An economic hegemon in decline tries to scrape back

August 1, 2011 - 16:56

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In the modern world, a country’s economic and political systems are interdependent. 

The decline in U.S. economic power and its effect on the political influence of the U.S. government is a clear example of such interdependence. 

In principle, if the political power of a country is unable to stabilize itself after the establishment of an economic system, sooner or later, the political power will collapse. Thus, the economic and political powers of a government play a complementary role. In fact, if the United States was able to act as a hegemon after World War II, it was due to its economic strength.

Based on this prevalent theory on that period of time, the U.S. political hegemony was a direct result of the government’s considerable control over raw materials, goods with added value, capital resources, and stock markets, and its possession of nuclear weapons. 

Relying on this economic control, U.S. officials were able use propaganda about human rights and democracy, which was warmly welcomed by the public, to maintain the country’s position as a global superpower. 

In the 1980s, political analysts like Samuel Huntington said the United States’ role in the international arena was getting stronger. However, others said U.S. power was declining. As a result, the theory of “two hegemonies” was introduced by the opponents of U.S. domination, which stated that Washington cannot be successful without the support of the world’s second hegemon, Germany. 

After the decline of Germany and the rise of China as a global superpower, the United States’ position was seriously challenged, resulting in the economic crisis of 2008. In fact, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest producer and the U.S. became the largest consumer.   

China currently has over $2 trillion in reserves and is now the largest creditor of the U.S., which has elevated the country’s status in the international arena. 

Now, U.S. political power is being greatly affected by the country’s economic decline.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has repeatedly refused to provide humanitarian assistance to African countries, using the human rights issue as a pretext. But in reality, the U.S. government did not have the economic capability to help poor countries in Africa. 

However, China has seized the opportunity to help the Africans, and this increased its political influence on the continent. In Southeast Asia, the situation is quite similar, and everyone is talking about the decline of U.S. political influence in the region. 

Experience shows that whenever the U.S. is concerned about a decline in its power, it resorts to its allies. To maintain its hegemony, the U.S. uses its influence on the UN Security Council and other international organizations. 

But the economic crisis of 2008 seriously weakened the dollar on international markets, which has reduced the United States’ bargaining power in diplomatic issues. 

In response, the U.S. began triggering various crises in different parts of the world in an attempt to strengthen the dollar. Thus, the escalation and extension of the crisis in Libya is a clear example of this. 

Propping up monarchies in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain is also in line with this policy. 

All these moves are being made to help the United States regain its position as a global superpower.

*Abumohammad Asgarkhani is a professor of international relations at the University of Tehran and an expert on U.S. studies.