The United States is often claimed to be a postmodern empire. The goal of this paper is to summarize five recent articles on the topic of the American empire and hegemony. The five academic articles used for this literature survey paper were taken from several different databases, including Google Scholar and ProQuest. The major conclusion derived from the analysis of the article summaries is that the American empire is a highly controversial phenomenon that has its strong and weak sides. Therefore, it is absolutely impossible to predict how other major nation-states will change their attitudes towards the U.S. in the nearest future.
Keywords: United States, empire, foreign relations, hegemony, international.
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Literature Survey Paper
Hassner, P. (2002). The United States: The empire of force or the force of empire? Chaillot Papers, 54 (Paris:Institute for Security Studies).
The tragic events on September 11, 2001 triggered new debates on the topic of the U.S.’s empire and its hegemonic intentions. In this article, Peter Hassner explores the most important changes in the American policies immediately after the 9/11 events. According to Hassner (2002), the words ‘exceptionality’ and ‘unilateralism’ are extremely common in the discussion of the American policies and security decisions, both within the country and abroad. The American war on terrorism helps to strengthen the country’s international hegemony. Today, America has shifted from being a warrior without risks to being a warrior without rules (Hassner, 2002). This is why Hassner (2002) explores the nature of the American empire at three different levels: public opinion, military circles, and political elites. The main goal of this study is to understand what role Europe will play in a world that is being transformed and ruled by America.
Hassner (2002) is confident that the American empire is built on the two paradoxical principles: pre-modern commitment to the individual right to bear arms and capital punishment and postmodern commitment to the use of military technologies in foreign territories. Moreover, the American empire is highly individualistic: its power grows through the acquisition of wealth and not military achievements, as it used to be in earlier empires, including Ancient Rome (Hassner, 2002). Hassner (2002) writes that the U.S. does have an empire, which is based on the historical principles of exceptionality and unilateralism and the enormous financial and technological differences between the U.S. and other countries. However, an empire can never exist in a vacuum. Empires demand some kind of reciprocity and multilateralism; they need supporters and allies (Hassner, 2002). As a result, Hassner (2002) concludes that “Europe’s role must be to act as a steadying influence and to counterbalance or moderate swings in American policy so as to reduce tension between the United States and the rest of the world” (p.48).
Kagan, R. (1998, Summer). The benevolent empire. Foreign Policy, 111, 24-35.
The claim that the United States is a hegemonic empire often has negative connotations. However, in this article, Robert Kagan expresses a different view. Kagan (1998) refers to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the economic and political uncertainty it caused in the world. In Kagan’s (1998) view, the United States is a benevolent hegemony that is good for the majority of the world’s countries and peoples. Kagan (1998) mentions the Monica Lewinsky scandal in order to show that most countries have a fear of instability in the United States. At times of such scandals, countries silently pray that the American storm finally comes to its end (Kagan, 1998). Without the United States and its empire, most countries would feel uncertain about their stability and future growth (Kagan, 1998).
It is in the moments of such storms that countries realize the benefits of the American hegemony. However, Kagan (1998) does not deny the fact that some countries resent the American domination over the whole world. According to Kagan (1998), such resentment of power is neither new nor strange. It is just a timeless human emotion, like envy, when the power is concentrated in the hands of one’s friends (Kagan, 1998). For Kagan (1998), the American empire is the best international arrangement. Kagan (1998) sincerely believes that, without the American empire, the world would face much more violence, disorganization, anarchy as well as less economic growth and democracy. The American empire is unique because it is based on the principles of democracy, compromise, and mutual accommodation (Kagan, 1998). Kagan (1998) writes that, throughout its imperial past, America provided its allies with much more resources and assistance than was expected from them in return. Amongst admiration and praise for the U.S. domination, Kagan (1998) confesses that any attempt to disrupt this hegemony will necessarily lead to dangerous results: faced with the risks of global disorder, America may not be as wise and benevolent as it used to be during the Cold War.
Cox, M. (2005). Empire by denial: The strange case of the United States. International Affairs, 81(1), 15-30.
Michael Cox (2005) discusses the United States’ unique position against all other countries in the world. Cox (2005) believes that the tendency to be more significant than other countries has always been a distinguishing feature of the U.S.’s identity. This tendency to be superior to other countries has become a narcissistic obsession for the U.S. (Cox, 2005). The U.S. keeps moving towards the unilateral ownership of the world, and George Bush’s imperial doctrine adopted after the 9/11 events is an important driver of this movement.
In this study, Cox (2005) makes two contradictory claims. First, the author recognizes that the American empire is an essential component of today’s international order. Cox (2005) does not sympathize with the American hegemony but tries to justify the presence of empires in the modern world. The author suggests that, without the American state, there would be no international relations (Cox, 2005). Secondly, Cox (2005) states that the system of international relations dominated by the U.S. does have its historical and empirical limits. America does not seem to be losing its power, but it seems to be using it improperly. The American invasion to Iraq is one of the most problematic points in the relations between the American empire and its allies (Cox, 2005). Cox (2005) tries to create an objective view of the American empire and its place in the international order. For example, the author recalls that the U.S. invested huge resources in the development of new nations. However, all those investments were made not out of pure idealism but as a result of shrewd calculations (Cox, 2005). According to Cox (2005), the success of empires always depends on their ability to deliver benefits and goods to countries worldwide. Today, there is no agreement as to whether or not America is losing its power. However, the hegemonic position of America can no longer be taken for granted, especially when the country is becoming increasingly dependent on other countries’ resources and debts (Cox, 2005).
Pape, A. R. (2005). Soft balancing against the United States. International Security, 30(1), 7-45.
Pape (2005) talks about Bush’s security strategy and the way it helps the U.S. to meet its hegemonic objectives. Pape (2005) writes that, after September 2001, the U.S. has become even more unilateral and exceptional than it used to be a decade ago. The country has abandoned the Kyoto protocol and rejected its membership in the International Criminal Court (Pape, 2005). The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have generated a lot of international sympathy, but the U.S. decided that it would reduce the number of allies allowed to fight alongside America against international terrorism (Pape, 2005).
Pape (2005) does not deny the fact that the U.S. has an empire but looks at the situation from a different angle. The author does not accept the view that the exceptionality and unilateralism of the U.S. will not allow other countries oppose its hegemony. In his discussion, Pape (2005) rests on three propositions. First, the security strategy developed by George Bush will cause dramatic transformations in the way major states react to the uses and abuses of U.S. power (Pape, 2005). For many years, the U.S. has been a non-aggressive nation, but Bush’s policy of aggressive unilateralism changes America’s benevolent reputation (Pape, 2005). Second, major powers are already making steps to wage against the hegemonic behaviors of the United States: most likely, major powers will commit themselves to the so-called soft balancing when economic, institutional, and diplomatic measures weaken the U.S.’s position in the world (Pape, 2005). Third, Pape (2005) asserts that major powers will become more decisive in their soft balancing efforts if the national security policy of the U.S. becomes more aggressive. Actually, today’s major powers have already engaged in a number of soft balancing initiatives by giving up their support of the American security initiatives. Pape (2005) recommends that the American empire abandons aggressive unilateralism, refuses from the unilateral control over Middle Eastern territories, and engages in multinational collaboration in order to restore its positive image.
Cohen, J.L. (2004). Whose sovereignty? Empire versus international law. Ethics & International Affairs, 18(3), 1-23.
In this article, Jean L. Cohen provides an interesting insight into the problem of the American empire. Cohen (2004) suggests that the development of international human rights law is one of the brightest manifestations of the U.S.’s hegemonic position in today’s system of international relations. Cohen (2004) calls the United States “the world’s sole superpower” (p.1). In Cohen’s (2004) view, the discussion of U.S.’s imperial moods is closely associated with the topic of sovereignty. Under the influence of the American hegemony, state sovereignty becomes less important, and nation states can no longer control their own borders, territory, and the threats faced by their citizens (Cohen, 2004).
Cohen (2004) does not believe that the system of international relations promotes multicultural values. The author claims that the sovereignty-based model of international law is not what it should be. It does not promote cosmopolitan justice but, on the contrary, has the features of an empire (Cohen, 2004). In this atmosphere, international law is just a set of rules imposed on nation states by the dominant power. Humanitarian interventions and collaborative support are “simply the discourses and deformalized mechanisms by which empire aims to rule” (Cohen, 2004, p.2). Cohen (2004) writes that the world is facing two choices. First, it can strengthen international law (Cohen, 2004). Second, major superpowers can implement their own imperial projects. However, to preserve order and peace, the rules of international legal sovereignty have to be reconsidered. Major powers should develop international institutions that will defend global cosmopolitan law and prevent the creation and realization of empire projects. Otherwise, humanitarian initiatives will simply serve the hegemonic needs of the United States.
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