America as European Hegemon

America as European Hegemon

Mini Teaser: Despite broad acceptance of the view that the United States has been an "offshore balancer" with regard to Europe over the past several decades, the facts don't fit the theory--the facts of the past dozen years most particularly.

by Author(s): Christopher Layne

In the short term, however, Paris and Berlin--supported by Russia--have lead the way in soft balancing to counter American hegemony. By using international organizations like the United Nations to marshal opposition to the United States, France and Germany--and similarly inclined powers such as Russia and China--are beginning to develop new habits of diplomatic cooperation to oppose Washington.

Similarly, it is likely that France and Germany (again, joined by Russia and China) will be more likely to cooperate in propping up key regional powers that might be the next targets in Washington's geopolitical gunsight. Iran is one such potential target. With Washington bidding for hegemony in the Persian Gulf region by establishing a protectorate over postwar Iraq, France and Germany--Russia and China, too-will have strong incentives for collaborating to ensure their own strategic and commercial interests in the region by building up, and supporting, Iran (and perhaps Syria) as a counter-weight to U.S. regional power. It was no coincidence, after all, that Dominique de Villepin showed up in Tehran within days after the fall of Baghdad.

AT THE END of the day, the most telling piece of evidence that the Iraq War marks a turning point in Transatlantic relations, and with respect to American hegemony, is this: Despite widespread predictions that they would fold diplomatically and acquiesce in a second UN resolution authorizing the United States and Great Britain to forcibly disarm fraq, Paris and Berlin (and Moscow) held firm. Rather than being shocked and awed by America's power and strong-arm diplomacy, they stuck to their guns--just as Britain and France did not do at Suez--and refused to fall into line behind Washington. What this shows, at the very least, is that it is easier to be Number One when there is a Number Two that threatens Numbers Three, Four, Five and so on. It also suggests that a hegemon so clearly defied is a hegemon on a downward arc.

Many throughout the world now have the impression that the United States is acting as an aggressive hegemon engaged in the naked aggrandizement of its own power. The notion that the United States is a "benevolent" hegemon has been shredded. America is inviting the same fate as that which has overtaken previous contenders for hegemony. In the sweep of history, the Bush Administration will not be remembered for conquering Baghdad, but for a policy that galvanized both soft and hard balancing against American hegemony. At the end of the day, what the administration trumpets as "victory" in the Persian Gulf may prove, in reality, to have pushed NATO into terminal decline, given the decisive boost to the political unification of Europe (at least the most important parts of it), and marked the beginning of the end of America's era of global preponderance.

*The seminal work of the "Open Door" school, of course, is 'William Appleman Williams' The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New York: Delta, 1962). Williams' work has acted as a powerful stimulus that produced a broad body of historical scholarship that both built upon, and refined, the Open Door interpretation. When read as a whole, it encompasses economics, ideology, national interest and security as key factors in shaping U.S. grand strategy--and underscores their interconnectedness.

** In notes prepared for Secretary of State George Marshall, Kennan argued that the Marshall Plan was necessary for two reasons, the first of which was "so that they can buy from us." The second reason was "so that they will have enough self-confidence to withstand outside pressures." Memorandum Prepared by the Policy Planning Staff, July 21, 1947, FRUS 1947,III, p. 335.

* Referring to NATO and the EGSC, Secretary of State Dulles observed, "These represent important unifying efforts, but it cannot be confidently affirmed that these organizations are clearly adequate to ensure against a tragic repetition of the past where the Atlantic community, and particularly Western Europe, has been torn apart by internecine struggles." He then underscored the need for even greater unity within the Atlantic Community, not simply to meet the Soviet threat, but "forms of unity and integration which would preserve the West from a continuance of internal struggles which have been characteristic of its past." U.S. Delegation at North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting to Dept. of State, May 5, 1956, FRUS 1955-57, IV, pp. 68-9.

* As Secretary of State Rusk said, "If Europe were ever to be organized so as to leave us outside, from the point of view of these great issues of policy and defense, it would become most difficult for us to sustain our present guarantee against Soviet aggression. We shall not hesitate to make this point to the Germans if they show signs of accepting any idea of a Bonn-Paris axis." Rusk to the Embassy in France, May 18, 1963, FRUS 1961-63, XIII, p. 704.

* The two classic elaborations are Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987).

Christopher Layne is a visiting fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He is writing a book on America's hegemonic grand strategy for Cornell University Press.

Essay Types: Essay