|Is America too powerful for its own good?
"The United States is more powerful compared to other countries than any entity since Rome, and it is unlikely to be overtaken by other nations in the first half of this century. But this fact diverts attention from the effects of the information revolution and globalization which are making non-state actors (witness Al-Qaeda) more important and weak distant places (witness Afghanistan) more difficult to ignore. That is why I have titled by new book The Paradox of American Power: Why the Worlds Only Superpower Cant Go It Alone. Being Number One is not going to be what it used to be. American preponderance is a long way from omnipotence, and it will be important for Americans to realize that they must cooperate with others to get the outcomes they want".
- Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
"The United States still has the fastest gun in the West, but the days of the Lone Ranger are over. Though it is the reigning global hyperpower, tempted after 9/11 more than ever to impose itself - Pax Americana style - on a reluctant world by military and economic means, this is no longer possible. For terrorism is itself a perverse expression of interdependence and the new limits on sovereignty, a tribute to the same extra-national networking forces that drive market globalization. Unless the U.S. begins to operate multilaterally in partnership with others; unless it develops civic, political and democratic strategies to complement its military tactics; and unless it finds ways to globalize democracy and public goods as successfully as it has globalized markets and private profits, it is likely to discover that its strengths will be leveraged by the weak against its interests (as happened on 9/11). In a world of interdependence, the new realism insists that terrorism is less likely to be defeated by plutocracy than by democracy, while the most powerful and prosperous nations will flourish only if the weakest and poorest are allowed to flourish along side of them".
-Benjamin R. Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld, is Kekst Professor of Civil Society at the University of Maryland and currently the Daimler-Benz Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin.
"The USA is already unchallengeable in terms of military power. A further increase in its defence budget hardly seems necessary, when theres room to redistribute resources from old-fashioned heavy divisions into special forces and new technology. Theres a danger that such overwhelming emphasis on military power will lead US policymakers to forget that persuasion is more effective than coercion. The US can go to war on its own; but to maintain a peaceful world order it needs friends and allies. The current unilateralist mood in Washington is a tragic retreat from the enlightened self-interest which led previous US Administrations to build multilateral institutions to underpin an open international order".
- William Wallace, Professor of International Studies, London School of Economics and Liberal Democrat peer.
"If by power, is meant military might - the two are very separate concepts - then what follows from the fact of US military predominance depends entirely on how it will be deployed. There are great opportunities here, and great dangers. The deployment of military might, if done so with wisdom and on the basis of a long term political (non-military) view of the world, can greatly enhance the power, image and implications of the whole Western democratic system for those parts of the world that do not at the moment benefit from what that system has to offer. This is clearly what has to be done.
On the other hand, the use of military power merely to penalize and destroy without putting anything back in its place, will ultimately weaken US power in the world and lead to its retreat in the decades to come. The US will in these circumstances go the way all great empires have before it in history."
- Kanan Makiya, Iraqi expatriate and writer, is author of Republic of Fear: The politics of modern Iraq.
"Americas power is unrivalled. It has no military, economic, or political competitors. As the biggest billiard ball on the table, it can force all others to move in its direction. In world politics, power rules and absolute power rules absolutely. This is the Bush world view, and it has a lot going for it. America can achieve much of what it wants because of its sheer dominance in world affairs. Power is unimportant only to those who do not have it.
But there are costs in using power arrogantly. It breeds resentment. It gives others reasons to coalesce in a balance against America. And it provides the weak incentives to expose Americas vulnerabilities, which, for all its power, are still aplenty. Power is best used wisely, in ways that does the greatest good for the most. That is what America did in the 1940s, and what it must do now when its power is essentially unchallenged".
- Ivo Daalder, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
"If one country must be so dominant militarily, then it is probably better that it is the United States rather than another country. However, history suggests that such dominance leads to abuse and it is encumbent on the rest of the world to find ways of restraining the United States through international law, countervailing power and dialogue.
The European Union, which has achieved parity with the United States in trade and investment, has a major responsibility in this endeavour. Plans for a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) therefore need to be accelerated and EU governments need to commit adequate resource to it".
-Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
"The implications of a unipolar world are bad for everyone concerned. If America stands aloof from global problems, it is accused of isolationism. If it intervenes, it is accused of imperialism. Either way, it becomes a target of resentment and violence. For the rest it means frustration and impotence.
Complaining wont do any good. The rest of us have to raise our game and provide America with partners they cant ignore. For Britain, that means building a more united Europe with a more coherent foreign policy and a strong single currency. Its either that or another American century."
- David Clark, former special adviser to Robin Cook at the Foreign Office.
"The USA is militarily dominant in a way that no other power can challenge. The USA is the worlds largest economy, but the EU 15 runs it close. Military dominance needs legitimacy in todays world. The USA needs allies and also the fig leaf of the UN. The USA is no longer quite as powerful economically as it was in 1945, the rest of the industrial world has become richer. The US is now a major capital importer and the dollar depends on the international financial markets. So America is only half boss".
-Paul Hirst, Professor of Social Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London and co-author of Globalisation in Question.
If for the US the 1970s was a decade of decline, the 1990s turned out to be the years of renewal. It began with the fall of the USSR, continued with Japans economic implosion and Europes dithering in the Balkans, and was finally confirmed by Washingtons response to September 11th and the Bush militarily build-up.
What are the implications for us? That Europe either puts up - and accepts the American challenge - or shuts up and continues to play the role of complaining, yet compliant, junior partner to the hegemon across the Atlantic.
-Professor Michael Cox, Associate Research Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs
The rise in US military spending ought to be compared to the decision in the First
World War to order up more cavalry when the first wave had been mown down by machine guns.
The US has no competitor in high tech military equipment but this is mostly irrelevant
against the knives used to carry out the September 11th attacks. The bombing of
Afghanistan has created the illusion of victory, there may yet be a long drawn out
guerilla war in central asia with the next opium crop the focus. Joint Strike Fighters and
new artillery guns are at best irrelevant and are political and financial diversion from
the necessary multilateral give and take needed to really isolate the terrorists.
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