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6.1 Is US Hegemony durable or fleeting?

1. Is there enough empirical and historical evidence to support the optimists' opinion that US hegemony is durable?

  • Optimists' view that US hegemony is durable is based on three main accounts of world politics: a) the main material power capabilities remain within the United States (GDP, military, education, etc.); b) there is no current evidence to suggest that counterbalancing is occurring; c) liberal institutionalism which characterizes US hegemony is met with widespread global popularity.
  • On the other hand, many have pointed to the US' current economic decline as a decline also in its global hegemonic rule. With the rise of such states as the BRICS, one might go so far as to argue that counterbalancing is indeed occurring, albeit with an economic rather than (traditional) military focus. Finally, it is undeniable that the US lost widespread support over its invasion of Iraq following 9/11; while many of its allies – most notably perhaps the UK under Toni Blair – participated in this event, this was in actual fact opposed by large parts of the population (as was illustrated by mass-demonstrations in London in 2003). Left largely unconsidered, this led many to feel alienated from their very own governments. Together with a rise in anti-American/-imperialist radical political groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh), this might indeed point to a global waning in US popularity.

2. Do you agree with the pessimists' opinion that decline is inevitable and that current trends support the view that US hegemony is waning?

  • Pessimists' view that US hegemony is fleeting stems from the historical realist account that no state has, in the past, managed to retain unilateral hegemony in world politics. This is further informed by a normative stance that many realists align with, which suggests that bilateral hegemony provides the most stable structure for the international system.
  • For illustrations of why US' hegemony might indeed be waning according to the pessimistic account, see bullet point 2 above.

3. How is it possible for realist scholars to be on different sides of the debate about US hegemony?

  • The different realist takes on US hegemony might best be explained through the two different characteristics (status quo vs. expansionist) that realists attribute to the states' actions in the international system. Thus, while defensive realists (e.g. Waltz) argue that status quo states act such that the momentary international order is maintained, offensive realists (e.g. Mearsheimer) argue that states are expansionist in nature, where a constant struggle for power leads to continuous restructuring of states' hierarchy in the international order.