Event Summary: Exit from Hegemony: The Unraveling of the American Global Order
On Monday, June 1, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted the authors of “Exit from Hegemony: The Unraveling of the American Global Order” to discuss their book. The discussion featured authors Alexander Cooley, Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, and Daniel Nexton, Associate Professor at Georgetown University. The panel was moderated by Kilic Kanat Research Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C.
Daniel Nexon began the discussion by introducing the book, and showing the contours of the United State’s gradual fall and decline in terms of superpower predominance. He followed the case of Walmart as a metaphor for the United State’s power in its unipolar moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union- first being the only option in town, and later having to deal with competitors. He compared that to the United State’s present condition, as at parity or near parity with China in terms of GDP in several measures, as well as in terms of influence.
Cooley expanded upon the Walmart metaphor, mentioning how there were competitors in the international sphere for aid and development. He supported this statement by going through a list of countries, like Kazakhstan and the Philippines as examples of the loss of formerly stalwart states, and more so examples of the erosion of US hegemony. Furthermore, alternative institutions such as the Asian development bank, and bilateral deals such as the belt and road initiative may show a final shift towards a new Chinese hegemony.
Nexon noted that as of the present, we are in uncharted waters, as Trump and the movement surrounding him has seemingly signaled a shift towards a more bilateral and quid pro quo type foreign policy. Both authors argued that coronavirus would accelerate the trends which we have seen so far, specifically noting that the US’s withdrawal from the WHO, and China’s offer to increase funding is clearly indicative of this trend.
The role of political polarization was also present in the discussion, with Nexon predicting that it would be unlikely that another international treaty would be passed in the near term due to polarization and gridlock in the Senate.
Fundamentally, the authors argued that the inflection point of US Hegemony had already passed in 2004, right after the invasion of Iraq, and at that point the US started receiving pushback from formerly pliant allies. Furthermore, the authors predict that like the collapse of the British empire, the collapse of the American Empire will be chaotic. According to Cooley, this however doesn’t mean that the US will become a weak state, but rather that it would return to being one great power out of many.