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Chapter 3US Hegemony in World PoliticsOVERVIEWWe have seen that the end of ColdWar left the US without anyserious rival in the world. The erasince then has been described asa period of US dominance or aunipolar world. In this chapter, wetry to understand the nature,extent and limits of thisdominance. We begin by narratingthe story of the rise of the newworld order from the First GulfWar to the US-led invasion of Iraq.We then pause to understand thenature of US domination with thehelp of the concept of ‘hegemony’.After exploring the political,economic and cultural aspects ofUS hegemony, we assess India’spolicy options in dealing with theUS. Finally, we turn to see if thereare challenges to this hegemonyand whether it can be overcome.The attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre inNew York on 11 September 2001 has been seen as awatershed event in contemporary history.2021–22

32Contemporary World PoliticsAYESHA, JABU AND ANDREIAyesha was doing very well in herstudies at a high school in theoutskirts of Baghdad, and wasplanning to study medicine inuniversity. She lost a leg in 2003when a missile slammed into anair raid shelter in which she washiding with her friends. Now sheis learning to walk all over again.She still plans to become a doctor,but only after the foreign armiesleave her country.Jabu is a talented young artistwho lives in Durban, South Africa.His paintings are heavilyinfluenced by traditional tribal artforms. He wants to go to art schooland later open his own studio.However, his father wants him tostudy for an MBA and then jointhe family business. The businessis not doing too well; Jabu’s fatherfeels that with an MBA degree,Jabu will be able to make thefamily business profitable.I’m glad I did not optfor the Sciencesubjects. Or else I toowould have been avictim of UShegemony. Can youthink how and why?Andrei is a young man livingin Perth, Australia. His parents areimmigrants from Russia. Hismother gets very angry every timeAndrei puts on blue jeans to go tochurch. She wants him to lookrespectable in church. Andrei tellshis mother that jeans are “cool”,that they give him the sense offreedom. Andrei’s father remindshis wife how they too used to wearjeans when they were youngstersin Leningrad, and for the samereason that their son now invokes.Andrei has had an argumentwith his mother. Jabu may be2021–22forced to study a subject that hehas no interest in. In contrast,Ayesha has lost her leg and islucky to be alive. How can we evendiscuss their problems in the samebreath? We can, and must, do so.As we shall see in this chapter, allthree have been, in different ways,affected by US hegemony. We willmeet Ayesha, Jabu and Andreiagain. But let us first understandhow US hegemony began and howit operates in the world today.We will follow the popularusage of the word ‘America’ torefer to the United States ofAmerica. But it may be useful toremind ourselves that theexpression America covers the twocontinents of North and SouthAmerica and that the US is onlyone of the countries of theAmerican continent. Thus, the useof the word America solely for theUS is already a sign of the UShegemony that we seek tounderstand in this chapter.BEGINNING OF THE ‘NEWWORLD ORDER’The sudden collapse of the SovietUnion took everyone by surprise.While one of the two superpowersceased to exist, the other remainedwith all its powers intact, evenenhanced. Thus, it would appearthat the US hegemony began in1991 after Soviet powerdisappeared from the internationalscene. This is largely correct, butwe need to keep in mind two ridersto this. First, as we shall see in this

33US Hegemony in World PoliticsThis picture of burned and broken vehicles was taken on the ‘Highway of Death’, a road between Kuwait andBasra, on which the retreating Iraqi army was attacked by American aircraft during the First Gulf War in February1991. Some commentators have suggested that the US forces deliberately bombed this stretch of highway wherefleeing and ‘out of combat’ Iraqi soldiers were stuck in a frenzied traffic jam and that the victims included Kuwaitiprisoners and hostages and Palestinian civilian refugees. Many observers have called it a ‘war crime’ and aviolation of the Geneva Convention.chapter, some aspects of UShegemony did not emerge in 1991but in fact go back to the end ofthe Second World War in 1945.Second, the US did not startbehaving like a hegemonic powerright from 1991; it became clearmuch later that the world was infact living in a period of hegemony.Let us therefore look at thisprocess by which US hegemonygot established more closely.In August 1990, Iraq invadedKuwait, rapidly occupying andsubsequently annexing it. After aseries of diplomatic attempts failedat convincing Iraq to quit itsaggression, the United Nationsmandated the liberation of Kuwaitby force. For the UN, this was adramatic decision after years ofdeadlock during the Cold War. TheUS President George H.W. Bushhailed the emergence of a ‘newworld order’.A massive coalition force of660,000 troops from 34 countriesfought against Iraq and defeatedit in what came to be known asthe First Gulf War. However, the2021–22

34Contemporary World PoliticsUN operation, which was called‘Operation Desert Storm’, wasoverwhelmingly American. AnAmerican general, Nor manSchwarzkopf, led the UN coalitionand nearly 75 per cent of thecoalition forces were from the US.Although the Iraqi President,Saddam Hussein, had promised“the mother of all battles”, theIraqi forces were quickly defeatedand forced to withdraw fromKuwait.Is it true that the US hasnever fought a war onits own land? Doesn’tthat make it easy forAmericans to get intomilitary adventures?The First Gulf War revealed thevast technological gap that hadopened up between the US militarycapability and that of other states.The highly publicised use of socalled ‘smart bombs’ by the US ledsome observers to call this a‘computer war’. Widespreadtelevision coverage also made it a‘video game war’, with viewersaround the world watching thedestruction of Iraqi forces liveon TV in the comfort of theirliving rooms.Incredibly, the US mayactually have made a profit fromthe war. According to manyreports, the US received moremoney from countries likeGer many, Japan and SaudiArabia than it had spent onthe war.THE CLINTON YEARSDespite winning the First GulfWar, George H.W. Bush lost theUS presidential elections of 1992to William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton ofthe Democratic Party, who had2021–22campaigned on domestic ratherthan foreign policy issues. BillClinton won again in 1996 andthus remained the president of theUS for eight years. During theClinton years, it often seemed thatthe US had withdrawn into itsinternal affairs and was not fullyengaged in world politics. Inforeign policy, the Clintongovernment tended to focus on‘soft issues’ like democracypromotion, climate change andworld trade rather than on the‘hard politics’ of military powerand security.Nevertheless, the US onoccasion did show its readiness touse military power even during theClinton years. The most importantepisode occurred in 1999, inresponse to Yugoslavian actionsagainst the predominantlyAlbanian population in theprovince of Kosovo. The air forcesof the NATO countries, led by theUS, bombarded targets aroundYugoslavia for well over twomonths, forcing the downfall ofthe government of SlobodanMilosevic and the stationing of aNATO force in Kosovo.Another significant US militaryaction during the Clinton years wasin response to the bombing of theUS embassies in Nairobi, Kenyaand Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in1998. These bombings wereattributed to Al-Qaeda, a terroristorganisation strongly influenced byextremist Islamist ideas. Within afew days of this bombing, PresidentClinton ordered Operation Infinite

35US Hegemony in World PoliticsThis is ridiculous!Does it meanthat Sri Lankacan drop amissile on Paris ifit suspects thatsome of the LTTEmilitants arehiding there?Reach, a series of cruise missilestrikes on Al-Qaeda terrorist targetsin Sudan and Afghanistan. The USdid not bother about the UNsanction or provisions ofinternational law in this regard. Itwas alleged that some of the targetswere civilian facilities unconnectedto terrorism. In retrospect, this wasmerely the beginning.9/11 AND THE ‘GLOBALWAR ON TERROR’On 11 September 2001, nineteenhijackers hailing from a numberof Arab countries took control offour American commercial aircraftshortly after takeoff and flew theminto important buildings in theUS. One airliner each crashed intothe North and South Towers of theWorld Trade Centre in New York.A third aircraft crashed into thePentagon building in Arlington,Virginia, where the US DefenceDepartment is headquartered.The fourth aircraft, presumablybound for the Capitol building ofthe US Congress, came down in afield in Pennsylvania. The attackshave come to be known as “9/11”.(In America the convention is toThis is how The New York Times reported 9/11 in its edition thefollowing morning.write the month first, followed bythe date; hence the short form ‘9/11’ instead of ‘11/9’ as we wouldwrite in India).The attacks killed nearly threethousand persons. In terms of theirshocking effect on Americans, theyhave been compared to the Britishburning of Washington, DC in 1814and the Japanese attack on PearlHarbour in 1941. However, in termsof loss of life, 9/11 was the most2021–22

36Contemporary World Politicssevere attack on US soil since thefounding of the country in 1776.The US forces made arrestsall over the world, often withoutthe knowledge of the governmentof the persons being arrested,transported these personsacross countries and detainedthem in secret prisons. Some ofthemwerebroughttoGuantanamo Bay, a US Navalbase in Cuba, where theprisoners did not enjoy theprotection of international law orthe law of their own country orthat of the US. Even the UNrepresentatives were not allowedto meet these prisoners. Andy Singer, Cagle Cartoons Inc. Andy Singer, Cagle Cartoons Inc.Do they also havepolitical dynasties inthe US? Or was this theonly exception?The US response to 9/11 wasswift and ferocious. Clinton hadbeen succeeded in the USpresidency by George W. Bushof the Republican Party, son ofthe earlier President George H.W. Bush. Unlike Clinton, Bushhad a much harder view of USinterests and of the means bywhich to advance them. As a partof its ‘Global War on Terror’, theUSlaunched‘OperationEnduring Freedom’ against allthose suspected to be behindthis attack, mainly Al-Qaeda andtheTalibanregimeinAfghanistan. The Taliban regimewas easily overthr own, butremnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have remained potent, asis clear from the number ofterrorist attacks launched bythem against Western targetssince.Suppose you are the Secretary of State in the US (their equivalent of our Minister of External Affairs).How would you react in a press conference to these cartoons?2021–22

37US Hegemony in World PoliticsTHE IRAQ INVASIONOn 19 March 2003, the USlaunched its invasion of Iraq underthe codename ‘Operation IraqiFreedom’. More than forty othercountries joined in the US-led‘coalition of the willing’ after the UNrefused to give its mandate to theinvasion. The ostensible purpose ofthe invasion was to prevent Iraqfrom developing weapons of massdestruction (WMD). Since noevidence of WMD has beenunearthed in Iraq, it is speculatedthat the invasion was motivated byother objectives, such as controllingIraqi oilfields and installing a regimefriendly to the US.Although the government ofSaddam Hussein fell swiftly, theUS has not been able to ‘pacify’Iraq. Instead, a full-fledgedinsurgency against US occupationwas ignited in Iraq. While the UShas lost over 3,000 militarypersonnel in the war, Iraqicasualties are very much higher.It is conservatively estimated that50,000 Iraqi civilians have beenkilled since the US-led invasion.It is now widely recognised thatthe US invasion of Iraq was, insome crucial respects, both amilitary and political failure.List the postCold Warconflicts/warsin which theUS played acritical role.[Map of Post-Soviet Countries]Soldier World Map Ares, Cagle Cartoons Inc.WHAT DOES HEGEMONYMEAN?Politics is about power. Just asindividuals want to gain andretain power, groups too want togain and retain power. Weroutinely talk of someonebecoming powerful or someonedoing something for power. In thecase of world politics too,countries and groups of countriesare engaged in constantly tryingto gain and retain power. Thispower is in the form of militarydomination, economic power,political clout and culturalsuperiority.2021–22

38 Angel Boligan, Cagle Cartoons Inc.Contemporary World Politicssystem. This appears to be amisapplication of the idea of ‘pole’derived from physics. It may bemore appropriate to describe aninternational system with only onecentre of power by the term‘hegemony’.We can identify three verydifferent understandings of whathegemony is. Let us examine eachof these meanings of hegemonyand relate them to contemporaryinternational politics.HEGEMONYPOWEREntitled ‘Under US Thumb’, this cartoon captures ourcommonsensical understanding of what hegemony means.What does this cartoon say about the nature of US hegemony?Which part of the world is the cartoonist talking about?Why use suchcomplicated wordslike hegemony? Inmy town they call itdadagiri. Isn’t thatbetter?Therefore, if we wanted tounderstand world politics, it isnecessary that we understand thedistribution of power among thecountries of the world. For instance,during the years of the Cold War(1945-91) power was dividedbetween the two groups ofcountries, and the US and the SovietUnion represented the two ‘camps’or centres of power in internationalpolitics during that period. Thecollapse of the Soviet Union left theworld with only a single power, theUnited States of America.Sometimes, the international systemdominated by a sole superpower, orhyper-power, is called a ‘unipolar’2021–22ASHARDThe roots of the word hegemony liein classical Greek. The wor

world order from the First Gulf War to the US-led invasion of Iraq. We then pause to understand the natur e of US domination with the help of the concept of ‘hegemony’. After exploring the political, economic and cultural aspects of US hegemony, we assess India’s policy options in dealing with the US. Finally, we tur n to see if ther e are challenges to this hegemony and whether it can .