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Decline in US Hegemony: Will this Result in Hegemonic War or not?

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One of the contemporary issues in international relations is that the current hegemon, the United States, has undergone a relative decline. It is argued that American hegemony that emerged aftermath the Second World War is undergoing a decline and with the rise of a potential challenger in China looming, one major issue concerning IR scholars is whether or not the relative decline of US hegemony will result in a hegemonic war.

Hegemonic wars occur when a rising challenger – revisionist power – isn’t content with the current international order and wants to change it so as to become a preponderant force and dictate terms of a new world order. This article assumes that although the US is in a relative decline it is still a dominant power and the rising power is content with the current status quo so no war occurs between the dominant and the rising power. In order to support the argument that a hegemonic war does not occur, this article provides explanation using several theoretical perspectives.

Structural Realism and Balance of Power

To begin with, prominent neorealist Kenneth Waltz contends that the end of the Cold War has changed the structure of international politics from bipolar to unipolar with the US being the dominant power. According to Waltz, days of US being unipolar force in world politics is numbered and slowly the world is moving towards bipolarity or multipolarity because changes in the structure of international system brings about changes in state behavior. It does not matter how much self-restraint and self-control a preponderant power is in its conduct of international relations; states are always wary and fear the dominant power and thus he maintains that balancing is universal. [1]

In order to explain why, he has resorted to the Balance of Power (theory). In most basic sense, international politics is a state of anarchy where there is no central government and states rely on themselves to protect their autonomy and perpetuate their survival. Balance of Power contends that states involve in a balancing act to check the powers of preponderant force so that no any single state has enough power to become a global hegemon. [2]

With the relative decline of US, China and America can enter into bipolar relationship much like the US and the USSR during the Cold War. Since Waltz himself posits bipolarity as the most stable of international configurations, it can be argued that act of balancing between the US and China brings the international distribution of power into an equilibrium and averts the risk of war. 

Socialization of Hegemonic Power 

Most scholars posit that hegemons use threats and rewards to get compliance from secondary states. Contrary to popular wisdom, scholars Ikenberry and Kupchan have contended that in addition to material power, hegemons also have the power of socialization to achieve compliance from secondary states. They call this the socialization process which involves ‘altering of the belief systems’ of elites.

Basically, hegemons project their vision of international order through normative principles (norms and values) and not by material incentives; elites in secondary states internalize them, and devise policies that are compatible to the hegemon’s ideal of the international order. The authors contend that the world order thus created can sustain even when hegemon undergoes a decline because the world order created is relatively inexpensive to maintain in the sense that altering of states preferences are by virtue of ideals rather than use of coercion. Thus, by virtue of socialization of hegemonic power, relative changes in hegemon’s distribution of material power (military and economy) does not put strain on the international system.

So, on viewing the world from the lens of socialization, it can be argued that the expansion of US normative principles on liberal economic norm to its former allies and enemies aftermath the second world war that led to the formation of the current liberal economic world order provides an explanation as to why in spite of US’ relative decline there is continuity for America’s liberal economic order. [3] The rising challenger China can be considered to have been socialized – it has accepted US led international norms, and participates in various International Organizations. Thus, it makes less sense for China to wage war against the hegemon whose ideals it has internalized.

Hegemonic Stability Theory

According to this theory, a hegemon creates a stable international economic order characterized by market openness but its decline results in global instability. This hegemonic effect of open trade benefits all participants, especially, weaker states that do not have any burden of public goods. In this sense, global economic stability is born out of hegemony and provides provision of collective public goods and in doing so facilitates a stable international system.

The motivation to create an economic openness lie in the interest of the hegemon – it has the largest economy and so benefits most from open markets. In addition, only hegemons have the material capability (political and military) to provide public goods and induce other states to embrace open trade. [4]

By virtue of the Hegemonic Stability Theory, the hegemon is an important element in creation and maintenance of the international system. As stated earlier, open trade benefits all participants, even the rising challengers that are accommodated in the system. In contemporary world politics, China is the fastest rising power and it is also reaping the benefits of the open economic order created by the US. By participating in the globalized economy, China has earned a comparative advantage in labor-market and its economy has been growing. On top of that China is an export-based economy and thus, it has very little incentive to jeopardize this benefit by engaging with the hegemon and thereby disrupting the order. In his article, Artur Stein has argued that decline in hegemony does not bring about a complete collapse of the trade regime as long as hegemonic power is committed to economic openness. Taking these two points in consideration, it can be argued that it is not in the interest of China to challenge US hegemony. On account, likelihood of war is averted. [5]

Robert Keohane and Institutionalist Approach

In After Hegemony, Robert Keohane uses an institutional approach to explain inter-state cooperation. He posits that states have common interest and in order to realize it requires achieving mutually beneficial agreements which is where international regimes come in. These regimes foster cooperation by making it easier to reach mutually beneficial inter-state agreements. They help overcome the problem of lack of qualitative and asymmetrical information, through institutional embeddedness reduces transaction costs, legal costs reduce incentive to cheat thereby reducing uncertainty and building confidence among states. Since hegemonic leadership is required to create regimes in the first place, even after the erosion of hegemony, they have high stakes and play important role in fostering cooperation (US role in the IMF and WTO). Because cooperation fosters absolute gain, all participants are benefitted. [6] By this approach, states see cooperation more beneficial than conflict. Thus, it can be argued from institutionalist approach that international regimes foster cooperation thereby reducing likelihood of conflict in the event of hegemonic decline.

Conclusion

The article provided four distinct perspectives with regards to declining US hegemony and potential of a hegemonic war. Using these approaches the article concludes that in spite of decline in American hegemony there will not be a significant change in the current structure of the international system mainly due to power differentials between the US and its nearest challenger China. The US is undergoing a relative decline but still, it is the largest economy boasts strongest military and has highest political leverage. In sum, prospect of a hegemonic war in contemporary world politics is only a far-fetched dream.

Works Cited

[1] Waltz, Kenneth N. “Structural Realism after the Cold War.” International Security 25, no. 1 (2000): 5–41. https://doi.org/10.1162/016228800560372.

[2] Baylis, John, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens. The Globalization of World Politics an Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

[3] Ikenberry, G. John, and Charles A. Kupchan. “Socialization and Hegemonic Power.” International Organization 44, no. 3 (1990): 283–315. https://doi.org/10.1017/s002081830003530x

[4] Snidal, D. (1985). The limits of hegemonic stability theory. International organization, 579-614.

[5] Stein, Arthur A. “The hegemon’s dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the international economic order.” International organization 38, no. 2 (1984): 355-386.

[6] Keohane, R. O. (2005). After hegemony: Cooperation and discord in the world political economy. Princeton university press.

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Americas

Democracy Or What? – And Then Climate

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Most of us were appalled to see what happened in Washington a ten days ago when a ‘mob’, incited by Donald Trump’s address, stormed the Capitol building to prevent the presentation of Joe Biden as the next President. He gave voice to a possible fraudulent (in his mind) election, by putting suspicion on the postal ballot long before the election took place, and tried to ‘engineer’ the ballot by putting his ‘own’ man in control of it. He tried to manipulate the Supreme Court by replacing vacancies with people he expected to follow his lead and must have been disappointed, if not shocked, to find that the court unanimously rejected his claim that the votes had been rigged and should be thrown out. His unruly term of office saw the greatest turnover of people of any previous presidential term as staff could only hack the unusual behaviour of a disordered mind for so long. And so on and on. Much will be written about the 4-year aberration that was Donald Trump. On a lighter note, his escapades in golf have given rise to a book, ‘Commander in Cheat’!

Concerned people have written and spoken about the state of democracy today. Those of us who have spent some time stateside appreciate the immensity of the country, how one is made welcome, but also the prejudices that one finds and the general unknowing of the world we live in by large swathes of the population. Some are still steeped in attitudes that pre-date the civil war. Donald Trump played to all of those and gave them voice. That is a big challenge facing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to get America back on track and if not ‘great again’ to stand up and join the rest of us and share and appreciate that there are billions of other people that are working away with hopes and dreams and looked to the US as a beacon.

That should be the meaning of ‘great again’, and if they can look up and truly be the land of the free and welcome the weak and downtrodden who are fleeing war and violence, as was once the way, then we can say that once more ‘you have earned the right to be the leader of democracy’, and democracy, for all its imperfections, is still the least bad form of government. It is well that the US re-joins the world as totalitarianism, in all its forms and at all levels, is on the rise again. Countries that espouse democracy and heed its precepts need to speak up loudly and be heard once again.

In November of this year is the World Climate Meeting, COP21, in Glasgow, Scotland at which the latest news on climate will be debated. Hopefully, the coronavirus will be on the decline and the US election will no longer be an issue. We can then get together on the one matter that should concentrate all our minds and separate the wheat from the chaff because there is some said that is wrong that muddies the waters, and leads the politicians to make incorrect decisions. But change is around us.

Climate is a highly complex issue, arguably the most complicated, that not all the modelling can get right, but study must go on. It is strange that it has only come to our notice since the population of the world over the past 60 years, has increased dramatically from approaching 3 billion to 8 billion. Mankind has thus significantly increased breeding himself, and thus his use of natural resources, for example cutting down trees, which need carbon dioxide to live, and vastly increased the pollution of the seas and the seas cover 70% of the planet. It has only been in comparatively recent times that we have started to pay attention to the seas and are alarmed at what we see.

However, we have the tools to put things right. We just need the will and ability to spend money wisely.

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Americas

A Disintegrating Trump Administration?

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If Donald J. Trump wanted a historic presidency, he certainly seems to have achieved it — he is now the only president to have been impeached twice.

According to the rules, the House impeaches followed by a trial in the Senate.  There is precedent for the trial to continue even when the office holder has left office.  Should that trial result in conviction, it prevents him from seeking any future elected office.  Conviction is unlikely, however, as it requires a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

It has been reported that Trump wanted to lead the crowd in the march to the Capitol, but was dissuaded from doing so by the Secret Service who considered it much too dangerous and could not guarantee his safety.

Various sources attest that Trump’s mind is focused on pardons including himself and his family members.  Whether it is legal for him to pardon himself appears to be an unresolved question.  But then Trump enjoys pushing the boundaries of tolerated behavior while his businesses skirt legal limits.

He appears to have been greatly upset with his longtime faithful vice-president after a conversation early on the day of the riot.  As reported by The New York Times, he wanted Mike Pence to overturn the vote instead of simply certifying it as is usual.  The certification is of course a formality after the state votes already certified by the governors have been reported.  Pence is reputed to have said he did not have the power to do so.  Since then Trump has called Vice President Pence a “pussy” and expressed great disappointment in him although there are reports now that fences have been mended.

Trump’s response to the mob attacking the Capitol has also infuriated many, including lawmakers who cowered in the House chamber fearful for their lives.  Instead of holding an immediate press conference calling on the attackers to stop, Trump responded through a recorded message eight hours later.  He called on his supporters to go home but again repeated his claims of a fraudulent election.

Aside from headlining the US as the laughingstock among democracies across the world, the fall-out includes a greater security risk for politicians.  Thus the rehearsal for Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed raising questions about the inauguration itself on January 20th.

Worse, the Trump White House appears to be disintegrating as coordination diminishes and people go their own way.  Secretary of State Pompeo has unilaterally removed the curbs on meeting Taiwanese officials put in place originally to mollify China.  If it angers China further, it only exacerbates Biden’s difficulties in restoring fractured relationships. 

Trump is causing havoc as he prepares to leave the White House.  He seems unable to face losing an election and departing with grace.  At the same time, we have to be grateful to him for one major policy shift.  He has tried to pull the country out of its wars and has not started a new one.  He has even attempted the complicated undertaking of peace in Afghanistan, given the numerous actors involved.  We can only hope Biden learned enough from the Obama-Biden administration’s disastrous surge to be able to follow the same path.

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Americas

Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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