In an article in the National Interest, international relations theorist John Mearsheimer writes that he is hopeful that the Trump administration will give up the pursuit of what he calls “a policy of liberal hegemony.”
“This strategy,” he elaborates, “assumes every region of the world matters greatly for American security, and it calls for extending the U.S. security umbrella to nearly any country that wants protection as well as trying to spread democracy far and wide. In practice, this objective means toppling regimes and then doing nation building. Small wonder the United States has been at war for two out of every three years since the Cold War ended.”
“Liberal hegemony,” he adds, “is a bankrupt strategy.” A better course of action in his view is to “adopt a realist foreign policy.” It would maintain “America’s position in the global balance of power … Instead of trying to garrison the world and spread democracy, the Trump administration should concentrate on maintaining the balance of power in the three regions that are vital to U.S. security: Europe, East Asia and the Persian Gulf.”
Such a strategic posture, Mearsheimer continues, would better serve the interests of country and the cause of a peace, while allowing Washington to contain the main threat to its global hegemony – a rising China. In this regard, he assigns an important role to Putin’s Russia, which isn’t, he asserts, a “serious threat to American interests.”
I found this an interesting take, but after listening to Trump’s Inauguration speech that was equal parts demagogic and menacing – not to mention his earlier talk about the use of nuclear weapons, advocacy of economic protectionism, provocation of China, and contempt for allied states – I began to wonder if the book, “Chaos and Dominance in the Modern World System,” might give us a better clue as to what Trump’s foreign policy might look like.
Written nearly two decades ago by two brilliant social theorists, Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver, the authors argue that U.S. rulers in the face of new challenges to its global supremacy, ironically exacerbated by the sudden implosion of the Soviet Union and the “success” of financialization and globalization, are turning to a policy of “exploitive domination” or “domination without hegemony.” At its core is the exclusive (or near exclusive) use of military power to guarantee its preeminent position worldwide. Meanwhile, missing from the menu of tools to protect U.S. global interests in this policy updating is economic, political, and diplomatic measures – carrots – to secure the consent of subordinate states as well as any commitment to spread the “blessings” of democracy U.S. style worldwide.
In other words, Arrighi and Silver were suggesting that the mix of consent and force – hegemony – employed in the 20th century to secure its global supremacy is giving way to raw power and narrowly constructed state interests – domination with hegemony – as the preferred method of maintaining U.S. dominance in a disordered and chaotic world with only China as a potential peer competitor.
To think that Trump would pursue such a policy – “domination without hegemony” – seems very plausible, even if it’s too early to tell.
But we’ll soon find out.