The U.S. ambitions for hegemony and its implications

The U.S. strategy for global hegemony starts with geoeconomic realism. The claim of geopolitical realism is the biggest misconception and error. Geoeconomic realism means continental realism. In other words, it is a theory that explains the process of a continent-based country balancing its power by competing with neighboring countries for power. It is a strategy that relies on war deterrent measures such as alliance, solidarity, and union.

However, this is far from the geographical conditions of the United States. For the U.S., the strong economic power is its only source of hegemony. Therefore, free trade and financial transactions are a top priority. The U.S. will carry out strategies to keep competitors in check to maintain this economic order. The only time the U.S. embodied continental realism was during the two administrations, Nixon (1969-1974) and Trump (2016-2020). Strategic thinking in the 1920s, when isolationism was prevalent, also originated from geoeconomic realism. It was the time when the U.S. overprotected its economic interests and established measures such as anti-immigration laws and protective trade measures.


The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor", lithograph depicting the 1773 Boston Tea Party

The United States took three historical steps before winning the British hegemony

From 1776 to 1823, the U.S. was a newly independent nation and had no presence in the world. Between 1823 and 1860, it intervened in all wars in Europe and elsewhere to promote its presence. Until then, the U.S. had to conform to Britain's international economic order to increase its national power and expand its national interest.

However, in 1860–1895 the U.S. succeeded in gaining the recognition of its hegemonic position in the West from Britain. Even in China, with Britain accepting the open-door policy, it also gained equal status to Britain in Asia and China. Then, as the U.S. economic power grew close to the level of Britain, it began to prepare itself for the case where Britain could no longer maintain the existing international economic order.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), President Abraham Lincoln warned Britain when the Confederates in the South tried to attack the North by using British ports, saying if Britain were to continue allowing the use of British ports, there would be a war. Since then, "freedom of navigation" was established in the U.S. global strategy. Thirty years later Admiral Alfred Mahan introduced the importance of the ocean. Today, China is taking similar steps to the U.S. hegemonic process. This is the historical reason why the U.S., having experienced all the steps, focuses on checking China.

Jaewoo Choo

Jaewoo Choo is a professor of International Politics at Kyung Hee University, South Korea, and Director of China Research Center, Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

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