On the Fate of Empires
Reading the Financial Times editorial page, I came across an article by someone named Christopher Layne. The article, provocatively titled "Supremacy is America's Weakness," offered the following assessment:
History shows that, sooner or later, hegemons lose their hegemony--either because of the rising power of other countries or because of imperial overstretch. But the Bush administration appears to believe that American hegemony is an unchallengeable fact of international life. It is not - if only because other states are bound to conclude that the US is too powerful and must be resisted.
If that happens, President George W. Bush will not be remembered for liberating Baghdad, but for galvanising international opposition to American power. Mr. Bush's self-proclamined "victory" over Iraq may prove to have shattered the pillars of the international security framework the US established after 1945; triggered a bitter transatlantic divorce; given the decisive boost to European political unity; and marked the beginning of the end of the era of US global preponderance.(FT, 8/13/03)
Of course, I immediately wanted to know who this wild-eyed radical was. Turns out Mr. Layne is a visiting fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. His paper on the topic can be found here (caution: it's a pdf file, although not a long one).
In both paper and editorial, Mr. Layne presents the thesis that NATO is, and has always been, a tool for maintaining America's control over Europe: there's a well known quip that Nato was created to keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in. This policy has been consistent through all administrations since WWII. Mr. Layne contends that the extension of NATO was America's attempt to quash the "core" Western European group:
At the political level, the United States also is trying to do what it can to ensure that a united Europe never emerges as an independent pole of power in the international system. Washington seeks to accomplish this objective by playing off the Central European NATO members (Polans, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania) against Europe's Franco-German core. Another tactic is pressuring the EU to expand--especially by admitting Turkey--in the hope that enlargement will create insuperable obstacles to the deepening and consolidation of the EU's institutions, which is a prerequisite if it is to have an effective common foreign and defense policy.
In the end, Mr. Layne believes that the United States will not be able to prevent other powers from arising. He mentions Europe, China, Russia, and Japan, perhaps India: First, the United States won't be able to stop the emergence of new great powers over the long term. And second, by having tried to block such efforts, it virtually ensures that these new great powers will direct their security efforts against the United States.
I would think that succeeding would present even more difficulties. You might be able to cow the governments, but even cowed governments can generate enough passive resistance to make it tough going for the United States. If a country refuses to do our bidding do we (1)send in the marines to establish a government more to our liking and therefore create more enemies or (2)use economic pressures that could backfire and harm our economy? Or do we dispense with military and political alliances and maintain a large army deployed around the world? How large would it have to be to control EVERYTHING?
And then, there is the question of controlling the people. If the history of the twentieth century should have taught us anything is that in a globalized world, you cannot stop every individual hostile action, every small group with a grudge. Can you visualize a world in which every American is a target of, not just AlQuaeda, but every mother's son who believes America is the enemy?
Finally, there's this question: will this new global hegemon still be the United States? This colossal creature calling itself the United States, bestriding the world, ordering it here and there to its liking, is it still the nation founded upon the principle that WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed? Or will we become another empire in a large history of empires, and so shall the greatest experiment of human personal freedom ever undertaken disappear under the weight of power?
Late Night Thoughts...
The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt. John Philpot Curran
Thursday, August 14, 2003
On the Fate of Empires