Friday, January 07, 2011

John Mearsheimer: Imperial by Design

IN THE first years after the Cold War ended, many Americans had a profound sense of optimism about the future of international politics. President Bill Clinton captured that mood when he told the UN General Assembly in September 1993:
It is clear that we live at a turning point in human history. Immense and promising changes seem to wash over us every day. The Cold War is over. The world is no longer divided into two armed and angry camps. Dozens of new democracies have been born. It is a moment of miracles.
The basis of all this good feeling was laid out at the time in two famous articles by prominent neoconservatives. In 1989, Francis Fukuyama argued in “The End of History?” that Western liberal democracy had won a decisive victory over communism and fascism and should be seen as the “final form of human government.”1 One consequence of this “ideological evolution,” he argued, was that large-scale conflict between the great powers was “passing from the scene,” although “the vast bulk of the Third World remains very much mired in history, and will be a terrain of conflict for many years to come.” Nevertheless, liberal democracy and peace would eventually come to the Third World as well, because the sands of time were pushing inexorably in that direction.


One year later, Charles Krauthammer emphasized in “The Unipolar Moment” that the United States had emerged from the Cold War as by far the most powerful country on the planet.2 He urged American leaders not to be reticent about using that power “to lead a unipolar world, unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them.” Krauthammer’s advice fit neatly with Fukuyama’s vision of the future: the United States should take the lead in bringing democracy to less developed countries the world over. After all, that shouldn’t be an especially difficult task given that America had awesome power and the cunning of history on its side.

U.S. grand strategy has followed this basic prescription for the past twenty years, mainly because most policy makers inside the Beltway have agreed with the thrust of Fukuyama’s and Krauthammer’s early analyses.

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