Header Ads

How America became a superpower

 The modern United States is the most powerful country in human history. With over 800 military bases and 37% of global military spending, the United States has become the leader of a vast interconnected global system that has helped usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity and low levelsof conflict. To understand America’s position in theworld, and why it’s so pivotal for world politics as we know it, you have to go backto the country’s founding — back to when America wasn’t a global power in any senseof the word. During the first 70 years of its existence,the United States expanded in both territory and influence in North America eventuallyreaching the Pacific Ocean in a wave of expansionism that resulted in the wholesale slaughter ofthe indigenous people who populated the continent.

But early Americans were deeply divided asto whether the country should expand beyond the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This became a major debate after the civilwar, when some leaders, like post-war Secretary of State Seward, argued that Americashould push to become a global power. Seward succeeded in pushing a plan to purchaseAlaska from Russia, but his attempts to buy Greenland and Iceland, as well as annex territoryin the Caribbean, were all blocked by Congress. That’s because some Americans, includingmany on Capitol Hill, had a strong anti-imperialist bent. These people worried about America gettingmore involved in global politics, as well as having to integrate populations from “inferior”races.

And this opposition applied major checks onthe imperialist urge to expand. But something was happening in the late 1800sthat would change the debate about American expansionism. The industrial revolution produced explosiveeconomic growth, and the bigger US economy required a more centralized state and bureaucracyto manage the growing economy. Power became concentrated in the federal government,making it easier for expansionist presidents, like William Mckinley, to unilaterally pushUnited States influence abroad.

The key turning point came in 1898, when PresidentMcKinley dragged the country into war with Spain over the island of Cuba despite intenseopposition. The rising US easily defeated the moribundSpanish empire, acquiring Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in the process (1898). Over the next two years, the US would annexthe Kingdom of Hawaii (1898), Wake Island (1899), and American Samoa (1900). A few years later the US took control of thePanama Canal Zone (1903) and sent troops to occupy the Dominican Republic (1916), it alsopurchased the American Virgin Islands (1917). This period of rapid acquisition of far flungterritories put the US on the map as a truly global power. During this time, America also began usingits influence to protect its growing commercial and military interests abroad, installingpro-American regimes in places like Nicaragua and playing a major role in internationaldiplomacy regarding the Western presence in China. World War I showed how just how much America’sinfluence had grown. Not only was American intervention a decisive factor in the war's end But President Wilson attended the Paris PeaceConference which ended the war and attempted to set the terms of the peace.

 He spearheaded America’s most ambitiousforeign policy initiative yet, an international organization, called the League of Nations,designed to promote peace and cooperation globally. The League, a wholesale effort to remake globalpolitics, showed just how ambitious American foreign policy had become. Yet isolationism was still a major force inthe United States. Yet isolationism was still a major force inthe United States. Congress blocked the United States from joiningthe League of Nations, dooming Wilson’s project. During the Great Depression and the rise ofHitler, the US was was much more focused on its own region than on European affairsUltimately, though, America’s ever-growing entanglements abroad made it impossible forit to stay out of global affairs entirely. In East Asia, the growing Japanese empireposed a the direct threat to American possessions and troops bringing the United States and Japan into conflict.

 This culminated in the Pearl Harbor attack bringing the United States into World War II. World War Two would transform America’sglobal presence forever. The United States was the only major powerto avoid economic ruin during the war, and it was the sole country equipped with atomicweapons. As such, it was in unique position to setthe terms of the peace — and, with the aim of preventing another war in mind, it tookadvantage. The most famous example of this is the creationof the United Nations. The UN charter set up a system of internationallaw prohibiting wars of conquest, like the ones waged by the Nazis and the Japanese. It also served as a forum in which the internationalcommunity could weigh in on disputes, and help resolve them. This way, the Americans hoped, great powerscould resolve their differences through compromise and law rather than war. But while the UN is the most famous of thepost-war institutions, it isn’t the only one.

 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nationscame together in a small vacation haven in New Hampshire. Their goal? To establish a global financial system that would prevent another Great Depression and World War. The resulting agreement, called the Bretton Woods Agreement  ultimately became backbone of the global financial system. Resulting in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. By creating these institutions the UnitedStates committed itself to being deeply involved in the world’s problems. The issue, though, is that the world’s second-largestpower — The Soviet Union — saw things differently. World War II had made allies out of the democraticWest and communist East in the fight against Hitler, but that couldn’t last. The United States saw Soviet expansion inEastern Europe and elsewhere as a direct threat to its vision of a free-trading world. "To a substantial degree, in one form or another" Socialism has spread the shadow of human regimentation Over most of the nations of the earth And... the shadow is encroaching on our own liberty.

 Fearful of Soviet intentions towards WesternEurope, the US and other European nations created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,a military alliance meant to stop Russia from invading other countries in Europe. Globally, the US committed to a strategy called“containment” — so called because it was aimed at containing the spread of Communismeverywhere on the globe. This new global struggle meant that the UShad to exert influence everywhere, all the time. Instead of disbanding the massive militarymachine created for World War II, its wheels mostly kept turning. This had two main results: first, the US waspulled into unlikely alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and South Korea,seeing each of them as bulwarks against communist influence in their region. Secondly, the US began intervening, oftensecretly, in dozens of countries to contain Soviet influence. Sometimes this meant propping up sympatheticdictators like in Iran, other times supplying rebels with arms and money likein Afghanistan in 1979 and Nicaragua in 1985.

 Over the course of the Cold War, the US intervenedin hundreds of disputes around the globe, ending up with a complicated set of alliances, tensions, and relationships in basically every corner of the earth. After the Berlin wall fell, the US could havewithdrawn from this system, severing ties with its allies and drawing down the sizeof its military. And while the US did militaryspending, much of the military infrastructure and alliances from the Cold War war remained. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clintondecided that it was in both America and the world’s interests for the United States,now the sole superpower on earth, to continue actively managing global affairs. " We should be and we must be Peacemakers" NATO, created solely as a tool for counteringthe Soviets, stayed together and even expanded, a way of keeping European nations united inthe absence of the Soviet threat. Washington’s support for countries likeIsrael and Japan stayed intact, ostensibly as a means of preventing war in those regions.

 The global system of alliances and institutionscreated to keep the peace during the Cold War became permanent — as did the Americanmilitary and political commitments needed to keep them running . This system remains in operation today, and no leadingAmerican politician since the Cold War has seriously called for dismantling them — except, perhaps for Donald Trump. Trump has said contradictory things aboutthese commitments. But he’s consistently argued that Americanallies are not paying America enough for its protection, and questioned the value of free trade. That calls NATO and even the World Trade Organization into question. At some point, we have to say, you know what, we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea. We're better off if South Korea is going to start to protect itself -- and Saudi Arabia?-- Saudi Arabia? Absolutely. This is a sharp divergence from the consensusthat has dominated US foreign policy since 1945, and something closer to the isolationismthat came before it. So will President Trump act on some of candidate Trump's ideas, and reverse decades worth of institution building and alliances? We'll find out, soon enough. 

No comments