Hegemonic Decline or Revival


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

In The Politics of United States Foreign Policy authors Jerel Rosati and James Scott put forth, “The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has resulted in a single, integrated international political economy of growing interdependence and complexity—commonly referred to as globalization” (2011, 44). Globalization has shifted the field of power politics to one that resembles a conglomeration of states and other actors who see economic interdependencies as a means of procuring self-determination. That is, the U.S.’s so-called hegemonic influence is vested in its ability to control economic cooperation within the international system. This cooperation is not guaranteed by states or other actors such as multinational corporations that consider their cooperation damaging or threatening to the furtherance of its own goals. The realist view holds that cooperation today does not guarantee cooperation tomorrow in a political climate characterized by anarchy, self-help behavior, and self-seeking motives.

It is important to note, as it is oft-times overlooked, military power is not all that is needed to claim hegemonic power. Still further, military might is only sustainable in that the one wielding it does not exhaust itself economically. So then, if we consider the economic position of the U.S. as declining, we must also consider the so-called hegemonic power it once enjoyed as declining.

Further, the U.S. has been considered a bully, by some. I do not endorse this label near as much as I consider it as a semi-effective means of considering the U.S. position of dominance. A simple analogy would be a school bully who thinks he has only three enemies but discovers otherwise once attacked by one of the three; 15 others recognize the opportunity to even the score and remind the bully of the past inflictions of fear and oppression once the weakness becomes evident. The U.S. currently finds itself in what Dr. Israeli codifies as the “unipolar trap” in which whatever decision it makes (moderate approaches to policy are considered a sign of weakness and aggressive policy approaches enflame dissent) will impact its status (Israeli 2013). A moderate approach to the Iraqi regime of Suddam Hussein during the Gulf War preceded the September 11 attacks, which in my opinion, warrants a decline in itself considering a history of external attacks. One might argue, didn’t the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan reverse the curse or the implications of declination? I would deduce an answer to whether or not the U.S.’s economic position has been strengthened or weakened since then. Furthermore, Rosati and Scott offer seven more types of conflicts beside terrorism that pose a threat to stability. One in particular, that I find crucial to my argument, is “economic competition and growing inequality between the rich and poor, around the globe and within regions and states” (2011, 45). To piggyback this notion, I postulate that the so-called hegemonic position of the U.S. cannot be stabilized or improving so long as these conflicts exist. Declination is the obvious alternative.

It is important to note that America has a “petroleum based economy” which is increasingly dependent on foreign oil” (Rosati and Scott 2011, p. 50). After the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, U.S. dependency on oil imports grew from 30% to approximately 70% by the twenty first century (Rosati and Scott 2011). How willing are American people to make adjustments to their lifestyle that could lower the current level of dependency? Does our current dependency on foreign oil and other strategic minerals prove irreversible? How do we avoid another embargo similar to the OPEC embargo of Arab oil exports in 1973 that could cause us to lose even more control of oil production?

I absolutely agree with Rosati and Scott’s assessment of Paul Kennedy’s (1987) declinist argument that, “Great powers that have risen to global prominence as a result of gains in economic and military power eventually experience decline in world affairs when their economies weaken and they engage in imperial overstretch” (2011, 47). In contrast, the “self-renewing genius” revivalist argument by Samuel Huntington (1988) reminded me sorely of the third myth extrapolated by Stephen Walt (2011) in Myths of American Exceptionalism; “America’s success is due to its special genius” (Walt 2010, 74). Walt soberly pointed out America’s rise could be just as easily considered “good fortune” as any measure of intelligently calculated steps it took from the beginning. The relevance of Walt’s article, to me, is that fantasizing on how exceptional America may actually be can effectively cloud the judgment of future decision making processes. It will undoubtedly take more than a rigid ego to sustain a position of such superior strength and the current position is one of incontrovertible decline.



Israeli, Dr. Ofer. The Unipolar Trap. April 2013. http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2013/0105/ca/israeli_unipolar.html (accessed March 10, 2014).

Rosati, Jerel A. and James M. Scott.  2011.  The Politics of United States  Foreign Policy.  5th ed. Independence, KY:  Wadsworth Publishing. (accessed March 05, 2014).

Walt, Stephen M. 2011. “The myth of American exceptionalism.” Foreign Policy no. 189:  72-75 (accessed March 14, 2014).




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