Wednesday, October 08, 2003
One, Two, Three Strikes and You're Out

Can one describe the United States as a declining hegemon? Is the last superpower a hegemon or is that state still to be realised. One of the problems of analysing the United States in terms of the 'balance of power' applicable to the nineteenth century is that all great powers now, the United States most of all, are uniquely vulnerable compared to the industrialising Victorian empires. With our complex systems and economies dependent upon information flow, certain weapons of mass destruction can cause enormous political and economic damage, if set off in particular locations.
As recent blackouts have shown, countries are vulnerable to random events as well as a determined and implacable enemy. Crippling any country is not easy but it is feasible, and because of the extreme potential of weapons of mass destruction, you only need one strike to cause severe dislocation in the United States or Great Britain.

American power is impelled to protect its economic and political interests through engagement with the rest of the world. Its prosperity has become dependent upon the process of globalisation, just as Europe's wealth was after the second world war. The necessity of maintaining a global presence combined with the realisation that its enemies are far more powerful if they obtain certain weapons leads to the inexorable logic of empire.

In order to protect itself, the United States must police the world and ensure that all enemies remain cowed. However, the United States finds that certain states appear to be irrational players, motivated by ideologies immune to the bribery, bullying and blandishments that can usually obtain most diplomatic ends. Whilst willing to use a combination of soft and hard power, the United States understands that international law and interdependence have limited uses and will not provide the necessary protection. At best, they can provide a legitimating cloak for US ends.

However, extreme enemies have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of these tools and their institutions. The United States has already extended its lead in military technology and, given China's recorded ambitions in space, will turn its attention to the high frontier.

Space dominance ensures U.S. military superiority. "We're so dominant in space that I would pity a country that would come up against us," says Maj. Gen. Franklin J. "Judd" Blaisdell, director of Air Force space operations and integration. "The synergy with air, land and sea forces and our ability to control the battle space and seize the high ground is devastating." Thanks to space technology, the U.S. military is more powerful than ever, with what Blaisdell calls a combination of "speed, lethality, persistence, information dominance, precision and the battle space characterization, bombs on target, real-time battle management."

The weaponisation of space and the 'first mover advantage' it accords to any power will result in a hegemony. It is difficult to see any other power apart from the United States obtaining this crown. If this occurs, we will know what an American Empire is.

(8th October 2003, 19.07)


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