The United States Supremacy and her place in Global Politics and the Geopolitics of the International System
Author: Mathew Ituma
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 07/04/2012
Following the demise of the cold war in 1990s, the United States emerged as the world’s leading power in the international system. This supremacy is partly supported by the global recognition of United States’ position as the most powerful nation on earth. America’s global supremacy is also anchored on the centrality of its role in global politics and its tremendous influence on the geopolitics of the international system. By referring to the U.S. as the world’s super power, there is an implied relational reference and positioning of the United States as the center piece of the international system. It is perceived as the grandmaster of international affairs. This paper examines the supremacy of the United States in the new world order. It argues that as a post-cold war super power, the U.S. has significant influence on global political and developmental relations that characterize the ideologically unstable and anarchic international system. The paper explores the contradictions that arise from the efforts of the U.S. to pursue common good using its military power in the attempts to restore sanity in the international system. It concludes that by climbing to the apex of the world’s top power seat, the U.S. earned itself the image of an empire builder that is assumed to have imperialistic tendencies rather than a respected overseer of the international system.
The discourse on unipolar global politics gained momentum during the George Bush era with increased debate on the enhancement of America’s super power image. Paradoxically, the world’s shift from the bipolar to unipolar power relations also gave rise to the growth of globalization. This shift juxtaposed the imagined world unity after the death of cold war with America’s budding thirst for domination of the world system, followed by the America’s need for re-asserting themselves as the world’s most powerful people on earth. This juxtaposition created a contradiction that is still evident in the divisions that exists within the unipolar international system even as it struggles to remain united in a globalized fashion. These seamless cleavages of the international system exemplify the power imbalances and developmental relations that characterize this unipolarity as the US tries to navigate the minefield of globalization, economic, political and social development.
Critics of the world’s unipolarity argue that the internal divisions of the international system illustrates imperialistic relations that involves shoving and imposing of subjective developmental ideas to unsuspecting, or suspecting but helpless and powerless nations of the world by the single most powerful nation. This view is supported by historical facts on social economic inequalities and geopolitics of the international system compounded by track records of earlier holders of world supremacy such as Britain. It is argued that earlier super powers dominated other nations through imperialism that resulted to colonialism in previous centuries, causing untold socioeconomic inequalities whose ripple effects are still felt today within the globalizing economy. This time, the domination of the world by the US seems more ideological than physical but the U.S heavily uses the military prowess for imperialistic motives and the ramifications of such control is clear today and will be felt for many years into the future of generations and nations.
The need for ideological imperialism by the U.S points to the nature of power relations that exist in the international system. It also highlights the domination, coercion and instability that exist in the world even though there is a unipolar world order. It also illustrates the dominant nature of global politics controlled by the U.S. This is the source of the contradictions that dog the globalization model of a unified world government. It is along these lines that the U.S is conceived as an imperialistic empire builder in the broader context of the international system and global politics.
The position of the US in the international system as a super power speaks volumes about its thirst for imperialist expansionism. Opponents of globalization contend that with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund at its disposal, the U.S. is seriously shaping and asserting its heavily militarized foreign policy beyond its national boundaries. Advocates of the supremacy of the U.S. in the new world order argue that the American presence and its influence on global politics is a gesture of good faith because it introduces and promotes democratic ideals in the anarchic hot spots of the international system. While this is contestable, they also posit that the world has become more peaceful with interventions of the U.S. military peacekeeping missions. However, with the increased militarization of aid especially in Africa, it is not difficult to identify the imperialistic attributes of the U.S in global politics. It is therefore undeniable that ideological motives underlay the suggested military aid sent to the struggling nations of the world, which raises questions about the motives of the U.S benevolence in its intervention mechanisms. At this juncture, we get at the crossroad of supremacy and geopolitics of the international system and the question about the way forward.
Sympathizers of the conservative fraternity contend that with the emergence of its supremacy as the unipolar world leader, it is the opportune time for the U.S. to reposition itself in the international system and reassert its democratic ideals. The more liberally minded supporters of this standpoint argue that a combination of imperialism and military domination may bring forth more positive impacts into the future of nations such as respect for human rights, poverty eradication, clean water supply and economic development other than just political influence. The framing of the U.S. as the world’s sole policeman but a good neighbor effectively positions it at the crossroads of imperialistic supremacy and at the same time, as a self-directed active player in global politics. This however blurs the “good image” vision of the U.S. at the apex of power, which makes it difficult to grasp the “goodness” of its intervention strategies offered to the struggling nations that are disseminated as military aid.
From a Marxist standpoint, the U.S is not just understood as a world policeman, but it is also conceived as an interested imperialist hoping and diligently working to expand its ideological and geographic frontiers to enrich itself with resources from other nations in a capitalist fashion. Their main argument being that America’s main interest is to economically dominate and subjugate other players in the international system for economic gain. George Bush is claimed to have been a good student of this school of thought. It is alleged that he greatly championed and injected the idea of militarization of Aid into the U.S. foreign policy with the help of Dr. Condoleezza Rice to subjugate economically emerging nations such as those in the Middle East in order to control their world’s oil resources. While the U.S interest in the Middle Eastern oil resources is contestable, it is undeniable that its presence in this region has been massive and conspicuous.
Students of power relations theory combine realism and liberalism to make the case that even though the presence of U.S. in the international arena has brought forth many good things, the U.S. has also misused its power in the process of trying to extend its influence beyond its geographic frontiers. Human rights activists have posed serious questions about the morality and legitimacy of continued operations of Guantanamo Bay by the U.S. to hold detainees of war and terror suspects without trial. They argue that a fair world policeman would be fair and just to all and sundry but this has not been the case.
Political economists on the other hand are questioning the morality of western capitalism and democracy championed by the U.S as the only model of economic and political development. They continue to question the benevolence of economic aid with strings attached to implementation of programs supported by the U.S foreign policy such as the building of democratic institutions that are viewed as tools of imperialism and as emblems ideological hegemony.
The declining lead
While it is not clear for how long the U.S can rely on its military resources to maintain its influence on global politics given the dwindling economic opportunities at home and abroad, it is apparent that maintaining the lead as a single most powerful nation in the world has lately been challenging. Specifically, the entry of china into the arena of world politics and its emerging economic influence on international relations is worrisome. Pundits argue that the entry of China into the geopolitics of the world system is likely to challenge the status quo and cause a shift in the balance of power. Opponents of the unipolar world system also contend that the U.S has in the past over-relied on its military resources to defend its position and may benefit from expanding its strategies beyond militarism in order to maintain its leading role in the unipolarized world system.
One of the major reasons that supports their case as to why the U.S. might benefit from supplementing its military resources with other strategies such as “truly” free trade and globalization is because of the increased transparency and development in tracking technology enhanced by the internet revolution. In this case, the “strings” of the U.S. economic aid and military get shorter or are limited or eliminated, thereby clearing its vision of the “good image” that is currently blurred by militarism in its intervention strategies. More importantly, increased transparency will not only legitimize its position and supremacy as the leading world power but will also leverage its balance of trade as it tries to maintain the status quo. I suspect that by combining military prowess with increased free and honest trade, the U.S. will most likely continue to dominate the world system but unless this happens, China is likely to continue nibbling at its feet and is likely to challenge the status quo.
Once it creates a legitimatized “good image” through increased open trade relations, supported by the military resources, the U.S. transformation into a supra-super power starts to take shape in the fashion of true globalization through the domestication of its foreign policy into the international system. This, I argue, may be the single most effective strategy the U.S. may be able to maintain its supremacy and domination of the international geopolitics without over relying on its military resources to keep its leadership position. It is only through this model, in my view, that the U.S will be able to kick-off the building of a truly imperialist empire that transcends national boundaries without having to answer questions about the motives or morality.
The increased open relations with nations will also strengthen global interdependency such that there will be respect and fair treatment between and among nations beyond geographical bonders. This means that the position of the U.S. will remain unchallenged because of the systems’ incapability to launch any threat to the supremacy given the nature of the interdependency arising from envisioned globalization, effectively positioning the U.S. at the center of the bigger world system, hence promoting an ideological hierarchy that perpetuates its continued transnational domination. The supremacy of the U.S and the management of international resources created through the interdependent webs of economic and military linkages with other nations, as I see it are likely to bring forth the idea of a global government. While the idea of a global government may a contested site of political discourse, it is evident that no nation will now or in the future be able to either fully dominate and keep absolute power over the international system. It is therefore based on this principle that my conception of a world government becomes tenable.
Critics of a globalized government contend that nations in the international system may not be willing to give up their sovereignty in favor of an international leadership. They maintain that globalization as a strategy is a dead horse that remains utopian and unachievable. They emphasize that globalization is an extension of imperialism that seeks to expand booth geographical and ideological tentacles that perpetuate domination in the international arena.
More gravely, they point out that globalization and control by powerful nations beyond their national frontiers is not something new. They tell us that history repeats itself. They firmly argue that because of the unstable and anarchic world system, there has been several power shifts and overturning of the status quo since organized governance came to life. They make the case that just the same way the supremacy of the leading powers got challenged before, the same fate awaits the United States of America and no amount of globalization, alliance building or interdependency of economies will change the trajectory of United States into the abyss of international geopolitics where previous super powers have been buried and forgotten.
This view is anchored on the idea that since the international system defies a hierarchical structure of governance, no amount of globalization will be helpful and that, the only way to perpetuate domination in the international system is through the acquisition of military resources, an art that the U.S. has perfected to the core of its foreign policy.
It is therefore along these themes that I conclude by restating that the U.S supremacy and control of the international system is both a good and bad thing. While it continues to reinforce the good view image through its strategic military interventions to re-assert itself, its continued contraventions of moral standards beyond its frontiers and the dwindling economic resources may weaken its position as the sole leading power. It is safe to argue that unless we see a combined blend of strategies, the position and supremacy of the United States of America in the international system is facing challenges that are likely to cause a power shift that will tilt the unipolarity of the current world power relations into a different angle and effectively alter relationships international system.
Bio: The author is a Ph.D. student at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL.