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Hegemony Us

Hegemony Us

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Published by: quantumfires on Jun 18, 2009
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02/03/2013

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Robert Jervis
The Remaking of a UnipolarWorld
© 2006 by The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology
The Washington Quarterly
• 29:3 pp. 7–19.T
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Robert Jervis is the Adlai E. Stevenson professor of international politics at ColumbiaUniversity in New York.
C
ommon sense and most academic thinking argue that a hegemon’sprime objective should seek to maintain the prevailing international system,but that is not the world in which we live today. Measured in any conceiv-able way, the United States has a greater share of world power than anyother country in history. Whether it is referred to as the world leader bythose who approve of its policies or an empire by those who oppose them, itis a hegemon in today’s unipolar world order. The irony is that Washingtonseeks to change the rules of that order. Why?Positioned at the top of the hierarchy, the hegemon should want to main-tain and solidify it. Even though it may have to pay a disproportionate shareof the costs, including heavy UN dues and a high defense budget, such bur-dens are difficult to shirk and represent a small price to pay for the interna-tional order that provides the hegemon with so many benefits. Other statesmay appear to get a better deal by prospering within the international sys-tem without having to pay the high price; western Europe, for example, canfree ride on U.S. efforts in many spheres while still complaining about U.S.dominance. Yet, enormous U.S. power brings unprecedented benefits, rang-ing from the key role of the U.S. dollar in world finance to the centrality of the English language throughout the world to Washington’s ability to blockmost political initiatives that would bring it harm.The current international system, although not necessarily perfect, is cer-tainly satisfactory, partly because the United States has played such a largerole in establishing it. No state can have a greater stake in the prevailing or-der than the hegemon, nor can any state have greater power to maintain thesystem. The United States should then be a very conservative state in its
 
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foreign relations; with its power and dominance thus assured, it should bethe quintessential status quo power. It makes a puzzle of Washington’s cur-rent behavior, which is anything but conservative. In the fierce debate overthe merits of its post–September 11 foreign policy, insufficient attention hasbeen paid to the odd fact that the United States, with all its power and stakein the system, is behaving more like a revolutionary state than one commit-ted to preserving the arrangements that seem to have suited it well.
The Post–Cold War Conservative Impulse
U.S. policy from the end of the Cold War to the September 11 attacks, de-fined by some as dull and characterized by frequent if small military inter-ventions, sought to bolster the international system. This conservativestance was endorsed by perhaps the most famous statement of the GeorgeH. W. Bush administration: the 1992 draft Defense Guidance, written un-der the direction of Paul Wolfowitz for then–Secretary of Defense DickCheney. Because either bipolarity or multipolarity would recapitulate thehistory of world politics and threaten U.S. interests by producing greatconflict if not major wars, the draft argued that the United States shouldensure that no peer competitor would arise. Accordingly, Washington hadto maintain a military force so modern and potent that no one could con-sider challenging it. It also had to handle a range of problems that wereimportant to other states so that they would not need to develop theirown robust military capabilities. The thrust of the argument was that theUnited States should do what was necessary to maintain the trajectory of world politics, and although the bellicose tone of the document had to bemodified once it was leaked to the press, it stands as the standard conser-vative position.Under President Bill Clinton, some critics argued that the United Stateswas confusing foreign policy with missionary work while others decried itspassivity in the face of world poverty, genocide in Rwanda, and growing au-tocracy in Russia, yet neither critique gained great traction. For most people,there were no pressing reasons for more dramatic action. Many interna-tional politics experts agreed, especially those of a realist stripe, and arguedthat the United States should follow a policy of selective engagement andmaintain a role as an offshore balancer.The first President Bush and Clinton had the same basic idea: supportthe status quo and intervene only to prevent or reverse destabilizing shockssuch as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or Serbia’s brutalities in Europe’s backyard.Such interventions could be short lived, and few other problems were severeenough to merit this kind of attention. In fact, most changes in world poli-
 
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tics could be tolerated because they were not great enough to threaten thefundamentals of the unipolar system. Thus, when the United States did in-tervene, it was playing an essentially conservative role.
A New Beginning: Hegemonic Revisionism
Although the 1992 Defense Guidance was drafted by neoconservatives andis often seen as foreshadowing current U.S. policy, the contrast between thetwo is actually quite severe. Three linked elements that have become cen-tral to contemporary U.S. foreign policy had little place in the draft docu-ment almost a decade earlier. First, currentdoctrine emphasizes that peace and coopera-tion can exist only when all important statesare democratic. Because a country’s foreignpolicy reflects the nature of its domestic re-gime, states that rule by law and express theinterests of their people will conduct benignforeign policies, and tyrannies will inflict mis-ery abroad as well as at home.Second, a vital instrument to preserveworld order is what the administration callspreemption but is actually prevention, including preventive war. In extremecases such as Iraq, the United States has justified the use of force by arguingthat even though Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruc-tion (WMD) programs, he would have developed them when conditionswere propitious. It was better for the United States to act rather than waitfor this to occur. This may be a political and psychological rationalization,but the argument does have a strong logic to it, especially if deterrence can-not cope with dedicated adversaries, most notably terrorists. When defenseis also inadequate, the United States must use preventive measures.Preventive actions, however, even if effective in the short run, willonly be a stopgap if international politics were to proceed on its normaltrajectory. To bring lasting peace, stability, and prosperity, the systemmust not simply be preserved, as the Defense Guidance advocated; itmust be transformed.Although the second element in this trilogy can perhaps be squaredwith a conservative view of the role of the hegemon, the other two can-not. Together, the three argue that even if the status quo is in some sensesatisfactory, it is an illusion to believe that it can be maintained. One wayor another, world politics will change drastically. The questions are whowill change it and whether it will be for better or worse. In a way that
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he irony is thatWashington seeks tochange the rules oftoday’s unipolarworld order.

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