The last decade has known numerous bouncing and harmful events but the most important one was dedicated to the largest power in the International System.
On September 11th 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. No one could have ever imagined that it would be a turning point in the global politics. In response to the terrorist attacks, Bush’s administration has come to a new way of thinking known as the new grand strategy. Since the dawn of this new strategy, the whole International System felt in a tremendous and obscure atmosphere.
The purpose of this paper is to explore this new eyesight through an article named “America’s Imperial Ambition” written by G. John Ikenberry in September 2002, one year after the tragedy. Professor in the department of government at Georgetown University, G. John Ikenberry criticizes the new grand strategy put in place by first emphasizing on its impacts on Global Politics and second by contrasting this new strategy with the old ones. The arguments developed in the second part of the paper sustain the thesis that was previously developed by the author and elaborate more on the counter arguments that his critics would make. Furthermore, based on the whole analysis, we will try to find the best advice for maintaining U.S hegemony and preventing counter-balancing of U.S power.
Ever since Bush’s administration adopted this new policy, many people reacted and G john Ikenberry is one of those people. The use of force, the exigencies of fighting the terrorism and the unipolar power of the United States are characterized by Ikenberry as threats “that could transform the today’s world order in a way that the end of the cold war, strangely enough, did not”1. Preemption, as defined in the dictionary as “taking by one person or party before the opportunity is offered to other”2, is the basis of the American new way of thinking. This means that the U.S should attack any part of the world if they think that this part could be designed as an enemy. They gave themselves the large power of eliminating the enemy that could in any way disturb the American sovereignty and the international order. But as Ikenberry said these new politics “threatens to rend the fabric of the international community and political partnerships”. Automatically the power, as little as it was before, of the other major states of the system is being reduced by the “America’s imperial ambition”3.
Ikenberry’s thesis is then clear. he believes that all the political strategies put in place by the Bush’s administration after September 11th gave birth to a new form of resistance and weakened the international structure. Let’s take a brief look at Washington’s new grand strategy which is divided in seven major points. First of all, the United States should not have any competitor, and no partnership of great powers without the U.S is acceptable. It is an approach that announces that only the U.S can be a hegemonic power. Second of all, the new analysis of global threats like terrorism and how they must be eradicated leave no alternative for error. It is unthinkable to give even the smallest opportunity for the opponent to act. As Bush said “we need to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends4.”
Therefore the United States will act preemptively. The third principle directly related to the second one states that the notion of “deterrence” being obsolete, in order to fight the threat, the last recourse is offense. From this third principle derive the fourth one, which implies a “recasting” of the terms of sovereignty. As terrorists have no home addressed, any countries that lodge them is considered as an enemy too. Thus, there will be no border for the American military force to react.
The three last principle focus principally on the International System. Recently, it has noticed that there is “a general depreciation of the international rules, treaties, and security partnerships”. For instance, the United Nation prevents the U.S to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s government while “he possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. He is seeking nuclear weapons. He has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people”5. According to Bush’s administration, knowing that rules and treaties are generally underlying to limit actions, with this new strategy, it is unconceivable to join coalitions who tend to hinder effective operations.
This new grand strategy briefly analysed above can be approached as a kind of a neorealist theory. Variant of the realism, neo-realism was identified most closely to Kenneth Waltz6. Neo-realists believe that the world is an endless struggle for security and power, with war a permanently looming threat. As Ikenberry said in his article the U.S’ willingness is to be “much more powerful than other major states that strategic rivalries and security competition among the great powers will disappear”. Americans are seeking for extreme security and therefore they use their huge military power. The international system being organized in an anarchic environment, the United States uses the principle of self help which means that they are using their own resources (military power principally) to react against threats.
Furthermore, in a neo-realist approach the greater power is the one who defines the scene of actions for others as well as for themselves. Uncertainty leading to war, the U.S has no time for miscalculation otherwise aggressors are permitted an opportunity to act. Being the most important actors, being rational in order to survive are specific characteristics of this new grand strategy. All this, inevitably implies that cooperation is very difficult because states are driven by the fear of each other and the fear of being stopped by rules. Consequently, international organizations do not matter and alliances can be qualified as temporary and expedient because alliances maintain their own individual survival. As a result of that to keep stability, the United States need to get rid of the old strategy that was settle years earlier.
Since the 1940s, the guiding lines of the American foreign policy were based on two grand strategies. The first one focuses on “containment, deterrence, and the maintenance of global balance of power”7 and the second one was built up in a liberal orientation. From the middle of the World War II up to now there has been an alternation between liberalism and realism. Just after the World War II, the United States was the healthiest country in the world. Other parts of the world were completely destroy and needed help. Hence, no peer competitor means that the U.S was the hegemonic power. “Build order around institutionalized political relations among integrated market democracies, supported by an opening of economies”8 was essential part of this liberalist’s strategy. By the time that real stability emerges, the Soviet Union appeared to be a great power. The world became bipolar and states were balancing through both camps.
Consequently, deterrence happened to be the logic of the existing order and instability was updated. Back to the 1990s (end of the cod war), the American liberalist strategy came back and “offered a positive vision of alliance and partnership built around common values, tradition, mutual self-interest, and the preservation of stability.”9 Today’s new grand strategy seems to be a mixture between neo-realism and liberalism. The neo-realist thinking is more focused on the threats that the U.S faces.
The today’ threats, being a non-state actor, using the power in order to survive is crucial as deterrence is old-fashioned. Thus, liberalism (more cooperation) seems to be in correlation with hegemony and realism with balance of power. This means that bush’s new strategy should lead to balance of power, but did not because as we mentioned it earlier, today’s threats are non-state actors to balance with other states. Nowadays balance of power can occur only if major states join the terrorists; which is impossible as the whole international system has condemned terrorism. For this reason, the assumption of hegemony makes greater sense in the American new strategy.
Many researchers agreed with this new grand strategy, and think that bush’s administration should adopt a preemptive strategy in order to fight terrorism. We all know that the risks of NBC terrorism are growing and that the range of non-states actors that possess the technical capacity to obtain and use weapon of mass destruction is increasing. It is then mandatory to exterminate those threats before they act as the new grand strategy stipulates. The debate whether or not immediate military responses should be implanted to eradicate risks of NBC terrorism remains then essential. History has shown that violent measures have often proved to be inefficient. The movement can never be totally eliminated. A small fraction of it will always remain. It will grow stronger and in the future represent an even more serious threat to the world stability.
Therefore, diplomacy should be preferred. Military responses should only occupy a back seat and operates where diplomacy has failed to success. Concerning the international structure, U.S’ advocates affirm that they have to sustain their hegemonic status in order for the international structure to remain stable. The only way to sustain their status right now is to inflict military sanctions to terrorist groups and deter any other organization to ever carry out conflict against them. But the United States should back up because even if they maintain their hegemonic power, if the international system around it is too weak, they (the U.S) will be an easier weaker target for the terrorism. As Josef Joffe assumed, “These institutions upheld international security and free trade and thus cemented America’s preponderance by giving other key players potent reasons for choosing cooperation over ganging up10.”
It is then clear that for the situation to remain stable, the United States should as Ikenberry recommended “Bring in the old”. They should then revive the old strategies based on either “balance of power realism or a liberal multilateralism”11 which uses to generate a stable atmosphere. Moreover, the presence almost constant of international organizations in the international relations allowed communication among the states. Thus, the fact that the new grand strategy leads to a depreciation of international organizations, puts the united states in a much more difficult situation than if it had accept help from this organizations. In conclusion for maintaining their hegemony the U.S should think of diplomacy instead of use of force. Even if today’s threats are non-states actors, bush’s administration should adopt a “hearts and minds” strategy that concentrates on reducing Islamic hostility toward it12.
Henry Kissinger said “The United States considered itself both the source and the guarantor of democratic institutions around the globe, increasingly setting itself up as the judge of the fairness of foreign elections and applying sanctions or other pressures if its criteria were not met”13. U.S should then stop being the mediator because it can lead to increase anti-American hatred much more than it is. Moreover, to avert counter balancing of U.S power, Bush’s administration must stop the depreciation of the international organizations because this can lead to a frustration of other states at a time that the U.S need those organizations much more than ever. As Ikenberry affirmed in his article this new grand strategy […] will leave the world more dangerous and divided-and the U.S less secure.
* International Politics, Enduring concepts and contemporary issues, Sixth edition,
Robert J. Art and Robert Jervis, 2002
* Does America need a foreign policy ?, toward a diplomacy for the 21st Century, Henry Kissinger, 2001
* Neo-realism and its critics, by Robert O. Keohane, May 1986 Columbia University press.
* The National Interest, issue n? 69, Fall 2002
1 See G. John Ikenberry, foreign affairs, “the lures of preemption”, p 44.
2 The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, new revised edition 1998
3 G John Ikenberry, Foreign affairs, 9/11 : One year later ,September/October 2002
4 www.whitehouse.gov, President Bush, West Point, New York June 1, 2002,
27 October 27, 2002, 7:42 PM
5 www.whitehouse.gov, President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat, Cincinnati Union Terminal
Cincinnati, Ohio, 27 October 2002, 9:52 PM
6 Kenneth Waltz (1956 ; 1979)
7 see G John Ikenberry, Foreign affairs Vol. 81 n?5 September/October 2002, “Proven legacies” p 45
8 Ibid, p 46
9 Ibid, p 47
10 Of hubs, spokes and public goods, from the National Interest n? 69 , One year on , A September 11 anniversary symposium
11 See G John Ikenberry, Foreign affairs Vol. 81 n?5 September/October 2002, “Bring in the old” p 60
12 Hearts and minds, John J. Mearsheimer , the National Interest n? 69 , One year on , A September 11 anniversary symposium
13 Henry Kissinger, Does America need a Foreign policy ?, 2001