The End of American Hegemony

A Most Honorable, Honest, and Forthright Man Unknown to Many

Many political scientists in this decade are wrestling with the notion that the United States’ hegemonic power is in steep decline or completely stagnate altogether. With the current status of the nation and the many problems that have stemmed from the irresponsibility of its’ actions the strength of the United States hegemony is undoubtedly dwindling. We can make various observations ranging from all different aspects that show the United States’ hegemonic force is beyond repair and will not be resurrected. Although the desperate struggles by the U.S. government to demonstrate their unwillingness to accept the fact are admirable and at some points not without good intention, the American hegemonic power is out dated and broken.

In the early 1950’s the United States rose to power as the elite world hegemonic power. After World War II, major economic powers had to cut deep into their own pockets in order to pay for their war retributions and re-build devastated countries and economies. England, France, Germany and Japan were all on the brink of complete destruction at this moment in time, and the United States used this to their advantage. Even though the U.S. participated in the war itself, the extent of the battles never reached the mainland, which kept the nation’s infrastructure in tact. This unbelievable power continued on from the 1950’s until the later part of the 1970’s. In this era, The Bretton Woods agreement made the USD the center of the Global Economy and was made the by default the official internationally traded currency. The USD was the only currency that could be created at great magnitude and keep the faith of foreign investors due to it’s worth and versatility in the world market (Krasner 187). The top ten banks in the world were American owned making the U.S. the largest world creditor. The U.S. was the number one destination for foreign direct investment and during these two decades the U.S. was also able to sustain the highest level of growth in its’ economy (Bartilow Lecture). These features made the U.S. the undisputed hegemonic state in the world at that moment in time. Almost every financial decision made in regards to international trade came through the United States. The U.S. also set up various regimes: the GATT (The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, now the WTO), The International Monetary Fund (IMF), and a slew of other international regimes affiliated with the United Nations (Lake 121).

As the effects of World War II started to wear of the United States slowly lost the drastic gap in power they enjoyed. From the 1960’s to the mid 1970’s, countries such as Japan, The former Soviet Union and what was then West Germany were increasing their military and financial capabilities at a higher rate than the United States. This causes the first quandary when we explore the United States’ hegemonic decline, because the hegemon must be very powerful in relation to other states in order to retain its’ power (Krasner 185). The status of U.S. global power since the early 1980’s has been in a steady downturn. Currently the US dollar is relatively weak when compared to the currencies of major global trading partners. This makes it harder to make a credible argument as to why the USD should remain as the default trading currency when others have a far better argument for taking the title such as the EU’s Euro (EUR) or the Japanese Yen (¥). The U.S. has now gone from being the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor. This has caused one of the most significant reductions in American power. It is very difficult to sustain hegemony when you are obligated to other nations due to borrowed money rather than having other nations obligated to you. This significantly limits your options when concerning implementation of world policy that would give you certain advantages. Since 1986 the American BoP has been highly uneven when the U.S. began importing more than exporting which represented the commencement of the massive deficit that the U.S. government is dealing with now (Krasner 189). Most recently the U.S. has been plagued with an overwhelming amount of re-occurring crisis’ that have put economic growth in a slump, and the vast problems stemming from the current banking collapse. Certainly it would seem that the United States is lagging behind in financial performance due to poor construction of past policies that made the US the power that it was economically.

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The extent of these problems does not halt at the outstanding economic crisis alone. The U.S. is losing major advantages in education, infrastructure, innovation and healthcare. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries the U.S. was dissertating far more students with PhD’s than any other nation could come close to. Now the U.S. lead in that area of interest has been significantly narrowed and with the current trends in the U.S. education system, soon the top spot in PhD production will no longer exist in favor of the U.S. This could be a direct result due to the fact that the U.S. is no longer the home of the world’s most advanced and renown facilities for higher education, without a doubt lagging behind European and Asian universities. With regard to secondary education the U.S. is experiencing record numbers of youth that are illiterate and/or who are dropping out of school altogether. European and Asian systems for educating their young are now proving to be far superior from the under funded and out-dated ways of the American system (Bartilow Lecture).
In means of military, innovation and healthcare, there are problems that continue to rapidly spiral out of control as well. While the U.S. military might is still one of a kind, the events of 9-11 proved that there are still ways to strike inside the country’s boarders, later the American response to those acts made the hegemon look weaker than ever. Powerful foreign nations are rapidly improving military capabilities and are able to sustain a smaller and more cost efficient force than that of the larger, stretched out U.S. military. More than 45 million Americans remain with out healthcare. Unhealthy, untreated Americans cannot work since they are at home sick or injured, and not to forget that the U.S. is also home to one of the most unhealthy fast food diets in the world. These two separate problems don’t mix well in the long run, when most of the technological and medical innovation is being done else where around the globe, which will provide a serious financial burden when healthcare will soon be imported as well causing major problems for the current unhealthy American generation that will be yearning for medical treatment.

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However we can learn from past hegemonic states, all of which, withered away with time just as the American one is currently in the process of doing. Great Britain was perhaps the last true hegemon before that of the United States. Back in 1890 the collapse of their empire had just began. David A. Lake’s research on the issue is work that should be greatly analyzed due to the illustrious similarities between the British recession in to retirement and the United States’ as well. For much of the 19th century Great Britain was dominating in the same fields as the U.S. did so in the 1950’s through the late 1970’s. Soon in the later 1800’s The United States and Germany moved to a protectionist system to plant their economic seeds and soon after were surpassing British industries and abilities. The industrial base of Great Britain crumbled and forced them to invest heavily in the service, shipping and insurance sectors of the economy just to break-even when concerning their balance of payment statistics. For the time being the British were able to carry on with the pound as the dominant world currency. The frail system was already on the thinnest of ice, when WWI confounded the weak British economy (Lake 122). At the time of Great Britain’s reign of power they also pursued operations to completely open up and liberalize the world economy. This did lead to substantial brief economic abundance but eventually the struggles of remaining a strong enough power to be considered an absolute hegemon wore off. Hegemonic powers are only sustainable during periods of constant economic growth. When growth is no longer the complete and utter status of the hegemony’s economic functionality the power ceases to be consistent. We see this to be the case with Great Britain, as other world powers emerged and caught up in terms of economic status and influence, British power that was exerted was much more explicit and coercive, just like it was during the American hegemonic era under President Nixon (Lake 121). It is safe to say that the U.S. is headed down the same path that will eventually end up being the ultimate de-throning of the American empire and it’s hegemonic capabilities. If you think back to all the complications that the United States is experiencing in this very moment concerning obvious financial difficulties and others in the areas of education, technological innovation and healthcare respectively. Other nations have clearly started their own catch up phase and are impeding on American power as we speak. The irony between the situations leading up to the collapse of the British hegemonic state and the current burdens that are being placed upon a contemptuous American hegemon are too similar for coincidence. It took the disaster of WWI to finally destabilize the British hegemon and the United States is one major crisis away from experiencing the same fate (Bartilow Lecture).

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Since the loss of British power it is noticed that Great Britain was never able to rise again to re-capture the hegemonic position. This may go on to show us, what the American empire will look like fifty years from now. The U.S. will have to become much more of a team player in the new world economy after realizing the impossible responsibilities as the hegemonic power. As the international economic system has continued to transform it does not appear that another hegemonic state will rise anyway. The playing field is equal on almost all fronts between the world’s superpowers and with terms of transportation and advanced communication there is hardly any information that is secret as far as technological innovation is concerned. As for the United States, the elements that sprung the U.S. into hegemonic power are far outdated and literally impossible to re-create with the absence of a WWIII and due to the ever more inter-connected world economy it would be even more impossible for the United States to live through another world war with it’s weak public and private domestic sectors, a flimsy currency when matched up against others, and without any real way of manufacturing goods for export with an ever increasing un-educated work force.

Note: All information from Dr. Bartilow’s lectures were taken from the sessions between 01.15.09 – 01.30.09
Special Thanks: Dr. Stephen A, Krasner, Dr. Robert Lake and Dr. Horace A. Bartilow



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