 4). In fact, the hegemony of the United States has remained unchallenged since the collapse of the USSR in 1992. During this period, the U.S. has enjoyed an era of unipolarity in world affairs.

The 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York marked a critical moment in the American hegemony campaign. These attacks were designed to provoke the United States into entering an unwinnable war that would, with time, wear down power base and lead to its retreat from the Middle East. This wearying would result in the demise of the United States and pave the way for a new power structure whereby the Muslim ummah would seek dominance (Mendelsohn, 2009, p. 44). However, this turned out to be an opportunity for the U.S. to prove itself as a hegemonic power and sustain its global presence. Through its liberalism approach, the United States has engaged in war with the aim of ousting an oppressive government or a leader and installing in its place a subservient, servile regime. This has been a major foreign policy platform of the United States since the early nineties.

America’s unipolar dominance was most proven under administration George Bush Jnr. at a time when most people thought that the world had entered a phase of non-polarity. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan since 2001 is a proof that the United States is still a hegemony. The war was a retaliation to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the Twin Towers in New York. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan had refused to corporate in arresting the malefactors, particularly Osama bin Laden, and handing them over to the U.S. justice system. Since the attack was a threat to the U.S. hegemony, standing back and doing nothing would have sent the message world over that America’s tenure as a super power was indeed over. At the same time, Russia and China were slowly gaining a foot in the Middle East. Therefore, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was meant to set the stage for the War on Terror, but it was also linked to the country’s strategic location in the vicinity of Russia and China, as well as Iran, making it of great significance to the U.S. in its push to prove its global dominance and military might, argues Burchill, et al. (2005).

President Bush believed that the autocratic status quo that prevailed in the Middle East was an incubator for fundamental Islamic terrorism, which in turn threatened the U.S. hegemony. According to Rawls (1999, p. 49), liberal societies are unlikely to engage in war with their non-liberal outlaws unless on the grounds of legitimate self-defence, which may also be for their allies. Another occasion on which he argues that such parties may go to war is to protect human rights. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are testimony that, the United States, in its liberal approach to international affairs, were inclined by self-defence and humanitarianism. These two wars have shown that only when the United States intervenes decisively will oppressive regimes be changed and aggressive tyrants be ousted. Once again, the exorbitant financial costs and the required military presence associated with the Afghan venture highlight the U.S. hegemonic agenda. The war gives emphasis to the unwavering influence of the hegemony.

In the aftermath of the 9/11, a geopolitical realignment analogous to those of 1914, 1945 and 1989 took shape. The United States marshalled a coalition on War on Terror that included adversaries such as China and Russia, in addition to one-time pariahs such as Iran, Sudan, and Cuba. This allied team produced a very effective military response.

Having identified the targets, the United States improvised an operation to oust the Taliban government in Kabul. With an overwhelming air power and U.S. Special Forces, the regime was brought down within weeks (Friedman, 2011, pp. 19-20). The sheer ability to bring together world powers and the speed in which the operation was carried out is a testament that the United States is the hegemonic power of the 21st century.

DOES AMERICA LEAD THE 21ST CENTURY?

America uses liberalism as a mechanism of maintaining its hegemony. Consequently, unlike empires, there is no need for the United States to use coercion to push its foreign policy agenda because liberalism is self-reinforcing, self- justifying and self-sustaining. Moreover, the U.S. suppresses counter-hegemony through democracy, economic interdependence, and international institutions. The fruitful export of liberalism has obligated other countries to strengthen their democracies, liberalise their economies, and establish international institutions. Hence, the façade of legitimacy founded on alleged consent has worn into concealed coercion. These qualities ensure that the United States stays at the helm of the global world order through the 21st century.

Democracy Promotion

Democracy is one of Kant’s variable that attempt to explain how modern hegemonies hold on to their power and influence (Kant, 1970). Indeed, democracy is of western origin and over the years, it has been extended to Latin America, Eastern Europe, and East Asia where it has formed a complex, integrative world system of democracies (Ikenberry, 2004, p. 622). The infatuation that the United States has in extending its control over world politics, institutions, and markets is quite evident given that liberalism has resulted into asymmetrical rewards for the U.S. and its allies. This has led to increased pressure on non-western countries to liberalise their economies, politics, and adopt U.S. backed policies (Morozov, 2010) These policies are set in a way that they compare to the US as par excellence. For example, the democratisation of East Asia has been a key agenda of the U.S. for the last twenty-five years. This has seen economic liberalisation in these regions, which has led to the rise of social movements and growth of the social classes.

According to Lipset hypothesis, there is a direct correlation between the economic development and democracy (Lipset, 1959). Deudney and Ikenberry (2009) further this argument by stating that even autocratic regimes such as those in Russia and China do not denounce the liberal way; in fact, they are successful because of liberalism, which allows them access to the market and they are increasingly dependent on it. For example, the two countries are also members of WTO and the UN Security Council, which give them real political power. Hence, autocratic regimes clearly understand the power of liberalism (Deudney & Ikenberry, 2009, p. 79). The United States, on the other hand, responds by making the process of liberalisation more appealing and accommodating counter-hegemonic ideas, thereby absorbing them in the process. This has enabled the United States to spread democracy more easily and have a tight grip on world affairs. Even Russia and China, though autocratic, have adopted certain democratic ideals (Deudney & Ikenberry, 2009, p. 80). The U.S. has avoided tactics such as the exclusion of non-democratic such as Russia from bodies such as the G8 because they understand that this would promote authoritarian rule. On the contrary, they have used the liberal approach, which has increased their corporation, pacified them, and even converted some to democracies. This ensures that the United States remains a hegemony even in the 21st century.

In the push to promote democracy, the United States has ensured that new democracies adopt a system similar to those to the U.S. For example, in 2007 during the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Putin noted that the “unipolar world” that the U.S. has promoted has “nearly the entire legal system of … the U.S.” (Morozov, 2010). Chandler (2006, p. 485) further argues that the U.S. promotes a system of democracy that is based on western standards, denying other countries the opportunity to practice democratic ideals that are not western. Such kind of imposed democracy, which is imported via concealed coercion, is evident of the U.S. grip on global matters. In fact, Richard Cheney writes in his 2006 statement in Vilnius titled the “return to democratic reform in Russia” that Russia is slowly aligning with the U.S. hence, even in this era, the U.S. is still a global force with very little threat to its hegemony.

International Institutions and Economic Interdependence

While military and economic strengths may serve as crucial indicators of American hegemony in the 21st century in comparison to the existing and rising powers, it is important to take into consideration the role of the U.S.in international relations. As the leading initiator of the current international organizations, the U.S. interests receive significant representation in the global arena. Of the major institutions that play an important role in respect to international relations, comprise of NATO, the World Bank, and IMF, the UN together with WTO. According to Foot and Mastanduno (2003, p. 143), international organizations development resulted from a policy adopted by the U.S. that attempted to develop a health international community, but one that is dominated by the U.S. Although countries like China and Russia that oppose the hegemonic approach taken by the U.S, they are members of these international organizations. The role and influence of the U.S.in these institutions, therefore, remain at a much higher level while compared to other nations. It is as a result of U.S. influence in these international organizations that Foot and Mastanduno (2013, p. 146) assert that such institutions represent the institutional architecture adopted by capitalistic regimes.

The establishment of the noted international organizations came out of American idea of post-war international reconstruction practices. As such, the platform for exercising American power changed from the previous military dominance to an American-led international system (Schake, 2013, p. 217). Therefore, the U.S. manages to avoid conventional types of imperialism while at the same time maintaining its role as the global leader. For example, in the case of IMF and World Bank, the hegemonic function of the U.S. becomes apparent based on the nature of operation and roles of the organizations on the global level. With the organizations tasked with a role of enabling development especially within the developing economies, the decisions to extend funds to such economies follows much of a westernized political approach as opposed to the actual needs of countries.

The fight against terrorism and dictatorship that the U.S. serves as the frontline leader have affected most nations from the Middle East and Africa (Schake, 2013, p. 218). As such, developing countries considered to champion these non-liberal practices fail to benefit from the resources that the two institutions offer. Since the U.S. stands as the leader in fighting terror and corruption that is connected to dictatorial regimes, it sounds clear that the failure of World Bank and IMF to fund countries associated with the noted crimes come as a result of U.S. influence to the organizations. Therefore, although control of IMF and World Bank on paper appears to some countries, the U.S. role in controlling the two institutions remains unrivalled. Therefore, it is evident that American hegemony in the global context is supported by its role in influencing decisions within World Bank and IMF.

Consequently, a focus of the consistent funders of IMF and World Bank serve as an indication of the U.S. hegemony. With the U.S. serving as home to a variety of multinationals, these organizations act as funders of World Bank and IMF. For example, the Ford Foundation consistently offers grants to the World Bank with David Rockefeller remaining a consistent funder of IMF (Gegout, 2010, p. 219). As it was on the historical scenarios where American foundations carried out programs that the federal government lacked the capability of funding, the same happens today. That serves as an indication that the status quos remains where the U.S. serves as the hegemonic nation. By the U.S. organizations serving as funders to the leading international financial institutions, they portray U.S. dominance and its continuous hegemony over the globe (Gegout, 2010, p. 219). The foundations serve as globalizing forces from the beginning of American dominance until today by constantly financing as well as strengthening global knowledge by supporting education institutions and research centres among other organizations across the globe.
Other international organizations that portray American dominance and hegemony comprise of NATO and the UN. With NATO aimed at ensuring peace across the world by resolving disputes among nations with an aim of avoiding military confrontation between nations, the role of the U.S. within NATO remains significantly high. Other than serving as one of the leading countries in the formation of NATO back in the 1980s, the U.S. has continuously served as the principal supporter of NATO since its formation both financially and with human capital. Furthermore, a majority of country members that make up NATO often support the decisions that the U.S. raises. Of the most recent evidence relates to NATO’s support of the U.S. against the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

Although Russia went ahead with its plans and annexed Crimea, criticism came from most of NATO members that comprise of the U.S. and European nations. The U.N. equally serves as another organization that portrays the U.S. hegemony in the globe. Decisions raised by the U.S. regarding the world gains backing from the UN (Barry, 2014). With the UN tasked with ensuring peaceful co-existence between nations, the organization has not always adhered to that goal. For example, when the U.S. under President Bush made a decision to invade Iraq based on assertions of Iraq’s possession of nuclear weapons, the UN supported such a decision. Consequently, the UN in most instances becomes swayed to support the U.S. views on issues that affect the world rather than maintaining neutrality. That serves as an indication of U.S. hegemony in the 21st century.
However, it is important to note that while European alliances may seem poised to limit the U.S. leadership, the alliances may work towards strengthening the U.S. hegemonic position. According to Barry (2014), there stands a higher possibility of a collaboration to occur between the European Union and NATO. That happens because out of twenty-seven members that make up the EU, twenty-one serve as members of NATO with five of the remaining six serving as associates of the Partnership Peace Program of NATO. With the role of the U.S.in NATO discussed, it is evident that the European alliances with serve in supporting American dominance in the 21st century.

Other Factors

Other than the factors of economy, military and international organizations serving as supporters of American hegemony and dominance of the world, cultural factors equally support and portray U.S. hegemony. Of the notable Hollywood, the American filmmaking industry that has served as the leading filmmaker in the globe from the 1920s to date. Other than promoting American hegemony by serving as the leading filmmaker and seller, Hollywood equally plays a significant role in selling American ideology to the rest of the world, while similarly portraying negative ideologies from the East. For example, according to Asian American Popular Culture (2015), a Hollywood musical film referred to as Flower Drum Song serves as a significant indicator of Hollywood’s role in supporting American hegemony. In the particular movie, two stereotypical female characters are portrayed in different roles with the lady representing the American culture as a ‘dragon lady’ known as Linda Low while the one representing the Asian culture characterized as a ‘submissive butterfly’ known as Mei Li. The film serves as one of the many other Hollywood films that sell American culture to the rest of the world while shunning cultures from other regions especially the East that comprises of rising nations. Although some films may fail to capture scenes that portray negative things from the East, they play a significant role in selling the U.S. culture to the world and as such supporting American dominance.

THE FUTURE OF UNITED STATES

It is evident that the 21st century faces a shift of both wealth and power from the West and North towards the East as well as the South. Some anxious observers argue that a change will occur in the world making it look less American as it happened at the close of the 20th century. Inkenberry (2011) argues that the shift of power and wealth will signify a change in the face of the world making it look less liberal. As such, Inkenberry (2011) argues that the newly powerful states have embarked on measures to advance their ideas together with agendas for global order with their respective measures focused on limiting the global role of the U.S. However, attainment of such a goal of weakening the status of the U.S. on the global context remains quite challenging for these nations. While it is wrong to deny the shift of power and wealth to other nations other than the U.S. and the West, it is possible to challenge the possibility of a decline of U.S. hegemony within the 21st century.

THE RISE OF THE REST RUSSIA

Serves as one of the major threats to U.S. hegemony in the future. According to Thompson (2015), the government of Vladimir Putin serves as one of the significant challenges of the current U.S. regime and future hegemony of the U.S. While Russia opted to take a silent approach since the end of Cold War leading to the break of the Soviet Union, Russia has of late portrayed its intention to challenge the U.S. dominance on the globe. However, achievement of such a goal for Russia remains quite challenging with various obstacles standing in its way. Of the notable obstacles that Russia faces relates to economic stability with the recent sanctions together with plummeting prices of oil seemingly serving as a blow to the Russian government (Thompson, 2015). Without economic superiority, it is unlikely that Russia will usurp U.S. hegemony in the world an indication that the U.S. remains far ahead of Russia and will continue to dominate the world in the 21st century.

THE BRICS

A representation of an alliance of nations namely: Brazil, Russia, India, and China together with South Africa. The creation of the partnership resulted with an aim of providing parallel steps that that focus on building productive economy after challenging the current system. It is important to note that the nations forming the alliance comprise of rising economies, cover almost forty percent of the world population together with a quarter of the global population. While such figures may sound promising for an alliance that aims at usurping the U.S. and its Western policies in the globe, the economic productivity of the alliance members combined prove otherwise. The alliance is yet to provide a world gross national income that matches its population and land mass with figures in 2010 portraying that the countries accounted for a quarter of the global gross income (Schaefer & Poffenbarger, 2014, p. 267). They, therefore, must address such challenges before becoming at par with the U.S. where they may then usurp its hegemony.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Equally offers some challenges for the U.S. leadership in the 21st century. Although the Middle East nations continue to register economic growth in the 21st century, the growth is far below the one that the U.S. enjoys. However, the region still serves as one of the leading terrorist bases and the U.S. must ensure that terrorism comes to an end if it is to retain its hegemony. The current issue of ISIS, portrays some of the challenges that the U.S. faces in the 21st century. It is, however, important to note that terrorist groups not only affect the U.S. and its role as a global leader but also equally affects the Middle East countries to a significant level. For example, in the case of Syria, economic development is limited as a result of the terrorist group with other Middle East countries also wary of the terrorist groups as a result of their aim to usurp the ruling regimes (Weiss & Wilkinson, 2014, p. 256).

AFRICA

Presents future challenges to the U.S. most notably as a result of rising economies like South Africa and Nigeria. Consequently, Western dominance in Africa is diminishing as a shift is evidenced where some of the African countries are moving East for financial aid and other services. However, irrespective of the rise of a few of African economies and opposition to the U.S. policies, Africa significantly relies on the U.S. and its possibility to challenge U.S. hegemony in the global context remains significantly low (Inkenberry, 2011). Most of the nations in Africa fall into the category of developing economies an indication that their economic inferiority leaves them without the power to challenge super economies like the U.S. Other issues like droughts and hunger equally adversely affects Africa. Political instability, dictatorial leadership together with corruption also serve as significant limitations of Africa towards working together for commonality as it happens in the U.S.

Furthermore, it is important to note the threat of Terrorism and Climatic Change as challenges that the U.S. faces in the 21st century and possible factors perceived to challenge its hegemony. However, it is important to note that the threat of terrorism is not only open to the U.S., but equally to all other countries across the world especially the rising economies. Consequently, the issue of climatic change results from global warming and, therefore, will affect all other countries across the world (Schaefer & Poffenbarger, 2014, p. 283). As such, it is indicative that irrespective of the existing challenges in the 21st century, the U.S. stands in a much better position while compared to other nations.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The U.S. is the leading superpower and the world looks upon the U.S. to maintain peace and order while at the same time promoting freedom, free markets, and democracy. There are many states still under the rule of undemocratic regimes. These regimes threaten the security and peace in the whole world. As such, the U.S, as a watchdog, must not look upon the United Nations or collective security to handle these threats. The American policy when handling such issues must reflect transformation rather than coexistence.

Lately, the U.S. has been criticised for imposing its democratic ideals on the rest of the world. These critics argue that, U.S. waged wars on Afghanistan and Iraq have created more instability by acting as breeding grounds for terrorism. In fact, evidence suggests that current terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State were created by the United Sates to oust autocratic regimes. Thus, America must be able to act pre-emptively if it is to maintain its position in the global power order. Any future wars should reflect American economic and political principles. Again, on security, Moon (2005) proposes that the United States should increase its commitment to its allies so that it can ensure security, not only in the Middle East, but also in Asia, Africa and Europe. On the same note, it should avoid relationships with tyrannical regimes that threaten the very values of democracy that America tries to promote.

While America has the most sophisticated military system in the world, it has been attacked on its own soil: not once, but severally. Hence, it needs to enhance its defence system to counteract such acts before they occur. This will send a statement to the rest of the world that America is invincible, notes Schake (2009). While the War on Terror is an international struggle, the U.S. as a hegemony must lead the world in tackling it. America should show the world that it is a leader by helping countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq establish institutions of democracy once they have removed oppressive regimes. So far, that commitment is lacing, notes Barry (2014). Odom (2007) notes that America needs to employ the promises of economic aid and trade benefits to buoy up counties of the developing world and those of the former USSR to adopt American economic and economic policies.

CONCLUSION

The united Sates uses liberalism to maintain its dominance on world affairs through self-perpetuating processes such as democracy promotion, international institutions, and international trade. Once a country has been unified via its all-inclusive nature, the country is then gradually absorbed into the liberal world order by progressively introducing other aspects of liberalism. The U.S. does this through concealed coercion, which then allows it to counter any counter-hegemony attempts. Nevertheless, the U.S also faced certain challenges to its hegemony. For example, the rise of economic giants such as China has created new power centres the world over. Such occurrences have threatened to alter the balance of power in the 21st century in ways that may pose substantial challenges to the United States.

In any case, the United States still has the leading economy in the world, with china a close second. However, the challenge it faces is that it has been running a trade deficit since 1976. Worse still, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the U.S. national debt may soon surpass what it was before the Great Recession of 2007/2008. Yet again, the main competitor to the U.S. hegemony, China, is the one financing America’s debt by purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds. This, of course, is important for other reasons: first, Goldman Sachs estimates that the Chinese economy will soon eclipse that of the U.S.; second, China hold the world’s largest foreign exchange reserve; and third, the Chinese economy has been growing by double digits in the last decade. While these factors pose significant challenges to the U.S. hegemony, the U.S. is still undeniably at the helm of global hegemony in the 21st century.

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