In the global political landscape looms a superpower with a military and economic might widely believed to remain unrivalled at least for decades to come.
Yet it appears that in recent years the hegemon — the United States, or specifically its national security apparatus — has grown increasingly restless. It sees the irrevocable collective rise of the developing world as a threat and refuses to accept what is natural and inevitable. That bodes trouble for all.
The peerless prowess that underpins the United States’ leading role on the world stage stems from a combination of political, economic, geographical and other factors, including a grand vision that allowed it to work with others to establish the current international system.
Yet that strategic sobriety has noticeably given way to a sense of superiority. Three decades of unipolar hegemony has induced a historically ill-founded but deeply entrenched belief in Washington that the United States is an exceptional country above all others, and international affairs should be managed in either the American way or no way at all. Its past success in nipping every serious challenger to its dominance in the bud has only deepened its complacency.
But now with the unstoppable growth and ascent of developing countries, it appears destined that the U.S.-led West will have to share the stage with “the rest.” Although the nascent shift is merely a logical outcome of history and does not cost Washington any of its legitimate interests, a self-inflicted anxiety is taking hold of what is called the national security state of America.
Hawkish decision-makers and opinion leaders are drowning out reason and morality in the United States and fanning the fear that America is losing what it is entitled to. Upholding the banner of “America First,” the current U.S. government has in a little more than two years shown the world how far it is willing to go in order to “make America great again,” although the United States remains the sole superpower in today’s world.
Global trade is so far a major battlefront. In the eyes of incumbent U.S. policy-makers, the laws of economics and trade are nothing but a hoax, and any country that has a trade surplus with the United States is ripping it off.
They have waged waves of tariff offensives against not only China, but also U.S. allies like the European Union, Japan, South Korea and Canada, slapping heavy levies on imported products ranging from steel and auto parts to toys and bikes, regardless of rising financial burdens on domestic consumers and businesses, and the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Washington’s assault on the rules-based multilateral global trading system is posing a serious threat to future global economic growth. Gita Gopinath, the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, warned in May that “the latest (tariff) escalation could significantly dent business and financial market sentiment, disrupt global supply chains and jeopardize the projected recovery in global growth in 2019.”
The high-tech realm has also witnessed the United States scrambling to secure its supremacy. However, it is trying to do so not by sharpening its own edges in fair competition, but by employing the state power to drive out competitors.
Its unjustified crackdown on telecom equipment provider Huawei and other Chinese high-tech companies under the excuse of national security is reminiscent of its erstwhile plot against Japan’s once booming semiconductor industry, and widely interpreted as an attempt to sabotage China’s standard-setting capabilities in such key areas as the next generation of mobile communications and ensure China’s permanent inferiority, at least in advanced technology.
In the realm of geopolitics, Washington’s hegemonic anxiety disorder has become even more conspicuous, especially in its policies on the Middle East and Latin America. In recent months, the United States has flirted with going to war against Iran and orchestrating a coup d’etat in Venezuela.
Meanwhile, the current US government is seeking to reap the benefits of being what Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, called a “rogue superpower” while refusing to bear its due global responsibility. Its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal has breached the global efforts to address many of the world’s most pressing challenges.
In the post-Cold War era, the West once believed that the world had entered a period of “Pax Americana,” where the United States would act as a builder of a rules-based international order and a guardian of peace. However, three decades later, Western countries are disappointed to discover that it has become a big bully pushing the world toward “Chaos Americana.”
Given the high stakes, the international community, including the sober minds in America, needs to work together to help Washington make peace with the current historical trend. After all, every nation is part of the planet, every people is entitled to pursue happiness, and every country has the right to developing its economy and technology.
As for Washington, it should, as US political scientist Joseph Nye has suggested, learn the importance of using its power with others, not just over others, in today’s increasingly interdependent world. Xinhua