April 10, 2012


By Dr. Subhash Kapila


“After World War II, when the United States represented more than one-third of the world product and had an overwhelming preponderance in nuclear weapons, many considered it a global hegemon, but nonetheless the United States was unable to prevent the “loss” of China, roll-back Communism in Eastern Europe, prevent stalemate in the Korean War, stop the “loss” of North Vietnam, or dislodge Castro from Cuba.”--------Joseph S. Nye Jr.

The United States in an uncanny repeat of the above power limitations stated above finds itself in a similar situation in 2012. After two decades of unquestioned unipolar domination of the world following the disintegration of the Former Soviet Union, the United States contextually finds itself in a situation where its global strategic dominance stands diminished.

The United States military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to produce decisive results. Iran continues to be a complex strategic and military challenge for America. North Korea stands untamed and defiant. With an impoverished NATO, the United States stands virtually alone strategically and politically.

The United States in military terms today continues to be the mightiest power in the world and will continue as such for a couple of decades more. Global strategic and military power is highly concentrated in the United States with overwhelming asymmetry over its nearest rivals.

Despite the predominant superiority in global military power and force projection capabilities, what is emerging in a discernible manner to analysts’ both within the United States and in the international community is that the United States is presently unable to influence the global political and strategic landscape decisively or with that power induce outcomes favourable to the United States. The most notable current example is Pakistan today of US strategic dominance diminishment.

In a major way, this can be traced to the global shift of economic power away from the United States and Europe to the rising Asian powers represented by China, India, and Japan. The significant point to note is that in stark comparison, while the United States and European economies were adversely impacted by the global financial crisis of 2008, the economies of China and India not only weathered the 2008 global financial crisis but maintained and sustained appreciable rates of economic growth.

Comparatively again one can witness another trend in tandem and that is Asian military expenditures increased significantly with economic growth while European countries defence expenditure was scaled down due to economic problems, The United States under pressure of Congressional cuts will be executing troop reductions, limiting new defence equipment acquisitions and shelving weapons development projects.

Perceptionally, with such trends becoming a reality, the United States global strategic dominance is seriously impacted as a brief regional survey below would indicate.

In Europe, the Transatlantic Alliance in the shape of NATO is virtually being rendered redundant----the theme of an earlier SAAG Paper of mine. European countries and NATO Allies of the United States have become wearied of United States military interventions as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya as these have been economically costly. European countries may no longer be strategic assets for any future US military interventions and hence as a tool for US strategic dominance.

In the Middle East, the United States seems to have lost its strategic dominance for a number of reasons. The US military intervention in Iraq brought no tangible strategic or political victories for America. On the contrary, the Iraq military intervention strategically belittled America in regional perceptions that even after a decade of intense military engagement the United States seems to have been stymied by local armed militias.

Strategically, the Middle East is also witness to traditional US allies embarking on trajectories independent of American interests. Iran still figures prominently in American strategic cross-hairs as it could not be tamed because of its conventional military power and a lurking nuclear deterrence at its disposal.

In South Asia, he US military intervention in Afghanistan has yet to throw up decisive political and military results. The limitations of US military power come to the fore in Afghanistan and US tactically expedient US foreign policy which was Pakistan-centric so far adversely impacted US Forces military fighting strategies.

Asia Pacific has once again jumped into US strategic focus after a decade of strategic neglect by the United States because of its military distractions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The stupendous rise of Chinese military power in the last decade and its emphasis on accretion and upgradation of its strategic assets, blue water navy and stealth bombers besides advances in cyber warfare and space warfare have unnerved the United States.

The United States strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific and East Asia is particular specifically concentrates on the US containment of the perceived China Threat.

But more significantly, the US strategic pivot defines the beginning of the decline of the global strategic dominance of the United States. The US strategic pivot to Asia Pacific comes at a heavy strategic cost as the United States to give it military shape has been forced to draw-back from US Forces presence in Europe and the Middle Eat

Arguably, Europe does no longer face serious military threats but the Middle East still presents a number of flash-points with global dimensions. Except for Israel, the Middle East continues to be dominated by strong anti-US sentiments and also the relocation of the Al Qaeda.

Global strategic dominance of the United States stands diminished and this may grow further as increased cuts in US defence expenditure materialise.

What is being stressed in this discussion is only the diminishing of United States strategic dominance in crucial strategic regions of the world and not the decline of United States power, which is a separate and contested issue of debate.

Strategic dominance is incomplete without economic power, without overwhelming political influence and without sizeable military boots on the ground in critical strategic regions. United States would be unable to achieve strategic dominance by just a reliance on its shock and awe use of its naval and air force predominance or its force projection capabilities.

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