The end of the Cold War ushered in a new period of unipolar American power. In this country, liberals and conservatives alike celebrated the triumph of market democracies under the leadership of the United States. The Clinton administration attempted to consolidate America’s geoeconomic power. The Bush administration attempted to consolidate America’s military and geopolitical power. And today, the Obama administration surveys the wreckage of these efforts to preserve a unipolar world. The global economy is in deep recession, and the United States is drowning under the costs of maintaining its post-Cold War empire. The chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan stands testament to the failures of our military pretensions.
Terence Edward Paupp, in his new book The Future of Global Relations, traces the downward trajectory of U.S. power and forecasts a very different future for the international community. In the first half of his book, which tackles international relations theory as well as real-world examples, Paupp describes the decline of U.S. hegemony. The United States has persuaded other countries to do its bidding not so much through naked imperial force as through the indirect application of economic, political, and military force. Our friends and allies, in other words, believe that they are acting in their own interests when they support the United States. Moreover, by setting the terms of the global economy and by maintaining the largest military in the world, the United States can exert control over countries with which it has only the barest of relations.
The American hegemon, Paupp argues, has been losing its legitimacy — and thus its power — for some time. The crisis in casino capitalism, the inability of the U.S. military to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq, and the declining legitimacy of the institutions (IMF, WTO) through which the United States has exerted hegemonic power have all contributed to a hollowing out of unipolarism (in much the same way that outsourcing has eroded U.S. manufacturing).
Rising regions are Paupp’s key to the future. Regional economic organizations (such as ASEAN), regional security organizations (such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization), hybrid regional formations (such as the European Union), and regional powers such as China, India, and Brazil have all challenged Washington’s preeminence. “As American hegemony declines,” he writes, “there shall be a corresponding rise in South-South regional alliances that will constitute, de facto, a new counter-hegemonic alliance against the U.S. Global Empire.”
This is not a new thesis, as Paupp himself admits. The Bandung conference that launched the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955 and the efforts of UNCTAD in the 1970s to launch a New International Economic Order both articulated a future of South-South cooperation. Two principal factors distinguish the current era, however. For one, human rights movements around the world have constrained the actions of rights-abusing states, both within their borders and transnationally. And second, social movements have become a powerful participant in international affairs, with efforts like the World Social Forum applying the state-centric concepts of Bandung and UNCTAD at a grassroots level.
Don’t expect an easy transition to this new world of rising regions, Paupp warns. Hegemons do not enthusiastically give up their privileges. And the experience of the Non-Aligned Movement, UNCTAD, and even the World Social Forum suggests that the future may well be just as contentious as the Pax Americana of the Cold War period.