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What's the Role of American Empire in the New World Order?

We’re headed fast for uncharted territory, with the headlights off.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Zurijeta

 

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There is, it seems, something new under the sun.

Geopolitically speaking, when it comes to war and the imperial principle, we may be in uncharted territory.  Take a look around and you’ll see a world at the boiling point.  From Ukraine to Syria, South Sudan to Thailand, Libya to Bosnia, Turkey to Venezuela, citizen protest (left and right) is sparking not just disorganization, but what looks like, to coin a word, de-organization at a global level.  Increasingly, the unitary status of states, large and small, old and new, is being called into question.  Civil war, violence, and internecine struggles of various sorts are visibly on the rise. In many cases, outside countries are involved and yet in each instance state power seems to be draining away to no other state’s gain.  So here’s one question: Where exactly is power located on this planet of ours right now?

There is, of course, a single waning superpower that has in this new century sent its military into action globally, aggressively, repeatedly -- and disastrously.  And yet these actions have failed to reinforce the imperial system of organizing and garrisoning the planet that it put in place at the end of World War II; nor has it proven capable of organizing a new global system for a new century.  In fact, everywhere it’s touched militarily, local and regional chaos have followed.

In the meantime, its own political system has grown gargantuan and unwieldy; its electoral process has been overwhelmed by vast flows of money from the wealthy 1%; and its governing system is visibly troubled, if not dysfunctional.  Its rich are ever richer, its poor ever poorer, and its middle class in decline.  Its military, the largest by many multiples on the planet, is nonetheless beginning to cut back.  Around the world, allies, client states, and enemies are paying ever less attention to its wishes and desires, often without serious penalty.  It has the classic look of a great power in decline and in another moment it might be easy enough to predict that, though far wealthier than its Cold War superpower adversary, it has simply been heading for the graveyard more slowly but no less surely.

Such a prediction would, however, be unwise.  Never since the modern era began has a waning power so lacked serious competition or been essentially without enemies.  Whether in decline or not, the United States -- these days being hailed as " the new Saudi Arabia" in terms of its frackable energy wealth -- is visibly in no danger of losing its status as the planet’s only imperial power.

What, then, of power itself?  Are we still in some strange way -- to bring back the long forgotten Bush-era phrase -- in a unipolar moment?  Or is power, as it was briefly fashionable to say, increasingly multipolar?  Or is it helter-skelter-polar?  Or on a planet whose temperatures are rising, droughts growing more severe, and future food prices threatening to soar (meaning yet more protest, violence, and disruption), are there even "poles" any more?

Here, in any case, is a reality of the initial 13 years of the twenty-first century: for the first time in at least a half a millennium, the imperial principle seems to be ebbing, and yet the only imperial power, increasingly incapable of organizing the world, isn’t going down.

If you survey our planet, the situation is remarkably unsettled and confusing.  But at least two things stand out, and whatever you make of them, they could be the real news of the first decades of this century. Both are right before our eyes, yet largely unseen.  First, the imperial principle and the great power competition to which it has been wedded are on the wane.  Second and no less startling, war (global, intrastate, anti-insurgent), which convulsed the twentieth century, seems to be waning as well. What in the world does it all mean?

 
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