The American Ascendancy
Since 1993 the "Clinton Doctrine" has been one of aggressive foreign economic policy designed to promote exports and to open targeted economies to American goods and investment, while maintaining the cold war positions that give Washington a diffuse leverage over its allies like Japan and Germany and that pose a subtle but distinct threat to potential adversaries like China. All this goes on under the neoliberal legitimation of Smithean free markets and Lockean democracy and civil society--that is, Luce's "American vision."
All the systemic alternatives to the One World of multinational capital have collapsed: above all, the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union in 1989-91, but also the neomercantile model of East Asian development in Japan and Korea. The least noticed collapse of our time is that of the Third World, the site of revolutionary nationalism and anti-imperial wars for three decades after 1945, the self-constituted alternative to both blocs in the cold war that lasted from the 1955 Bandung Conference through the Non-Aligned Movement and into the late-seventies demands for a New International Economic Order. Twenty years later we have a collection of failed states running from Zambia to North Korea, an enormous if amorphous population of stateless people from Kosovo to Sudan and the recurrent television spectacle of millions of people starving to death, from Sudan again to North Korea. The Third World moves not up the developmental ladder, but from statehood to catastrophe. It is dominated by the advanced countries in a way unprecedented since the colonial era, and with most of it outside the loop of the prosperity of recent years, it is the prime source of war, instability and class conflict--but with no convincing antisystemic model to follow.
At the turn of the new century Americans revel in the robust middle age of US global leadership. Instead of a premature end to the American Century or a coming clash of civilizations, today there appears to be one dominant global civilization, the American, and several atavisms masquerading as civilizational challenges--Islamic fundamentalism, Balkan mayhem, the (not very) Confucian East, the obsolescing economic nationalism of Japan and South Korea, the declining Chinese Communist grip on a rapidly growing capitalist China and a Russia that does not appear to have an economy in 2000, let alone a competing civilization. This world, however advanced it may appear, is the anticipated consequence, the unfolding of the liberal hegemony that American internationalists like Acheson envisioned in the peculiarly American moment of 1945. Because of the Other--Soviet Communism, old-world imperialism, national liberation movements--the boundaries of the system were policed by naval task forces, the nuclear delivery capabilities of air forces and, above all, the archipelago of American military bases. But when the Other disappeared, the structure continued in place and, in the 1990s, achieved the full florescence that its planners had imagined in the 1940s. That is, the "New World Order" that George Bush and many others cast about for after 1989 was both the same old order and the ongoing fulfillment of postwar planning. A certain balance of power holds sway in Europe, where three advanced industrial nations of roughly the same size (England, France and Italy, all with GNPs of around $1.25 trillion) constrain the largest power, Germany (which is comparatively not much larger, at about $1.75 trillion GNP), and all are now enmeshed in the European Union. Japan is much larger (at around $3 trillion GNP) and might dominate Asia if it had the autonomy to do so, but with the United States still providing for its defense, it does not--and in 2000 it continues its decade-long struggle just to find a way to revive its flagging economy.
Now the world market approaches its full global reach, unfolding in a vacuum of alternatives amid the celebration of a "globalization" that is uncomfortably close to Americanization. But this may also foretell a new chapter in world history, as we learn, perhaps really for the first time, whether the self-regulating market can be the basis for global order--the recipe for a truly long peace, or for a truly unprecedented disaster. A breakdown of the world economy is the biggest systemic threat to world order in our time; it is the singular catastrophe that could revive all the apparently vanquished problems. The coming decades will thus provide a test of whether the continuously unfolding movement of American-inscribed world order has a proper claim to universality, or whether it remains merely the partial and limited worldview of its original author, the middle class, and therefore unavailing to the continuing plight of the majority of the world's peoples.