Context: Large number of simultaneous ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Middle East (Israel-Palestine) and the South China Sea, where in China-Russia-Iran are challenging the USA in different theatres is questioning the American grand strategy.
The question is that whether will over-stretched and fatigued in responding to these conflicts, which will further demonstrate to the world about the fall of American Hegemony and primacy in the world affairs.
Decline of American Hegemony and Primacy in the world
- Rise of China (Economic, Political & Strategic): The rise of China’s economic, military and strategic capabilities has helped bridge the power differential between both the countries. China is the world’s second largest economy and has the second largest military. China has emerged as the overwhelming challenger to the US led system.
- Rise of Anti-America Coalitions of China, Russia and Iran: Growing closeness among China, Russia and Iran have been challenging the USA’s interests in the different theatres of Indo-pacific, Europe and Middle East. They together have been able to challenge and stretch USA.
- Lapses on part of America’s moral hegemony: USA’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan lacked moral authority. These regime-change policies displayed that USA’s unilateral policies were unwelcome by much of the developing world.
- Decline of American economic primacy: Despite being the largest global economy, US enjoys relatively less power in the global economic architecture. This is visible from the emergence of G20 as the primary global economic agenda body replacing the G7. More and more global economy is being decentralized with Asia being the driver of global economy.
- Unable to tackle global challenges: Despite being the global hegemon, USA’s attitude towards global challenges such as terrorism, pandemic, climate change has been not very assuring. President Trump took the US out of the Paris Climate Deal; USA did not collaborate on providing waiver for COVID-vaccines. This has given space for other countries to rise to the occasion.
- Rise of Middle Powers: Middle powers such as India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, South Korea have emerged as important players in the global politics. These actors are swing states in great power politics and enjoy considerable regional dominance. The US thus must coordinate with these actors and not dominate or dictate them. Thus, constraining US space to operate.
- Emerging differences in US-Led Order and groupings such as NATO: The trans-Atlantic partnership which was the essence of US’s foreign policy has been strained due to increasing US expectation of Europe taking extra steps militarily and financially to aid and limit Russia in the European Region. Also, the differences between UK and EU and between the EU countries over the policy towards Russia have made NATO and EU less effective.
- Deep polarization in American politics compromising domestic consensus over global issues:
- There is a growing lack of consensus over foreign policy issues in the domestic US policy.
- President Trump actively argued for an isolationist foreign policy as external military participation led to overwhelming costs which the American exchequer paid.
- On Ukraine, Recently, USA Congress dropped the aid package supporting Ukraine. Some sections of the Republic Party have been arguing against the unending support for Ukraine and concentrating more on balancing China as more desirable USA foreign policy goal. These sections have been asking the European countries to take more responsibility in helping Ukraine preserve its sovereign existence.
- Slowing economic growth and deglobalization
- Energy security following the shale revolution.
- Fatigue with long stretched military commitments in the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria
This somewhat perceived and real decline of the hegemony and primacy of USA has further emboldened countries like Russia, China, and Iran to challenge the US led world order.
Testimony Of USA’s Continued Dominance
However, despite the decline the US remains the overwhelming most powerful country of the world. The testimony to the overwhelming power and hegemony of USA despite some transformation in US policy is visible through these instances:
- In Europe: Finland and Sweden, two traditionally neutral countries joined the NATO as a guarantee of their security against the aggressive tactics of Russia.
- In Asia:
- USA has convinced a hitherto pacifist Japan to increase its military expenditure to counter China and promoted the normalization of ties between Japan & South Korea. (to address China’s aggressiveness against Japan).
- Expanded military support to Taiwan to make it costly for China to invade the island.
- USA has renewed its defence pact with Philippines and has signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement with Vietnam. (both countries at the receiving end of China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea)
- USA has entered partnership with the UK and Australia to empower Australian Navy with nuclear submarines.
- Strengthening of the QUAD Partnership involving USA, Japan, Australia, and India to balance China in the Asia-Pacific region.
- In Middle East:
- USA has aimed to make bridges between Israel and the Arab world in the form of Abraham Accords, wherein, UAE and Bahrain have accepted normalization of relations with Israel. A similar pact is being negotiated between Saudi Arabia.
- USA has floated groupings such as I2U2 and IMEC Corridor for the economic growth and multilateral cooperation in the middle east region.
- Just after the recent Israel-Palestine conflict, US President Biden visited Israel to establish peace.
Factors Behind Continued Dominance Of USA
- Ability to forge coalitions: A remarkable advantage the US enjoys the system of alliances that Russia and China are still aiming to build. Recent, US policy has focused on widening the array of traditional allies with which the US coordinates and acts globally to maintain its hegemony. For ex. US has aimed to bring countries wary of China (Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam, Philippines etc.) under its fold and enhanced the deterrent against China in the region.
- Military superiority: USA is the overwhelming military superpower in the world. USA’s military expenditure alone is more than the combined expenditure of next 10 countries, including China and India. USA has ability to project its military superiority which is unmatchable by any other country. For ex. After the rise of tensions between Israel and Palestine, US deployed two aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
- Strength of US establishment to rise above domestic politics and pursuit the USA’s national interests.
- Economic superiority: Despite the relative decline in of the US economy vis-a-vis China, US continues to be the largest economy in the world with a share of 24%. The eminent slowdown of the Chinese economy due to structural reasons means that the USA will continue to have a lead over China’s economy in the foreseeable future.
- Geographical Isolation: The location of US which is separated by Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean from both China and Russia allows the US to take a detached view of the balance of power dynamics playing out in the Asia and Europe. This allows the US to shift its policies and exploit the contradictions in the growing closeness between China and Russia. For ex. In the 1970s, US exploited the contradictions between Russia and China.
- Agenda setting: Despite the ever-growing closeness of China and Russia, US continues to have more leverage than other powers with both Israel and the Arabs. Thus, there is no doubt that US continues to have more power to shape the regional and global agenda.
- Technological superiority: US companies and military establishment define the cutting edge of technologies. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook dominate the world in software. In the military sphere, US companies like Boeing, General Electric etc. are at the cutting edge of military technology.
- Knowledge superiority: US attracts the brightest individuals globally. Also, US dominates the global R&D expenditure and patent filing in the world. This gives the power to US to dominate the knowledge systems and cutting-edge technologies.
- Looking beyond democracies: USA has been traditionally invested in promoting democracies in the world and working closely with them. However, recently USA has showed its ability to show a realist bend and work with all countries which have diverse political systems provided they abide by the UN Charter.
Despite the growing challenge to USA hegemony by Russia, China and Tehran combine, USA continues to have the resources and will for continue geopolitical maneuver and pursue its dominance and national interest.