Slouching Toward Pluralism: An End to “The American Century”?

Slouching Toward Pluralism: An End to “The American Century”?

There is now widespread concern about the tension between America’s economic interests and its continued geopolitical role as “hegemon” of the world system. At the simplest level this tension is embodied in the escalating gap between the cost of policing the world and the resources of the U.S. economy, an economy that no longer looms as large as it once did. The dynamics of this problem, of course, are far more subtle and complex than merely the price tag of serving as global policeman. For example, a review of recent U.S. economic diplomacy makes it painfully clear that the primacy of the cold war in U.S. diplomatic goals, combined with America’s relentless advocacy of a laissez-faire system, make it very difficult for the U.S to advance (or even to coherently define) its narrower economic goals as a nation.

Other nations tolerate American hegemony as long as it serves their economic interests. But this logic forces the United States to subordinate its own national goals to “system goals” such as holding the Western alliance together, maintaining the constituency for liberal trade, or rallying support for the laissez-faire view on refinancing Third World debt. This liability has been especially pronounced in U.S.-Japan diplomacy, where the combination of fealty to open markets and fear of Japan’s slipping out of America’s orbit have all but paralyzed U.S. negotiating capacity on trade and industrial objectives.


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