To improve your visit to our site, take a minute and upgrade your browser. A Marxist-led rebel coalition overthrows a Soviet satellite regime in Ethiopia. Whom do both sides call upon to mediate, to arrange terms of the rebel takeover, and to support the new government? The United States.
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To improve your visit to our site, take a minute and upgrade your browser. A Marxist-led rebel coalition overthrows a Soviet satellite regime in Ethiopia.
Whom do both sides call upon to mediate, to arrange terms of the rebel takeover, and to support the new government? The United States. Boris Yeltsin becomes the first freely elected leader of Russia in 1, years. What is his first destination? Chinese students, Kurdish rebels, Bangladeshi disaster victims seek aid and succor. To whom do they turn? We live in a unipolar world. The old bipolar world of the cold war has not given birth to the multipolar world that many had predicted and some insist exists today.
It has given birth to a highly unusual world structure with a single power, the United States, at the apex of the international system. Multipolarity will come in time.
But it is decades away. Germany and Japan were to be the pillars of the new multipolar world. Their paralysis in the face of the Gulf crisis was dramatic demonstration that economic power does not inevitably translate into geopolitical power.
We have today no lack of second-rank powers. Germany and Japan are obvious economic powers. Britain and France are able to deploy diplomatic and, in some cases, military assets around the world. The Soviet Union possesses several elements of power — military, diplomatic, and political — but all are in rapid decline.
There is no prospect in the immediate future of any power to rival the United States. This situation is almost unknown in the history of the modern nation-state: and come to mind, but even then the preeminent power was faced with at least one rival of roughly equal strength. But the new structure of the international order has nothing to do with the Persian Gulf.
It is a direct result of the collapse of the Soviet empire. The end of the cold war changed the structure of the world. The Gulf war merely revealed it. And in doing so it exploded two myths about the current international system. Some have misinterpreted the war as reinforcing the first myth, the myth of multilateralism.
That victory is said to be an example of a new era of collective security, of the indispensability of coalition politics, of the resurgence of the U. This is pious nonsense. The Gulf war was an example of pseudo-multilateralism. The United States recruited a ship here, rented a brigade there, bought with skillfully deployed sticks and carrots the necessary U. The Gulf was no more a collective action than was Korea, still the classic case of pseudo-multilateralism.
Would not any great power? Would not France if given the chance? But Americans insist on the multilateral pretense. But to many Americans it matters. It is thus largely for domestic reasons that American political leaders make sure to dress up unilateral action in multilateral clothing. The danger, of course, is that they may ultimately come to believe their own pretense. The second myth most recently exploded is the myth of American decline.
Well, in the United States engaged in a war with North Korea. It lasted three years, cost 54, American lives, and ended in a draw. Forty-one years later the United States engaged in a war with Iraq, a country of comparable size. It lasted six weeks, cost American lives, and ended in a rout.
If the Roman empire had declined at that rate, you would be reading this in Latin. But, say the declinists, you cannot compare the two wars. That is precisely the point. In the s our adversaries had strategic depth. They had the whole Communist world behind them. That is why we were not able to prevail in Vietnam and Korea. In , with the cold war won, our great adversaries are in retreat.
The enemies we do encounter today, like Saddam, have to face us on their own. The difference between Korea and Iraq lies in the fact that in the interim the cold war was won and the world became unipolar. Now, the response of Americans to this extraordinary state of international affairs is decidedly unenthusiastic.
Americans do not enjoy their hegemony. They can rouse themselves for a one-day parade to celebrate the most lopsided military victory since Agincourt, but even that merriment, which elicited considerable editorial grumbling about hubris and expense, seemed a bit forced.
Of all the great imperial powers, America is probably the least imperially minded. Britain and France, at their height, would have stayed in the Gulf after such an extraordinary military victory to rearrange the map and establish themselves as hegemons. The United States, in contrast, could not wait to get out and go home.
That is the American way. Americans are endlessly resourceful in trying to escape the responsibilities that history has placed on their shoulders. But even during the years of cold war engagement, a significant element, sometimes a majority, of the American intelligentsia counseled abdication.
Having won the latest war to end all wars, there were calls in Congress for huge and immediate cuts, up to 50 percent, in defense expenditures. Six months later we got our answer. It took Saddam to remind us that the world is a nasty place, even without the Soviet threat. Americans do not appreciate the reminder. Hence the determined search for evasions to escape our superpower responsibilities. There are two principal modes of evasion.
The first, on the rise before the Gulf war, and now in embarrassed but only temporary retreat, is old-style isolationism. With the end of the cold war, native American isolationism, always a powerful political undercurrent, is beginning to reassert itself openly. This neoisolationism, like its interwar forebear, has two factions. The more well known, left isolationism, is a child of Vietnam. The holiday is over.
This overt borrowing is a clear sign that left and right strains of isolationism will produce alliances that will confound ideological distinctions. It is true that left isolationism refuses to engage the world because it fears that America will corrupt the world, whereas right isolationism refuses to engage the world because it fears that the world will corrupt America. But as the Soviet threat recedes into history, ideological lines among isolationists will blur. After all, on the left, those who were propelled toward isolationism by Vietnam much of the Democratic Party are already there.
New converts to isolationism will come from the right, now that the anti-Communist emergency is over. Isolationism is the first and the most obvious means of escape from the burdens of the new world order. The other, more subtle, means is multilateralism.
Rather than say, Come home America, the multilateralist says, Stay engaged but let someone else do the real work. That someone else is the Organization of American States, collective security, the Security Council, or some other multilateral invention. Let them police the world. We want out. Multilateralism is fine. It provides cover for what are essentially unilateral American actions. But it carries two dangers. The first is that we will mistake the illusion — world opinion, U.
And that we will assume that if we dispense with the real thing, the illusion will get us where we mean to go. It will not. The second danger is that multilateralism will become a fetish. If it becomes an end in itself, the need to nurture it can become a hindrance to the exercise of real power. Before the war, for example, many in Congress argued against undertaking any military actions on the grounds among others that it might jeopardize the grand coalition that the president had assembled.
But the whole point of the coalition was to get Iraq out of Kuwait. If the coalition stood in the way of that end, it had to yield. To do otherwise would be to confuse ends and means. The ultimate problem with multilateralism is that if you take it seriously you gratuitously forfeit American freedom of action. You invite China and the Soviet Union, countries indifferent when not hostile to our interests, to have a decisive say and even a veto over our interests and those of our friends.
Why should the preeminent power on the globe invite such a needless constraint on its action? Multilateralism is the isolationism of the internationalist.
The New Republic
Lonely Superpower or Unapologetic Hyperpower? Paper for presentation at the biennial meetings of the. South African Political Studies Association. Introduction A decade ago, a number of American scholars were engaged in a debate over whether the United States was going to be able to retain its hegemonic position in the international system.
The Lonely Superpower