After the Cold War, the United States emerged as the only world power with the economic and military capability to back it up. Hence, the international system is largely influenced by the decisions of this hegemon. However, we could see that even though the United States remains the strongest state in the world, it cannot fully carry out its foreign policies unilaterally. It needs the cooperation of other states before it can successfully complete its goals.
Thus, the United States may be the only superpower, but its hegemony can work against it in a unipolar international system. The nature of the United State’s hegemony is two-fold – it is not only the superpower because of its military might, but because of its widespread culture and economic progress as well. David Capie analyzed the relations of the United States with three Southeast nations – the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. All three countries expressed their support against terrorism, but their stances fluctuated and were heavily influenced with domestic interests.
These states did not join together to counteract the aggressive tendencies and balance the power of the United States, but they also did not jump into the bandwagon except for the Philippines, and even then the Philippine government expressed limits on to what extent it was willing to cooperate. Also, the three states changed their positions after the aggressive action of the United States of attacking Afghanistan, and then waging war on Iraq.
Whereas Indonesia started as lukewarm in its support for the United States’ war on terrorism, after the attacks on Afghanistan it started to express criticism against the use of violence, and became firm on its criticism when the Iraq war came. Similarly, Malaysia strongly supported the United States’ war on terrorism, but when the US started flexing its military muscle Malaysia changed its tone and used the show of violence as a leverage to round up local terrorist elements and to criticize US actions at the same time preserving the regime’s political stability in the country.
In the case of the Philippines, its support faltered when the US released prematurely that it will be sending troops in the country without the Philippine government’s sign, rousing domestic opposition that led to recanting the statement and maintaining the forces will only be for training. It shows that the US has overestimated their closest ally’s dedication, that it too needs to be balance domestic interests with foreign goals. The instability of the governments in the Southeast and the propensity of social breakdown in their societies is a great concern of their leaders.
The Malaysian, Indonesian, and Philippine governments all prioritize nation-building, or at least, maintaining the peace in their respective regions and consequently securing their regime’s continuing legitimacy. The United States should be able to take these states’ domestic concerns in drafting foreign policies and in courting allies. The positions that states take are influenced by both international and domestic factors, and indeed, in cases in Southeast Asia, it seems that placating domestic issues are more important than aligning with foreign powers.
Further, the United States’ aggressive stance and willingness to employ violence is working against it in securing allies. It is this single-mindedness of the United States to pursue its foreign policy with its military power that works against it in the unipolar international system. No other nation can match its military capability, and no other nation is too willing to use force. The United States’ hegemony is two-fold – it is the supreme power in military capability, and in disseminating ideas. It has both hard and soft power, but it tends more to use its hard power to prove its supremacy.
This repels the international community because it shows the brazenness of one state to act unilaterally against the shared values of respect, security, upholding human rights and freedom when supranational organizations are in place to foster unity and cooperation across the globe to deal with issues like terrorism that concerns all. The world needs no convincing who is most powerful of all – and it does not appreciate being reminded through acts of violence at the expense of international laws just because it can.
It is interesting to note that a hegemon cannot force it power to influence these countries according to its will. It shows that the norms and values of the international system – of sovereignty, non-interference, and borders are more powerful than economic progress and military might. The United States perhaps could do better with utilizing its soft power rather than going head on unilaterally at the expense of distressing other states and societies’ sensitivities. It might even find that through diplomacy and dialogue, it may better be able to find allies in the sake of a shared pursuit.