June 26, 2007

Foundations of Power (i)

This blog entry forms what shall be the first of an evolving series that succinctly seeks to identify key elements of U.S. pre-eminence today.


Since the development of the modern state system, America has established a clear command in the principal dimensions of power and this has allowed it to exercise immense influence, strength, capacity, and prerogative in the international arena which has helped to create a better world. Its position however does not constitute one of global hegemony hence it does not have absolute authority. Primarily I refer to terms of power within international relations that support its Government to promote its individual brand of liberal-capitalist order and integrate other nations into its sphere or, as Richard Haas, President of the Council of Foreign Relations put it, “into arrangements that will sustain a world consistent with (our) interest”. What is more through its foreign policy objectives the process seeks to preserve and increase U.S. power and authority as well as to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, further liberalize the global economy and promote democracy and human rights, once again consistent with U.S. values.

America has at its disposal a diversity of tools and means to consolidate and enhance its present position of primacy. This first part of the series will identify some of the international institutions the United States makes use of to exact its preferences and interests. In future entries, I will look at other foundations of power including economic dominance, military strength, ideological and cultural impact, and geopolitical assets.

Institutional influence

It is customary for nation states to make use of institutions for the coordination and management of particular international and domestic activities. These bodies provide constructive mechanisms for managing global challenges requiring collective or multilateral actions. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of institutional bodies in the world today however, for the purposes of this blog entry, and to exemplify a line of reasoning, I refer to some of the major global organizations together with the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Trade Organisation (WTO), The United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Collectively these institutions grant a plethora of vital functions and services together with, but not limited to, the facilitation and nurturing of international laws and security, economic development, financial assistance, social progress, monetary cooperation, exchange security, employment growth, international trade relations, political stability and state security.

No single state exercises complete control over these organizations and in any event, the rules and regulations governing them would prevent this from happening. Nevertheless, the United States plays a pivotal role within them. For example, U.S. contributions and assistance to the IMF warrant it voting rights in executive ranks and boards accordingly this allows the luxury of indirect but primary influence in policy making and because it is much the same with the World Bank, it implies more than a casual sensitivity to the wishes and needs of Washington.

The United States is also one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; a privilege that grants it veto rights over all matters, however because of its military strength it can also ignore the Council when in its interests to do so, as in Kosovo in 1999. It is also noteworthy that the U.S. contribution to the U.N’s annual budget is over twenty (20) percent.

The U.S. is also a key player within NATO with the Supreme Allied Commander’s position being held by an officer of the United States; thus the military alliance in Europe is often directed by American initiative.

Power clearly has benefits for Washington but as is often overlooked it also provides fundamental reward in terms of world stability and growth, furthermore by taking into account the critical functions of the aforementioned institutions, the U.S. has a resilient capacity to shape regional powers and endow the globe with advances in human rights issues and democracy.

As former President Bill Clinton once said, the U.S. is a “beacon of hope to peoples around the world”.

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