This recession is only a blip on the timeline of the American empire.
By ARIEL BAUMPublished: SEPTEMBER 1, 2009 21:53Advertisement
Last year I found myself in Crete for a summer semester focused on conflict management with students from the Middle East and the Balkans. It happened to be the peak of the US economic crisis. Through lessons on the collapse of empires from Ibn Khaldun and Samuel P. Huntington, we discovered that internal and external rivalries eventually caused even the greatest empires to crumble once they were no longer financially able to maintain their superiority.
This led many of the students to foresee the decline of American political and economic dominance. However, those who fear the end of Euro-Atlantic world governance and a global economic meltdown can rest assured; this recession is only a blip on the timeline of American empire.
But why is it that countries who are ideological competitors of the United States have so much to lose in a US decline? Communist China, an ideological rival to Western liberal democracies, holds an estimated $2 trillion in foreign reserves and is the US's largest creditor, having bought more than $1 trillion of its debt. Saudi Arabia, a cultural and religious rival of the US, supports US foreign policy in the Middle East, allowing US troops to operate from Saudi air bases during both Gulf wars. Saudi Arabia supports US peace initiatives between the Israelis and Palestinians. Venezuela's biggest oil purchaser is not Iran, a major gasoline importer and its principle ally, but the US.
THE REASON these cultural, religious and ideological rivals of the US adhere to Euro-Atlantic international norms is because of an intricate and carefully developed network of economic, political and military institutions established by the US. As the sole surviving industrialized power of both world wars, the US found itself in a unique position to safeguard its supremacy. A collection of international organizations was established, with the US assuming the leading role.
The World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations Security Council and North Atlantic Treaty Organization are a formidable collection of "members' only" financial and political institutions that ensure US hegemony. The US has the primary authority to bestow membership on countries that it deems fit and that support its policies.
The IMF, with its headquarters in Washington, has always been headed by an official from Western Europe - America's primary trading partner and most important military ally. The World Bank, also situated in Washington, is always directed by an American. The UN headquarters is in New York City and its Security Council's permanent members are the US, its two closest allies - the UK and France - Russia and China. It holds the power to veto any substantive resolution, as the it often does, having vetoed close to 50 anti-Israel resolutions in support of its principal Middle Eastern ally. All of the most substantial international organizations' policies derive either directly from the White House or from a combined US/allied policy.
Political and military supremacy is ensured via the Security Council and NATO, but the most important safeguard toof American dominance is in the world financial and monetary systems. The paramount aim of the World Bank, IMF and WTO is to perpetuate the liberalization of world economic markets. It has never been the fostering of growth in developing countries. This has created a global system of economic interdependence subject to US control.
ACCORDING TO Adam Smith, the bigger and more diverse a market, the more chance it has for specialization and mass production. It is also true that in a global economy based on free trade, the biggest and most diverse economy has the most to gain and the most to lose from protectionism. The problem with the economies in developing countries is that they often become completely reliant on a single product or commodity. These countries do not possess the resources to invest in capital- or technology-intensive industries and are forced to specialize in the comparative advantages they already possess - mostly agriculture and labor-intensive manufacturing.
This is why developing countries are not able to diversify and achieve competitive economic growth. Developing countries that are successful in doing so are only able to it once they agree to play by the rules of the game set by the international financial institutions. However, when a country directly challenges America, it faces exclusion from the network of global institutions and crippling economic sanctions. Iran and North Korea come to mind.
The US also dedicates trillions of dollars and resources to prop up and invest in countries that were seen as either current or future strategic partners. Along with political and military support, Israel is the number one recipient of US aid. Western Europe achieved unprecedented growth during the Marshall Plan due to the approximately $17 billion - a staggering $120 billion in today's terms - it received. Japan had the luxury of industrialization in a volatile region under a US security umbrella. African countries, on the other hand, receive relatively little aid, as they do not share liberal values with the US and are not seen as viable strategic partners.
The American empire is far more stable than previous empires, as it is not solely reliant on a heavy handed foreign policy. Although US military prowess is exercised regularly, its stability is based on the network of international organizations. A global interdependent economy based on the notion of free trade ensures its dominance. The safety of the American empire is anchored by the powerful incentives other actors have to perpetuate the system, to either adhere to US policy or face severe economic sanctions and exclusion from the world political and economic arena. This intricate network of institutions forces even the cultural and religious rivals of the US to play by its rules. Thus Pax-Americana is far from being on the decline.
After serving in the IDF's Nahal Reconnaissance Unit, the writer graduated with a BA in government from the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. He lives and works in Kibbutz Sasa.
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