Ambition american essay imperial international liberal order order power

Looks like you are currently in Finland but have requested a page in the Afghanistan site. Would you like to change to the Afghanistan site? John Ikenberry. In this unique study of a superpower, Ikenberry argues that though the American world order is now in upheaval, in the end, the United States still has powerful incentive to sponsor and operate within a liberal rules-based system. John Ikenberry is America's poet laureate of liberal internationalism and the most gifted international relations scholar of his generation.


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The Atlantic and Pacific regions exhibit different hegemonic patterns: American relations with Europe are organized around multilateral economic and security cooperation, whereas the East Asia region is organized around bilateral ties and loose multilateral economic relations see Ikenberry, a , c. Today, however, this American global order appears to be at a turning-point. Indeed, some observers argue it is in crisis or breaking apart. The Bush administration's war on terrorism, invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, expanded military budgets, and controversial National Security Strategy have thrust American power into the light of day — and, in doing so, deeply unsettled much of the world.

In the background, the postwar rules and institutions, political bargains, communist threats, shared visions, and communal bonds that shaped and sustained this United States-led order appear to be eroding. For most of the postwar era, America's pursuit of its national interest and the construction of a progressive and mutually agreeable global order went hand in hand.

But today, America and the world seem increasingly estranged. Anti-Americanism is a prominent feature of politics in many regions of the world. The most fundamental questions about the nature of global politics — who commands and who benefits — are now the subject of conversation among long-time allies and adversaries alike. See Kupchan a , b ; Todd The world is trying to make sense of this new reality.

Diplomats are trying to figure out how an American unipolar order will operate. Will the United States break out of its postwar commitments to multilateral and alliance-based partnerships and attempt unilaterally to dominate the world? Should American power be appeased, engaged, or resisted?

Scholars are also asking fundamental questions about the character of American domination. What are the restraints on American power? Has the American-led postwar order evolved from an open and liberal system to an old-style empire? Looming in the background is the question of whether American unipolarity is consistent with multilateral, rule-based order. The view that America is making a grand historic turn toward imperial rule is reflected in a growing body of scholarship that evokes the images of empire.

His fear is that America will fail in its imperial duties and interests Ferguson, ; Bacevitch, Others see an American empire that is coercive, exploitative, and destructive. Chalmers Johnson argues that America's far-flung Cold War military alliance system has been consolidated over the last decade into a new form of global imperial rule.

Others see American empire as a impulse rooted in a US unipolar power and military dominance that is ultimately incoherent and doomed to failure. America's imperial reach will exceed its grasp and destabilize the global system Barber, ; Mann, Thus we must ask several basic questions about American unipolarity. What is the character of the American unipolar order as a political formation?

How does the rise of unipolarity alter America's grand strategic behaviors? What are the costs, incentives, and impulses for pursuing liberal and imperial strategies of governance? In the long run what will be the dominant tendencies of the leading state within a unipolar system?

Will it construct — or reconstruct — multilateral rule-based order or pursue a bilateral, divide-and-rule imperial strategy? In this essay, I make four arguments. First, the American postwar order — which has occupied the center of world politics for half a century — is a historically novel political formation.

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Ambition american essay imperial international liberal order order power

This is not empire; it is an American-led open-democratic political order. Second, transformations in the global system are making it more difficult to maintain some of the liberal features of this order — and so the stability and integrity of this old American order are increasingly at risk. The two most important sources of breakdown are the rise of American unipolarity and the transformation of global security threats. America's power has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War, while state norms of sovereignty have eroded. This makes US power worrisome to the rest of the world, and it erodes the balance of power logic of the previous geopolitical eras.

Likewise, new security threats — not uniformly shared by old alliance partners — erode the indivisibility of security that underlay the American system.

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Strategic cooperation between old partners is harder, and it is easier for the United States to go its own way and for European and East Asian countries to depend less on the United States or simply to free-ride on American security provision. As a result the postwar alliance system — so crucial to the stability of American political and economic relations with Europe and East Asia — has been rendered more fragile and tenuous.

Third, these shifting global circumstances mean that both liberal and neo-imperial logics of order are put in play. Both logics are deeply rooted in American political culture and both have been manifest in American diplomacy over the last century. The liberal logic has been manifest most fully in the Atlantic community, and its institutional expressions include NATO and multilateral economic regimes.

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As we shall see, both liberal and neo-imperial logics continue to offer a mixture of benefits and costs for the American governance of unipolarity. Finally, despite Washington's imperial temptation, the United States is not doomed to abandon rule-based order. This is true if only because the alternatives are ultimately unsustainable. Likewise, there are an array of incentives and impulses that will persuade the United States to try to organize unipolarity around multilateral rules and institutions.

The United States may want to renegotiate rules and institutions in some global areas, but it ultimately will want to wield its power legitimately in a world of rules and institutions. The rising power of China, India, and other non-Western states presents a challenge to the old American-led order that will require new, expanded, and shared international governance arrangements.

In this essay, I look first at the features of the American postwar order. After this, I discuss the rise of unipolarity and other shifts in the global system that are altering the foundations of support for this liberal hegemonic system. Finally, I look at the forces that continue to give the United States reasons to support and operate within a rule-based international system. In contrast with imperial political formations, the American system took shape in the decades after World War II as an open, negotiated, and institutionalized order among the major democracies. The United States is situated at the center of this complex liberal order — but it is an order built around the American provision of security and economic public goods, mutually agreeable rules and institutions, and interactive political processes that give states a voice in the running of the system.

Strategic bargains, binding security ties, open markets, and diffuse reciprocity also infuse the order and give it liberal characteristics. This distinctive liberal political architecture is built on top of a Western security community that removes war and threats of force from American relations with the other democracies. For a discussion of the Cold War origins of the American system, see Gilpin No other great power has tried to create a level playing field to enable other countries to succeed. This order was built in the decades after World War II through the pursuit of two grand strategies.

1 Introduction

One grand strategy is realist in orientation. Forged during the Cold War, it is organized around containment, deterrence, and the maintenance of the global balance of power. This strategy has been celebrated in America's history of the last half-century. Facing a threatening and expansive Soviet Union after , the United States stepped forward to fill the vacuum left by a waning British empire and a collapsing European order to provide a counterweight to Soviet power.

The touchstone of this strategy was containment, which sought to deny the Soviet Union the ability to expand its sphere of influence outside its region. Order was maintained during these decades by the management of the bipolar balance between the American and Soviet camps. Stability was achieved through nuclear deterrence Gaddis, ; Leffler, For the first time in the modern era, nuclear weapons and the doctrine of mutual assured destruction made war between the great powers utterly irrational. Containment and global power balancing ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in Nuclear deterrence is no longer the defining logic of the existing order, but it remains a recessed feature that continues to impart stability in relations among China, Russia, and the West.

America's balance of power grand strategy yielded a bounty of institutions and partnerships in the decades after This global system of American-led security partnerships has survived the end of the Cold War, providing a bulwark for stability through the commitments and reassurances they manifest. The United States maintains a forward presence in Europe and East Asia, and its alliance partners gain security protection as well as a measure of regularity in their relationship with the world's leading military power.

But Cold War balancing has yielded more than a utilitarian alliance structure. The American-led alliance system has inspired a wider array of economic and political agreements that have helped generate unprecedented levels of integration and cooperation among the countries of Western Europe, North America, and Northeast Asia. The other grand strategy, forged during World War II as the United States planned the reconstruction of the world economy, is liberal in orientation.

America's agenda for reopening the world economy and integrating the major regions of the world was not simply an inspiration of businessmen and economists. There have always been geopolitical goals as well. Whereas America's realist grand strategy was aimed at countering Soviet power, its liberal grand strategy was aimed at avoiding a return to the s: an era of regional blocs, trade conflict, and strategic rivalry.

Open trade, democracy, and multilateral institutional relations went together. Undergirding this strategy is the view that a rule-based international order — especially one where the United States uses its political weight to derive congenial rules — is an order that most fully protects American interests, conserves its power, and extends its influence into the future. During the s, the United States continued to pursue this liberal grand strategy.

Both the first Bush and Clinton administrations attempted to articulate a vision of world order that was not dependent on an external threat or an explicit policy of balance of power. Bush the elder talked about the importance of the Euro-Atlantic community and articulated ideas about a more fully integrated Asia Pacific region. In both the Atlantic and Pacific regions the Bush strategy was to offer a positive vision of alliance and partnership that was built around common values, tradition, mutual self-interest, and the preservation of stability.

The Clinton administration attempted to describe the post-Cold War order in terms of the expansion of democracy and open markets. What emerged was a liberal vision of order. Democracy provided the foundation for global and regional community. Trade and capital flows were seen as forces for political reform and integration.