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America's global hegemony « Previous | |Next »
January 6, 2006

When the cold war ended in the 1990s there were many who expected that the fall of Soviet communism would enhance American power, which they welcomed with much hype about the end of history. Some even talked in terms of history has given America an imperial role, that an imperial reality should dominate US foreign policy, that the US is the final guarantor of global security and that it is engaged in policing the world. A few even signed up to empire as some sort of grand messianic adventure.

What has happened a decade latter is that the actual effect of the end of the cold war has been to reduce to US power in the world of nations. This quote by John Gray says it well:

The cold war was not the kind of competition that could have a winner. It could have only one loser---the USSR, with its enormous military-industrial rustbelt, stagnant economy, and devastated environment. The true beneficiary is not America but Asia. The Soviet collapse quickened the pace of globalization, which is enabling China and India to become great powers whose interests may conflict with those of the United States. The era of Western primacy is coming to a close. It is this fact more than any other that precludes the formation of an American Empire and rules out any prospect of the United States being accepted as a de facto world government.

Well said. That creates difficulties for Australia, as the Howard Government signed up to the American empire to the extent of becoming its deputy sheriff in the Asia Pacific region. Yet China is increasingly becoming Australia's main trading partner, whilst the much hyped Australia-US Free Trade Agreement is turning out to be a fizzer.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:05 AM | | Comments (3)


Soviet disintegration may have had the effect of weakening the US economically by indirectly increasing pace of globalisation however by that time western capitalism had already discovered cheap Chinese labour and a Chinese government willing to open itself up to foreign investment.

In recent years the west has expended quite a bit of effort in attempting to clean up a lot of the baggage left over by the cold war. The best work to date has been performed by the EU in assisting many of the former Warsaw pact countries transform themselves into open market liberal democracies, respectful of human rights, free speech and freedom of the individual. It has taken a lot of effort in carrying out reforms to the political, industrial, judicial and civil institutions of these nations in order to bring them up to EU standards.

In our region the Americans have not been as successful. Today the Govt’s of the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand can hardly be considered liberal democracies in the western sense even though the US has exercised hegemony over these countries for the past 40 years. All of them are mired in graft and corruption and have poor human rights records.

40 years of Marcos’ despotic rule left a legacy of graft and corruption which is still very much prevalent in the Philippines to this day. This is the man who in 1983 had the then opposition leader Aquino arrested and brutally shot dead by the military at the airport on his return from exile in 1983. In the 2004 presidential elections, incumbent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was taped phoning the elections commissioner in order to influence the outcome of the vote. The President also faced allegations that her son and brother-in-law, both politicians, received kickbacks from illegal gambling operators. Enough said, not surprisingly the 30-year-old Communist and Islamic insurgencies continue to wreak havoc over much of the archipelago. Often heard is the statement “the Philippines is a country in search of a revolution”.

30 years of oppressive autocratic rule by Suharto backed by both Australia and the US Govts ruined the chances Indonesia had of ever developing into a strong liberal democracy. On coming to power in 1965 Suharto instigated an anti-communist purge killing an estimated half a million Indonesians. An official CIA report called the purge "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century."
In 1975 fearing the establishment of another ‘Cuba’ together with the menacing threat of Soviet naval bases right on Australia’s doorstep, both Aust and US Govts gave the nod to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Its mission was to prevent the forces of the Marxist revolutionary front Fretilin from taking power in East Timor following the civil war that proceeded the departure of the long time colonial ruler Portugal. Unfortunately some Aust investigative journalists reporting on the civil war lost their lives as a result of the invasion. Suharto not wanting to miss another opportunity to kill more communists probably gave the miliary the instructions to eliminate all Fretilin and their sympathisers. The Aust journalists were probably arrested then shot for this reason given that they had been hanging out with Fretilin militia units for some time before their capture. The same thing happened in 1972 during Pinochet’s bloody coup in Chile where a number of American and Spanish nationals were arrested then murdered by the military for the same reason. Aust has redeemed itself in some respects by assisting the UN establish democratic Govt and institutions in East Timor following its independence from Indonesia in 1999. I would argue that Aust has been acting as a regional deputy for the US since atleast the 1960’s, both overtly and clandestinely fighting the cold war in regions such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. Back then the bogeyman was Communism, today it's militant Islam.
Today the Indonesian Govt has its hands full trying to suppress the forces militant Islam and it certainly hasn’t been helped by the western invasions of two Islamic countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. Australians have been killed, this time due to terrorist bombings in Bali. The Aust Govt is reluctant to advise against travel to Indonesia fearing that the loss of income from tourism would adversely affect the Indonesian economy thus causing further instability for the Govt there.

Anyone familiar with Thailand will know that the country has suffered at the hands of successive American backed autocratic milliary Govts until recent times. A form of phoney democracy exists today where the military still has great influence in the country’s executive decision making. Through graft and corruption they maintain large financial interests in the prostitution, construction and tourism industries.

It’s true that significant reforms have been made in these countries since the end of the cold war however even the hegemonic power the US would admit that it’s difficult to eliminate the forces corruption, graft and militarism to which they gave a free hand and allowed to become entrenched in these countries during the cold war. Many would argue that these reforms have simply built a democratic façade with the miliary consigning itself to a strong and powerful background role in the country’s affairs.

China? Authoritaian non-democratic Govt, no freedom of speech, or of association, or of religion, poor human rights, weak on minority rights, etc, etc. Should we allow politics and ethics get in the way of business?

another great analysis.One that highlights the tensions between the brutal mechanics of imperial rule, and the ideological commitment of the United States to liberal and democratic values.

I would argue that the real turning point in recent global history was not the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, but the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The post-Cold War environment of newly independent, but economically parlous states opened the way for the United States, as an unrivalled global power, to extend its strategic control of oil reserves, and to enhance its tactical, geo-political presence.

From what I can make of what has been going after the Cold War is that the US Empire speaks the language of liberal values and free trade but shows itself reluctant to conquer and hold territory, preferring a strategy of relatively quick intervention and regime change (eg.,Iraq).

I guess the new born imperialists would say that the United States must intervene with sufficient force, and remain firmly in occupation for as long as it takes to ensure that domestic liberal institutions and a free market are well and truly secured.

It never fails to surprise me that people fail to mention that having 2 super powers was actually good for the USA. The reason being, that they had competition, that made them strive to do better. A good example of this was the space race, USSR put the first man in space, so the US reacts with a plan to put a man on the moon.

With the dismantling of the USSR, the USA has become complacent, it no longer leads the world in science research, with countries such as Singapore and Sth Korea leading the way in areas uch as stem cell research.

Expect this to change, once China becomes more dominant in the global economy, also it just may revive the old commie paranoia of the cold war too.