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US Hegemony In World Politics | Class 12 Political Science

The chapter introduces students to the US Hegemony. It analyses what makes the United States a superpower also the cultural, economic and military aspects of the US Hegemony. We also highlight the constraints on American Power.


An Introduction to 'US Hegemony'

What is Hegemony?

Hegemony is the Political, Economic or military predominance or control of one state over others. The dominant state is known as ‘Hegemon’.

What Factors led the US to be a Hegemon state?

The Factors responsible for the rise of US hegemony in world politics are:

  • The disintegration of the USSR left the US as the sole superpower.

  • The US had Superior Military power.

  • The US is a supreme power in providing global goods. Also, the United States was also a superior economic power.

  • The US had an ascendancy in ideological spheres.

Beginning Of The 'New World Order

The US hegemony began in 1991 after Soviet power disappeared from the international scene but it did not start behaving like a hegemonic power right from 1991.

Iraq Invasion

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, quickly occupying and annexing the country. The United Nations authorised the use of force to liberate Kuwait after a series of diplomatic attempts failed to persuade Iraq to halt its aggression.

This was a difficult decision to make after years of deadlock during the Cold War. The emergence of a "new world order" was lauded by US President George H.W. Bush.

First Gulf War

A massive coalition force of 660,000 troops from 34 countries fought and defeated Iraq in what became known as the First Gulf War.

The UN operation,"Operation Desert Storm," was overwhelmingly made up of Americans. An American general named 'Norman Schwarzkopf', led the UN coalition forces, also the UN forces comprised nearly 75% of the soldiers from American forces.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein promised "the mother of all battles," but Iraqi forces were defeated quickly and forced to withdraw from Kuwait.

The First Gulf War exposed the massive technological divide that had developed between the US military and that of other nations.

  • The US's widely publicised use of "smart bombs" dubbed the conflict a "computer war."

  • It was also dubbed a "video game war" due to widespread television coverage.

  • The United States may have profited from the war.

  • According to many reports, the US received more money than it spent on the war from countries such as Germany, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

Politics in the United States after the First Gulf War

What was the US political landscape after the first gulf war?

The Democratic Party's William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in the 1992 US presidential elections. Bill Clinton remained in power for an additional eight years, winning re-election in 1996.

The United States had withdrawn into its internal affairs and was not fully engaged in world politics during the Clinton years. The Clinton administration prioritised ‘soft issues' such as democracy promotion, climate change, and global trade over ‘hard politics' such as military power and security.

The most significant military episode occurred in 1999, in response to Yugoslavian actions against the province of Kosovo's predominantly Albanian population.

The air forces of the NATO countries bombarded targets in and around Yugoslavia for more than two months, forcing the fall of Slobodan Milosevic's government and the stationing of a NATO force in Kosovo.

Another significant US military response came in response to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, by Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organisation heavily influenced by extremist Islamist ideas, was blamed for the bombings.

A series of cruise missile strikes on Al-Qaeda terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan were ordered by Operation Infinite Reach.

In this case, the US was unconcerned about the UN sanction or international law provisions. Some of the targets were said to be civilian facilities unrelated to terrorism.

The Attack of 9/11

Nineteen Arab hijackers took control of four American commercial planes shortly after takeoff on September 11, 2001, and flew them into major US buildings.

One airliner hit both the North and South Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

The third plane collided with the Pentagon, which houses the US Defence Department in Arlington, Virginia.

The fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field, presumably on its way to the US Congress's Capitol building.

The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people. They've been likened to the British burning of Washington, DC in 1814 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. The attack of 9/11 was the deadliest attack on US soil since the country's founding in 1776 in terms of casualties.

Operation Enduring Freedom

The US launched 'Operation Enduring Freedom' against all those suspected of being behind the attack, primarily Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

US forces arrested people all over the world, often without the knowledge of the governments that arrested them, and held them in secret prisons.

They were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, a US naval base in Cuba, where they were not protected by international law, domestic law, or US law.

Even UN representatives were barred from visiting these detainees.

The Iraq Invasion

What was Operation Iraqi Freedom?

The United States launched ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom' on March 19, 2003. After the UN refused to give the invasion a mandate, more than forty other countries joined the US-led "coalition of the willing."

The primary objective of the invasion was to prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Additional motive was to control Iraqi oil fields and install a US-friendly regime.

Saddam Hussein's government fell quickly, and the US was unable to 'pacify' Iraq. In Iraq, a full-fledged insurgency against US occupation erupted, while the United States has lost over 3,000 military personnel in the war, Iraqi casualties were significantly higher.

In some crucial ways, the US invasion of Iraq was both a military and a political failure.

What is Hegemony?

Hegemony is defined as a state's economic, political, or military superiority over other states. It is a term used in ancient Greece to refer to a city-politico-military state's dominance over other city-states, with the dominant state acting as the hegemon.

Hegemony As Hard Power

The following notion of hegemony reflects the military landscape of a powerful country. The United States' strength stems primarily from its superior military prowess.

The following are some characteristics of US hegemony as a hard power:

  • The weapons of the United States can reach any part of the globe with pinpoint accuracy and lethality. It can deal the most damage to its opponents while also shielding its own forces from enemy attacks to the greatest extent possible.

  • No other country in the world can match the United States' military might. It not only has superior military weapons, but it also heavily invests in military research and development.

Hegemony has two connotations. The first refers to state-to-state relationships, patterns, and balances of military capability.

The US military's overwhelming superiority is the foundation of modern US power. Today, the United States has absolute and relative military dominance. The United States currently spends more on military capability than the next twelve countries combined.

Military research and development, or technology, consumes a sizable portion of the Pentagon's budget.

Throughout history, imperial powers have used military forces to accomplish only four tasks: conquer, deter, punish, and police.

Hegemony As Structural Power

The second definition of hegemony is significantly different from the first. The existence of a hegemon or dominant power is required for an open world economy to function.

The United States has been a major contributor to global public goods. The term "public goods" refers to goods that are used by one person without reducing the number of goods available to others.

Public goods include things like roads and clean air.

Sea Lanes Of Communication

In the global economy, merchant ships use sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). Free trade in a global economy would be impossible without open SLOCs.

The law of the sea is underpinned by the hegemon's naval power, which ensures freedom of navigation in international waters.

The multi-oceanic US Navy has filled this role since the decline of British naval power following WWII.

Another example of a global public good is the Internet. The Internet is the direct result of a US military research project that began in 1950, despite the fact that it is widely credited with enabling the virtual world of the World Wide Web.

The Internet is still reliant on a global network of satellites, the majority of which are owned by the US government.

The United States has a presence in every corner of the globe, in every sector of the global economy, and in every field of technology.

With a 28 per cent share of the global economy, the United States maintains its dominance. When intra-European Union trade is taken into account, the United States accounts for 15% of global trade.

There isn't a single sector of the global economy where an American firm isn't among the "top three."

After all, the Bretton Woods system, which was established by the United States after WWII, is still the bedrock of the global economy.

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organisation were all created as a result of American hegemony (WTO).

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a classic example of the United States' structural power (MBA). In 1881, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School established the world's first business school.

Hegemony As Soft Power

The third sense of hegemony is the ability to "manufacture consent." When a country establishes its cultural supremacy in the world in various defined forms, it becomes a soft power.

In the following dimensions, the United States has established itself as a hegemonic soft power:

The United States now dominates not only militarily and economically, but also culturally. Dreams of individuals and societies are influenced by twentieth-century American practices.

Because America is the world's most powerful culture, it is referred to as "soft power" because it can persuade rather than coerce others.

The culture of America is the most seductive, and thus the most powerful, on the planet. Young men and women on the black market frequently spent more than a year's salary on blue jeans purchased from foreign tourists.

For an entire Soviet generation, blue jeans came to represent aspirations for the "good life" that were not available in their own country.

During the Cold War, the US struggled to defeat the Soviet Union in terms of hard power. The United States won significant victories in the areas of structural power and soft power.

What are the constraints on American Power?

The most significant constraints on American hegemony exist within hegemony itself.

Three factors constrain American power. None of these constraints appeared to be in place in the years following 9/11.

  • The first constraint is the institutional architecture of the American state.

The unrestrained and uncontrolled use of America's military power by the executive branch is stifled by a system of separation of powers between the three branches of government.

  • The open nature of American society is the source of the second domestic constraint on American power.

Although the American media may impose or promote a particular point of view on domestic public opinion in the United States from time to time, there is deep scepticism in American political culture about the purposes and methods of government.

This factor, in the long run, is a significant constraint on US military action abroad.

  • The third and most significant constraint on the US. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the only international organisation that could possibly moderate the exercise of American power today (NATO).

The US clearly has a vested interest in maintaining the alliance of market-oriented democracies, and its NATO allies may be able to restrain the exercise of US hegemony.

India's Relationship With United States

India was on the other side of the Atlantic from the United States during the Cold War. During those years, India's closest ally was the Soviet Union. Following the Soviet Union's disintegration,

India suddenly found itself without allies in an increasingly hostile international environment. These were also the years when India decided to liberalise and integrate its economy with the rest of the world.

This policy, combined with India's recent impressive economic growth rates, has made it a desirable economic partner for a number of countries, including the United States.

It is critical that we do not overlook the fact that in recent years, two new factors have emerged in Indo-US relations. These elements are linked to the technological dimension as well as the Indian-American diaspora's role.

Both of these elements are inextricably linked.

  • About 65 per cent of India's total software exports are consumed in the United States. According to estimates, Indians make up 35 percent of Boeing's technical staff.

  • Silicon Valley employs 300,000 Indians. 15 percent of all high-tech startup companies are owned by Indian Americans.

  • India's growing ties with the US are causing concern among Indian analysts who view international politics primarily through the lens of military power.

They prefer India to remain independent of the United States and concentrate on developing its own comprehensive national power.

Others see India's growing convergence of interests with those of the United States as a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The relationship between India and the United States may be too complicated to be managed by a single strategy. India must devise an appropriate mix of foreign policy strategies to deal with the United States.

How can hegemony be overcome?

A country's ability to use military force is limited by few international factors.

There is no global government comparable to a national government. As a result, international politics has been dubbed "politics without government."

There are rules and norms called the laws of war that limit but do not prevent war from taking place. Few countries, however, will entrust their security to international law alone.

In the short term, we must accept that no single power is capable of balancing the United States militarily.

Given the differences between major countries with the potential to challenge US hegemony, such as China, India, and Russia, a military coalition against the US is even less likely.

As a result, rather than engaging in activities that challenge hegemonic power, reaping the benefits of operating within the hegemonic system may be preferable. This is known as a "bandwagon" strategy.

Another option for states is to 'hide.' This entails staying as far away from the dominant power as possible.

Some believe that non-state actors will provide resistance to American hegemony rather than other states, which, as we have seen, are powerless to confront the US today.

These challenges to American hegemony will emerge in the economic and cultural realms, and will be spearheaded by a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), social movements, and public opinion; they may also be spearheaded by the media and intellectuals, artists, and writers.

To criticise and oppose US policies, these various actors may form cross-national alliances, including with Americans.

According to popular belief, we now live in a "global village." In this global village, we are all the village chief's neighbours.

We will be unable to leave the global village if the headman's behaviour becomes intolerable because this is the only world we are familiar with and the only village we have.

At that point, resistance will be the only option.


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