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Over the Horizon: The End (of what?)

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In my final Over the Horizon column, I discuss the future of American hegemony:

The most important step for the U.S. to take is to gain the acquiescence, grudging or not, of most of the rest of the major international players in modern global society. Accommodating Indian, Chinese or even Russian concerns within the U.S.-managed global framework demonstrates the utility and flexibility of that system, and reinforces the sense that the United States plays a unique role. The strength and resilience of a system — and when we speak of U.S. hegemony, we really mean the system of norms and institutions that the United States has established — depends more on its ability to co-opt competitors than to crush or isolate them. This hardly means that the United States must concede to every demand from every competitor, but we shouldn’t think of the need for careful diplomacy as weakness; rather, the ability to handle problems diplomatically reflects strength.

What are the dangers? Hegemony has never meant the ability to achieve any outcome the United States wants, whenever it wants. Indeed, hegemony may mean the luxury to make dreadful mistakes without suffering dreadful consequences. However, as the gap between the United States and other great powers declines, the margin for error narrows. The most dangerous steps for the United States to take would involve projects that threaten fiscal capacity while also undercutting the U.S.-sponsored system of global management. The invasion of Iraq, for example, is not an undertaking that the United States would want to repeat in the future. It undermined global confidence in both the international system of governance and the decision-making capacity of the United States government, while damaging the fiscal health of the United States. Ironically, advocates of the war believed that it would demonstrate not only American power, but also reinforce confidence in American leadership.

I’d like to thank the team at World Politics Review for the opportunity to write Over the Horizon for the last year and a half; it’s been a deeply rewarding experience.

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