Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been considered the sole superpower in international affairs.
It has taken advantage of this status many times over, particularly through what many have maligned as its “wars of democratization” in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, as well as so-called “proxy wars of democratization” in Syria and Ukraine.
These military and pseudo-military adventures have, unsurprisingly, led to much resentment of the United States and its perceived hegemony over global affairs.
So much resentment, that as of 2014, 24% of the entire world views the United States as the greatest threat to peace.
It is easy to understand the basis behind the grievances that this 24% possesses.
It can be laid out in layman’s terms as follows:
“The United States, through its irresponsible, if not malicious foreign policy, has caused death and destruction wherever it goes. The foundation of its power lies entirely on the assumption that moral values must be thrown out the window, if they exist at all. This is unacceptable in the eyes of the international community, which must work to change it.”
While it is common sense to recognize that with great power comes great responsibility, and while it is always wise to look back on past policies and take note on what is a responsible policy and what isn’t, is it accurate to call American hegemony immoral?
Not if you are a realist.
Read More: Why We Shouldn’t Fear A China Hegemony
Take note that when I make reference to “realists” or “realism,” I am not writing in the context of the arts, where realism is a described as a “realistic portrayal” of a person or object.
Rather, I am writing in the context of geopolitics, where realism is described as a philosophy that places emphasis on national interests.
Geopolitical realists view international relations as a competition for power between various nation-states.
They also assume that all nation-states aside from their own to be seeking power by taking it from others, and that their nation-state must, out of defensive impulses, play along.
It must eat in order to avoid being eaten.
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This philosophy has been discussed, in one form or another, for millennia.
It had appeared in the works of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rosseau, and even Shakespeare, before taking off as a solid political theory in the nineteenth century following the rise of nationalism in Europe.
That being said, there is now an important question that needs to be answered.
Why would the United States, the world’s sole superpower, feel threatened by tenth-tier nations such as Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, to where it would be necessary to overthrow their governments to “spread democracy?”
Well, if you apply one theory that is sometimes discussed by American realists when attempting to formulate future policy, which I call “regional hegemon theory,” the United States has very good cause to see these countries as threats.
Why? Because they are, in one way or another, capable of being used as tools to prop up a regional hegemon on the Eurasian supercontinent.
Now, why is a regional hegemon on the Eurasian supercontinent bad? For this answer, we ought to turn to John Mearsheimer, one of the most well-known (and most notorious) contemporary American geopolitical realists.
He sums up the threat of regional hegemons well in a 2015 interview with The National Interest:
“Regional hegemons are dangerous to the United States, because dominating their own neighborhood would give them freedom to intervene elsewhere, just as the American military is free to roam the planet today. The great danger is that a distant hegemon would eventually start to meddle in the Western Hemisphere, which could present a serious threat to the United States.”
According to Mearsheimer, this idea was used to justify American policies against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the Axis powers during World War II.
And according to Joseph Parent, who was one of my International Studies professors at the University of Miami, this idea was also applied, abeit to a much smaller extent extent, prior to World War II (particularly towards France, which, between the end of World War I and the rise of Hitler, was seen by some American political scientists as a, if not the, main potential hegemonic threat against American interests).
Although which countries could pose a potential threat to the United States via “regional hegemon theory” is often hotly disputed (for example, Mearsheimer, who sees China as the only country that currently has the potential to become a regional hegemon, would get into an interesting debate with someone who would portray Iran as a regional hegemon due to its alleged ability to project influence into South America via Hezbollah), that is a different debate that is beside the point I’m trying to make.
That point is that because even a weak country (such as Syria relative to Iran and Ukraine relative to Russia) can play a role in propping up a regional hegemon that can project power into the United States’ neighborhood, even a weak country can be a serious threat to American national security.
Therefore, it is at best moral (because you are acting to protect your citizens, which is the chief duty of all governments), and at worst amoral (because you are justifying your means with your ends and are, presumably, not acting out of sadism, malice, or greed, but out of defense) to make sure that friendly governments are in power in other countries, if you wish to protect your own nation-state from being changed by outside forces.
It’s eat or be eaten.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but other countries have made it this way. Is that our fault?
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Cover Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)