US Decline? (No. 10) Giulio M. Gallarotti: US Presidents Find Industrial-Military Complex Difficult to Tame

Friday, January 25, 2013

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Giulio M. Gallarotti
By: Kourosh Ziabari

The assumption that the United States is experiencing a political decline and its economic and military power is also on the wane has many proponents and critics. Many academicians argue that the United States has been facing a serious political downfall following the World War II and it cannot exert influence over so many countries as the world nations have woken up to the urgent need for a structural revision of their relations and interactions with the United States as a hegemon, and don’t tolerate its absolute and uncontested dominance anymore. These thinkers believe that the U.S. has also undergone economic setbacks, especially following the late-2000s economic crisis.

However, there is another group of academics who say that the United States, despite being exposed to different threats, including the great economic and financial impediments, still has a powerful military presence in different countries, and thus is an influential and leading superpower.

Debate over the political, economic, military and even cultural dominance and hegemony of the United States needs extensive investigation, diligent research and organized study. In order to study some aspects of what is widely believed to be the U.S. decline, we have been doing interviews with prominent political scientists across the world and asking their viewpoints about the prospects of the political, economic, military and cultural decline of the U.S. Empire.

The 10th chapter of our interviews is dedicated to a conversation with Prof. Giulio M. Gallarotti. Gallarotti is Professor of Government and Tutor in Social Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown Connecticut. He has published widely on the subject of foreign policy and international relations. He has also been a Visiting Professor in the Department of Economic Theory at the University of Rome. He is the author of The Anatomy of an International Monetary Regime: The Classical Gold Standard 1880-1914 (Oxford University Press, 1995, The Power Curse: Influence and Illusion in World Politics (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010), and Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations: A Synthesis of Realism, Neoliberalism, and Constructivism (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Here is the text of our interview with Prof. Giulio M. Gallarotti of the Wesleyan University about the transformation of world’s political order, power balance against the United States, the possibility of the decline of capitalism, domestic opposition to the U.S. foreign policy and other factors contributing to the changing of the political equations of the United States.

Q: As you know, the unipolar, hegemonic system of global governance led by the United State constitutes the basis and structure of current international order. In this regard, some people believe that the signs of the decline of the United States and a consequent transformation in the international order have begun to emerge. A change based on the founding of a power balance against the United States has begun to emerge in the global equations of political power. What’s your analysis of this change and the challenges it poses to U.S. hegemony?

A: I don’t believe the world to be hegemonized by anyone, given the three common meanings of the term: 1) the ideological co-optation of other nations so that they act in ways consistent with the interests of the hegemon, 2) global management by a great power in its own interests, 3) global management by a great power in the interests of other nations. There is a little bit of all three in US foreign policy today, as there is in the foreign policies of all other powerful nations today. In other words, there is no true hegemon in the world.

As far as US decline, there is no objective way of determining changes in relative power levels over short intervals of time (e.g. 10-30 years) in periods void of major shocks or crises (e.g., war).

One can cite hundreds of statistics showing changes in a plethora of indicators (from literacy to income gaps) that suggest that the US is slipping relatively to other advanced nations. Yet there are also hundreds of statistics that suggest an increase in relative standing. Putting all these variables together and trying to clearly ascertain relative power levels is impossible. The interesting and unfortunate thing about ascertaining power is that power can only be clearly ascertained when it is fully activated, otherwise we cannot know precisely how powerful nations are. In material terms, the US is now the most dominate nation (relatively) that the world has ever known. Beyond the size of its economy and the global economic and cultural impact it has had on the world, its global military presence has achieved a reach no other nation or civilization in the past has ever acquired, with over 700 military bases in over 100 countries. Note that at the height of the Roman Empire, Rome had only 37 foreign military installations to police its vast territory. Similarly, the British had only 36 naval bases at the height of its imperial stretch in 1898. Yet with all this material power, the US is often frustrated in getting what it wants, even in contests with much weaker nations (Vietnam, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, etc). So is the US as powerful as most people think? Perhaps it is and perhaps it is not. The US has not fully activated its power since World War II, so we do not know.

Has a greater countervailing coalition formed against the US in recent years? Some would be quick to say yes: citing the prevalence of terrorists, anti-capitalist demonstrations, rogue nations, and leftist regimes. In terms of civil society, perhaps the countervailing response is greater, as terrorism and anti-capitalist movements have become more prevalent. But in terms of nation states, one would have to say the countervailing coalitions against the US are weaker today than they were in the past. The Cold War itself presented the US with is greatest menace in terms of countervailing coalitions. The Cold War is now over. There are in fact a number of leftist regimes even in the US’ hemisphere that are taking a hostile stance against the US, but this pales in comparison to the size of the Communist coalition of the Cold War.

Q: Well, you believe that the US dominance has remained unchallenged so far. Well, some political scientists believe that the United States is voluntarily retreating from its position as a global hegemon, as a result of a remarkable increase in the costs of the unipolar and hegemonic order and the considerable decrease in its utilities. What’s your viewpoint in this regard?

A: The problem for Americans is that in fact it is not retreating. The size of the US’s global military presence is greater than it has ever been. Close to one trillion dollars is spent on military, most of it feeding the global military machine. Obama’s more dovish approach to foreign policy has not significantly diminished our global presence (even with the scaling down of activities in Iraq and Afghanistan). Irrespective of the personal convictions of Presidents, they have found the industrial-military complex difficult to tame. American society faces its greatest domestic challenges since the Great Depression, and yet we have hundreds of bases in Europe alone. What‘s wrong with this picture? Does this appear to be a retreat?

Q: So, you are one of those who believe that with its massive military presence overseas, the U.S. has not retreated from its position as a hegemon. Let’s get to the next question. The global capitalistic economy is collapsing and its consequences for the uni-polar and hegemonic order are beginning to appear gradually. What do you think about the impact of the downfall of global economic recession and its effects on the compasses of the U.S. power?

A: The recession affected many other nations more than it did the US. It is not clear that the US was a relative loser on this one. The American economy is strong and presently growing again. Moreover, to paraphrase Twain, “rumors of the death of global capitalism are pre-mature.” If anything, the last 25 years has seen an expansion of capitalism, especially with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Just like in economic departments in American universities, the extreme left is poorly represented politically and economically in the world today. Even in the last great bastion of Communism, China, the Communist ideology is almost completely bankrupt as a philosophy and practical guide, both among the Chinese people and their leaders.

Q: Right. It’s widely believed that based on the emergence and intensification of global resistance against capitalism and liberalism, especially resistance on the microphysical level of global power against the lifestyle of imperialist system, the political power and influence of the United States has been diminishing in the recent years. What’s your take on that?

A: I think we are hypnotized by the animosity of the more extreme elements in global society.  If we look at the greater majorities of populations across nations, many of the characteristics of Western lifestyles are still quite desirable and venerated. Even in nations whose populations can be said to be generally hostile to the US, we see evidence in surveys that these same populations are strongly in favor of such things as free markets, democracy, Western entertainers, and globalization. Certainly the preponderance of global youth is strongly enamored with American entertainers and culture. Given that about 40% of the world’s population is made up of people who are 21 or younger, it would appear that the American lifestyle still has an abundance of support throughout the world.

Q: What about domestic opposition to the U.S. policies? According to some studies, the resistance and opposition of the United States’ domestic forces against the interventions of the U.S. government in the other countries and the imperialistic traits of the U.S. political system have been contributing to the weakening of the global position of the United States. Would you please share your perspective on that with us?

A: Are divided societies a factor that weakens nations in terms of foreign policy? This is a question many would answer in the affirmative. If this happens in fact to be true, then the US has found itself in a weaker position throughout its history. American society like the American Congress has rarely been unified on anything. In fact, the whole idea of American pluralism is based on the benefits of opposing forces in governing a society. Vietnam is often used as an example of the disempowering effects of a divided society and political system. Yet it took almost a decade for this instability to force the US out of the war. American and global civil society has lashed out strongly against a number of institutions built and supported by the US: WTO, IMF and World Bank. Yet even against such widespread condemnation from within, America is still strongly entrenched in all three institutions, and US foreign policy is still strongly supportive of global capitalism.

Q: And finally, aside from these propositions which we’ve mentioned as the factors contributing to the decline of the U.S. socioeconomic and political power and the downfall of the imperialism, can you think of other possibilities which may in one way or another further and accelerate the demise of the U.S. Empire?

A: The major dilemma facing the US is whether or not it chooses to remain on a path that both seeks to maintain a pervasive global presence and deliver the American dream of prosperity back home. Even the US is not rich enough to attain both goals well into the future. We are seeing the manifestations of global guardianship in a fracturing society at home. In the early 1980s the US public debt was 32% of GDP and the deficit as a percentage of GDP was under 5%. Americans would look mockingly at nations whose deficits surpassed 10% of GDP and whose public debt was greater than GDP. Now in 2013 we have joined that group of “basket cases.” In fact not since WW II did our public debt surpass the level of GDP. America’s finances are in a dangerous place. The future of social programs is bleak just when American demographics are putting ever greater pressure on their importance (i.e., the graying of America). Yet with this internal turmoil, America still wants to hold on as a global guardian. The excuse is always that we are menaced by external forces. But in defending against these speculative dangers, America is crumbling from within. I am reminded of the man who committed suicide out of fear of dying. America would do well to consider the moral of this story.

Key Words: Unipolar-Hegemonic System, Global Governance, International Order, Global Equations of Political Power, Capitalistic Economy, imperialism, Gallarotti

US Decline? (No. 9) Peter Rutland: US Trying to Reduce its Global Commitments

US Decline? (No. 8) John Owen: The United States Not completely Controlling its Allies

US Decline? (No. 7) Deepa Kumar: Anti-Imperialist Sentiments Growing across the World

US Decline? (No. 6): Paul Sheldon Foote: America, A Country Controlled by Warmongers

US Decline? (No. 5): Tahir Abbas: American Hegemony Is on the Wane

US Decline? (No. 4) Walter Hixson: Counter-hegemonic forces challenging U.S. global hegemony

US Decline? (No.3): Michael Brenner: American Public’s Appetite for Military Intervention Diminishing

US Decline? (No.2): William Wohlforth: The United States Lost Some Ground over the Past Decade

US Decline? (No.1): Francis Shor: The Us Economy & Military Fading Gradually