The Dynamics of Global Power
by Ash Pulcifer
April 28, 2003
The United States has failed to persuade the world to support its quest for global hegemony. The belief that America is the "indispensable nation" that needs to continually expand its sphere of influence has been met with resistance from many, both inside and outside its borders. This failure of persuasion means that the U.S. will find it difficult to secure control around the world and instead will be met with challenges from other states claiming different ideologies, hoping to surmount the U.S. in global attractiveness and influence. Instead of continuing this failed attempt to remain a global hegemon, the U.S. should instead recognize the likelihood of its weakened future position and work to create empowered global institutions that could prevent one state from ever achieving too much power.
The battles fought between the great European states in the two world wars exemplified the need to restrain individual states from becoming rogue superpowers. After World War I, the League of Nations was created. This organization was not given enough power and it became obsolete with the bloodshed of the Second World War. After Hitler's and Hirohito's armies fell, the need for a restraining organization was felt once again. The United Nations was created in order to provide an effective tool for tempering the power of individual states.
While achieving many great humanitarian successes, the United Nations has largely failed in its other mission to check the power of dominant states. It was able to restrain weak states effectively, but due to its lack of a strong military or economic capability, powerful states simply ignored the decrees of the United Nations when they didn't suit their interests. Instead of the United Nations preserving world order after the fall of Germany and Japan, a fragile power balance developed from the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in the early '90s, it was finally time to see if the United Nations could fulfill its mandate to control world order. During its trial decade, the U.N. had a few notable successes, such as its prevention of Saddam Hussein from remaining in control of Kuwait; however, weak states felt that the United Nations was merely a handmaiden of the United States, a country whose economic and military power was so strong that it could manipulate individual member states to vote in its favor. But the U.N.'s major failures were most evident in its powerlessness to intercede in military disputes. Not intervening in the Rwandan genocide was one of the greatest tragedies of the 1990s and directly tarnished the reputation of the United Nations as an effective military force. Rwanda proved that in order for an organization like the U.N. to exist, it needed an independent military free from the restraints and policies of member states.
But it was not until the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that the U.N.'s true impotence was revealed. The inability of the U.N. to restrain the United States from attacking Iraq proves that the U.N. is completely incapable of enforcing resolutions that bind powerful states to international law. This inability, though already well known, is most evident in the U.N.'s decades-long failure to restrain Israel from its occupation of foreign lands. But the U.N.'s restraining inability in 2003 was magnified by the fact that the country the U.N. could not restrain was the all-powerful United States, ironically also a country that publicly cherishes the very ideals for which the U.N. stands.
The United States has almost always been an outspoken proponent of the U.N., often citing its resolutions as justifications for punishing a vile government. Yet in 2003, the U.S. showed that it now considers the U.N. to be only a servant of U.S. policy and that it's openly willing to defy the rulings of this international body that it, itself, helped to create. In doing so, the U.S. has weakened the United Nations and will indirectly cause less international cooperation and a higher potential for regional conflict.
The effects of this public disavowal have not yet begun to be seen. It will take time for states to reassess their interests and decide on how they will alter their national policies. But if the U.N. continues to be ignored by the United States, these states will be forced to alter their national policies, focusing less on international cooperation and more on strict national objectives; these states will no longer be able to achieve national objectives through the United Nations and will now have to take unilateral actions to secure their interests, as was done by the U.S. in Iraq.
The U.S., however, still has the possibility to mend the damage done to the U.N. If the Bush administration were to affirm unequivocally that the United Nations was needed to rebuild Iraq and was imperative for the creation of a future Iraqi government, it would restore the U.N.'s credibility. The United States would have to take a less hands on approach in Iraq's political, economic and military future; moreover, the U.S. could push for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed throughout all of Iraq, giving a real possibility that the Iraqi people would see the U.S. action as liberation rather than occupation. These actions would reassert the traditional U.S. belief in the importance of the United Nations as an effective force in world order.
The buttressing of the United Nations by the United States would work to protect U.S. interests in the future. It is true that the U.S. will be better able to achieve more narrow national objectives by circumventing the U.N., but this will only be possible in the short-term. Lacking the attraction necessary to be a global hegemon and weakening the power of other states through its rejection of the United Nations, other states will work to rival the U.S. in economic and military power. Like all great powers, the superiority of the United States will most likely become diminished in the future. Therefore, in order to secure long-term U.S. interests, the United States should work to reinforce the United Nations, or to create a new global body that will be able to restrain individual states effectively. While such an institution may damage some U.S. short-term interests, in the end it could help to protect the United States and other countries from major military conflicts.
As of now, however, there are no real signs that the Bush administration is interested in falling back on the traditional U.S. stance toward the United Nations. It is true that internationalists amongst the administration, such as Colin Powell, have sought to soften the anti-U.N. rhetoric coming from Pentagon officials like Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. But even the internationalists seem to be falling in line with the Bush Doctrine that calls for a more internationally proactive U.S., not necessarily working within the guidelines put forth by the United Nations.
If this waning influence of the United Nations continues along with a proactive U.S. on the international scene, there will be definite reactions throughout the world. Because states are not convinced of the American economic, political and societal models, they will react negatively toward hegemonic U.S. assertions and will work to limit the power of the United States. If these states cannot use the U.N. to limit the power of the U.S., they will use other means such as building alliances and increasing their economic independence from Washington. Finally, in order to protect their interests, they will pump more money into their militaries. Such a future does not bode well for an improved sense of world order that all humanity so desperately desires.