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American Power: The Reality of Plurality

Last week's New Yorker magazine has a wonderfully drawn out article about the changing nature of American power in the world. The article, by Fareed Zakaria, analyzes the shift from a bipolar international system with free democracy and repressive communism stuck in a 40 year staring contest to see who would blink their nuclear weapons first, to a system of unipolarity, but without the true nature of an all-encompassing unipolar actor.
Some amazing statistics prove the awesome power of America: "The United States military today is bigger, in dollars spent on it, than the militaries of the next largest fifteen countries combined—and those expenditures amount to only about four per cent of the country's gross domestic product." This is an amazing and unparalleled level of world dominance in terms of military might and global economic influence. The economic dwarfing continues: "The American economy is now larger than the next three largest economies—those of Japan, Germany, and Great Britain—combined." American power is unrivaled. Not since the rule of the great Roman emperors has a state had such overwhelming dominance in international relations. The difference between America and Rome, however, is that American power is based on freedom, liberty, and democracy, not subjegation, violence and brute force.
So why is America so despised by nations and peoples across the globe? If America is such a benevolent world leader why does it encounter such resistance in the form of terrorism or even simple European pussy-footing on international issues?
The answer is that American influence does not have an absolute majority of world power, but rather a plurality, and it is this struggle between the desire for a unilateral foreign policy based on majority power, and the truth of America's plurality on power which binds true hegemonic ambitions, that causes both the begrudged and annoyed attitudes of European allies, and the anti-American sentiment that is so prevalent from Tripoli to Manila and Damascus to Nairobi. With a true majority, a unilateral attack on Iraq could have been carried out a long time ago, and without the legal and diplomatic hassle of the U.N. American power would have done as it pleased and the rest of the world, while in complete disagreement, would have no ability to deter American intentions.
Throughout the summer, it appeared as if the Bush administration was preparing for just such a war. It strongly alluded to the idea that America would crush Iraq without the assistance or approval of the international community. Certainly this could have been done, and undoubtably would have resulted in an overwhelming defeat of the Iraqi army and Saddam Hussein's tyrannical oppressive regime. However, it would have come at a tremendous cost to American prestige and goodwill. Brashness would have cost America the friendship of nearly all the nations of the world, and would have made us isolationists, yet not by our own choosing.
Such a move would underestimate the influence of Joseph Nye's idea of "soft power". While the U.S. military is more than sufficient to crush several small nations simultaniously, it is not that sort of "hard power" that instills the positive aspects of American foreign policy in the "hearts and minds" of our nation's detractors. Instead, it is by the use of diplomacy and reasoned argument that other nations of the world will come to give the plurality of American power the support it needs to effectively wage a majority power war.
At this punctuated turning point in the history of international relations and conflict where the Cold War has left the world grasping for a new world order, a parliamentary model gives the best representation of the role of America and its allies: while America may hold a sizable proportion of world dominance, say 40%, it is by coalition with allies and partners that America earns the means to reach a majority of world support. Therefore, while America has a comparative advantage over every other nation in nearly every aspect of economic, political, social and military strength, absolute and unquestioned power remains just beyond the reach of the aspiring, benevolent, freedom-spreading superpower.
As a result, Bush has had to hassle his administration's policies with the complexities of the U.N. bureaucracy and has been forced to submit America's will to European, Russian and Chinese approval to gain that crucial 11% of world power that will give a mandate for America's will. While America's 40% will always mean a virtual monopoly on the direction of world prosperity, it is that other 11% that will make America either the world's pronounced savior or demonized global tyrant.
Only America can choose which image it will project on the people of the world. While unilateral action will certainly get the job done in any conflict the U.S. engages in, it will earn America the rebuke and scorn of states across the international political spectrum. To instill the image of a truely benevolent hegemon U.S. power must work with both its counterparts and allies and make the American will the mandate of the world. Only then will American power truely be able to make the world a Liberal utopia of freedom, liberty, and abundance.


  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:07:00 PM


Wednesday, October 16, 2002