united states world leader

Written by Shahzaib Khan 6:47 pm

Is the United States Still the World Leader?

The world is still considered unipolar, but the failing US foreign policy on several fronts tells some other stories: from chaos in Iraq, bloodshed in Syria, China and Russia challenging the status quo, to the looming civil war in Afghanistan. Despite all these challenges, the US continues to maintain its position as the global leader. The author states that America’s military might, technological advancements, and academic prowess are some of the reasons why the US still holds a powerful position on the world stage.

The Geostrategic Resurgence of Russia

Firstly, in 1991, (after the USSR implosion) all the Balkan states and Eurasian countries became independent. The world became unipolar, and this was referred to as the ‘The End of History’ by Francis Fukuyama in his magnum opus. This implosion was a death blow and put an end to all other ideologies contradicting Western-liberal capitalism. It was then that the United States became the world leader.

Since 1991, Vladimir Putin has been amassing power, and the world has been observing Russia’s strategic resurgence. Several events showcase Russia’s new posture and its assertion beyond the region. In 2008, Russia successfully stopped Georgia from joining the European Union and NATO. Russian military intervened in Georgia, and within three days took control of Georgia.

NATO was reluctant to forestall, which illustrates its inability to cope with the re-emergence of Russia. Secondly, in 2014, Russia did the same thing when it disintegrated Ukraine, annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and helped stir a civil war-like situation in Ukraine. The US and its Western allies failed to enforce international rules and implement collective security principles.

Thirdly, Russia reasserted its strategic presence in Syria (the only country where Russia has naval bases in the Arab world) where the Russian military overtly meddled in Syria to protect Assad’s regime. Russia also helped Assad counter his adversaries, including the US, the Israelis, and NATO, amongst others. Russia has been espousing the Bashar-ul-Asad regime by providing diplomatic and military aid.

Fourthly, Russia is also expanding its tentacles in the Baltic region, which was once considered home to NATO. Russia has also established strong ties with Turkey, an important country in the Mediterranean region. Washington recently added Ankara under its CAATSA (Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanction Act) after Turkey purchased the S-400 Anti-Missile System from Russia.

According to French President Emmanuel Macron, NATO is a big hoax, and European countries should focus on establishing their military alliance – the same idea was propounded by Italy. The US is not ready to contribute more to NATO: It is already the largest contributor and asks European countries to contribute proportionally.

While NATO brought its forces into Afghanistan, a majority of NATO countries deployed their troops in areas where there was no insurgency, for example, in northern Afghanistan. Many countries signed a peace deal with the Taliban and this shows a weakened NATO and the US’s fading role.

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It can be said that the steeper the decline of NATO, the higher the ascent of Russia. Furthermore, Russia is now entering into a strategic partnership with China and gaining access to the Arabian sea where the US once had a strong foothold. Surely, China and Russia are a threat to the United States’ position as the sole world leader.

The Diplomatic Resurgence of Russia

Russia annexed Crimea, and when the US brought a resolution against the annexation on the platform of the UN Security Council, it was vetoed by Russia. Again, in 2014, the US brought a resolution for military intervention in Syria, which was vetoed by Russia. The enactment and growing influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with its two principal architects, that is, Russia and China, is another setback to US diplomacy.

Additionally, Russia is making increasing inroads into the Middle East and is especially trying to normalize its strained ties with the Gulf sheikhdom, where a civil nuclear deal signifies the normalization between Moscow and Riyadh (Vision 2030 MBS).

Rising China is Another Impediment to the US Hegemony

China is aiming for increased economic power through its ambitious global project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is the largest project of the 21st century. BRI will also see an increase in the defense capabilities of China due to the planned military spending of around 250 billion dollars, which means that China is not only working towards economic expansion but also building on its military.

China’s PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy), with its ever-increasing might in the South China Sea, is another headache for the United States. Another factor is the economic war between China and the US, based largely on tariffs and embargoes against each other.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce’s China Centre, the US economy could lose up to $1 trillion in growth if tariffs were more broadly applied to all US-China trade. China is now considered a threat not only to the US economy but also to its global hegemonic dominance, and even to the American allies.

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Four decades ago, US trade with the ASEAN was five times China’s trade, and now Chinese trade with ASEAN is twice that of the U.S. This presents a grim picture of the receding role of the US across the Pacific.

But the United States is Still the World Leader

Despite its economy in shambles, the United States is considered the world leader. It is still the world’s largest economy and largest software producer. It controls the world’s banking system, through the IMF and other global financial institutions.

Despite the protectionist and nationalist policies of the Trump era, where Trump backpedaled from the trans-Atlantic alliances, withheld contribution to the international institutions, and withdrew from the climate summit from the Paris agreement, the US still leads the world as the international policeman.

After Biden became President, the US recalibrated domestic and foreign policies. The US has been successful in somewhat containing China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region through its alliances with Japan, India, Australia, and other ASEAN countries. QUAD is one of the military alliances aimed to counter US adversaries (mainly China).

The US is once again working on strengthening its relations with European nations. The recent G-7 summit is the reversal of Biden’s predecessor’s policies: a signed communique illustrates the global ambitious project ‘Build Back Better World’ or ‘B3W’ aimed to combat China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A Military Leader

The world is under the control of the US, with around 800 military bases across 70 countries and territories. Britain, France, and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined. In addition to state-of-the-art military technology, the US has B-52 bombers, along with many other unmanned aerial vehicles used to combat hostile elements.

The US defense budget is a whopping 778 billion dollars which is greater than that of the next eleven combined countries in the defense-spending list. The mess in Afghanistan and Iraq has cost trillions of dollars, but the US aimed to protect its hegemony by dismantling a strong political leader and eradicating the perceived threat of Al-Qaeda to its mainland.

A Technological Leader

Till now, the technological edge that the US has remains unchallenged. Its technological superiority over the rest of the world is because of several reasons. The first major element of the US innovation ecosystem is the free flow of people. Skilled immigrants have pushed the United States to global technological leadership: immigrants founded 52 percent of the new Silicon Valley companies between 1995 and 2005.

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The second element of US technological dynamism is the free trade of goods, which has historically been subject to some level of restriction by both tariffs and export controls. Today, many emerging technologies have both commercial and military applications. Moreover, the US has all the technologies – conventional or non-conventional. It has non-military technology through which it is controlling and monitoring the global satellite network.

Leader in Academia

The U.S. is also a world leader in academia. It has produced the most number of Noble laureates around the world. The ballooning of research in China is still unable to catch up with the level and facilities for researchers in the U.S. Most of the top-ranked universities in the world are U.S.-based. Health facilities of the U.S. are in no match with the rest of the world: during COVID-19, the U.S. developed an early vaccine to combat the deadly virus. Odds are against the U.S. given the challenges it is facing, but it has remained steadfast to this day, despite all adversities, and is still considered a world leader. 

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About the Author(s)

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Mr. Shahzaib Khan is a student of literature and politics.

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