America’s undying empire: why the decline of US power has been greatly exaggerated (Tom Stevenson, 30 Nov 2023, The Guardian)
The US has military superiority over all other countries, control of the world’s oceans via critical sea lanes, garrisons on every continent, a network of alliances that covers much of the industrial world, the ability to render individuals to secret prisons in countries from Cuba to Thailand, preponderant influence over the global financial system, about 30% of the world’s wealth and a continental economy not dependent on international trade.
To call this an empire is, if anything, to understate its range. Within the American security establishment, what it amounted to was never in doubt. US power was to be exercised around the world using the “conduits of national power”: economic centrality, military scale, sole possession of a global navy, nuclear superiority and global surveillance architecture that makes use of the dominant American share of the Earth’s orbital infrastructure.
If proponents of the end of the US global order do not assert a decrease in the potency of the instruments of American power, that is because there has been no such decrease. The share of global transactions conducted in dollars has been increasing, not declining. No other state can affect political outcomes in other countries the way the US still does. The reach of the contemporary US is so great that it tends to blend into the background of daily events. In January 2019, the US demanded that Germany ban the Iranian airline Mahan Air from landing on its territory. In September 2020, it sanctioned the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court for refusing to drop investigations into American citizens. In February 2022, at US request, Japan agreed to redirect liquefied fossil gas, which is critical to Japanese industry, to Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia over Ukraine. At the height of that conflict, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, found the time to visit Algiers to negotiate the reopening of a gas pipeline to Spain via Morocco. These were all quotidian events, unremarkable daily instances of humdrum imperial activity. The practical operation of the empire remains poorly understood, not despite its ubiquity, but because of it.
From this perspective, the menial adherence of Britain to the US global project is at least intelligible. Historically, American planners divided their approach to the rest of the world by region. In western Europe and Japan, American interests were usually pursued by cautious political management. In Latin America and the Middle East, constant interventions, coups and invasions were needed. In east Asia and south-east Asia there was military exertion at scale. As long as it lasted, the Soviet Union was cordoned off and contained, against the wishes of the generals in the US Strategic Air Command, who would have preferred to destroy it in a nuclear holocaust. The major US allies were on the right side of this calculus and had less reason to begrudge it.
When dealing with the US, elites in countries on the periphery of the global economy still often behave as though they are dealing with the imperial centre.
It’s not just that other nations aspire to be like America but that the only way to achive that is Americanization. No one can escape the End of History in the long run.