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End of Hegemony: US National Intelligence Council

The End of Hegemony: the US National Intelligence Council

By Binoy Kampmark

The French, through their Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, neatly summarised US primacy in one word: hyperpuissance. After the tattered Iron Curtain was drawn back in 1991, then US Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney pressed a few neocons (amongst them Paul Wolfowitz) to draft a blue print that would insure that the US would never again have to face a rival on the world stage. While the initial drafts were scotched as being somewhat too unvarnished and frank, ‘Dick’ and his entourage would return for the rematch in 2000.

A century prior to that were the imperial meditations of US naval officer and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, who was cognizant in 1890 that, if America had any genuine hegemonic pretensions, it had best master the open sea. His program was child’s play – if you had the resources: get the weapons and their bases of supply; establish a commercial sea monopoly; and build a string of colonies to underwrite the process.

Now, the US National Intelligence Council stares Mahan-like into the glass darkly, and finds a series of discomforting changes to the nature of US power by 2025. Their report, ‘Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed’ released earlier this week, makes a series of less than surprising observations.

Empires tend to be unchallenged in terms of sheer military strength. That tag was fastened onto US power after 1991, and even more blatantly after 2003, when it donned imperial khaki (poorly, as it turned out), to democratize the Middle East and tame ‘rogue’ states.

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Such ventures into manifest destiny, suggests the report, will change. The US will still remain a primary power, but it will have to dine at the same table with others. Brazil, Russia, China and India will press their claims. India won’t need Washington’s sponsorship, setting its own global agenda. “Few countries are poised to have more impact on the world over the next 15 to 20 years than China.” On current projections, the Chinese will be a “leading military power” with army to boot.

Strategic rivalries may become the norm, much in the manner of a “19th-century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion, and military rivalries.” Another sign of American pre-eminence, the supremacy of the US dollar, will also be pegged back, to be merely a “first-among-equals.” Wealth will be dramatically transferred from west to east. The report authors, in short, fear a world of multipolar jostling and jockeying.

The authors also have a few punts, and that, in the intelligence game, can be dangerous. Not actually knowing what will happen doesn’t seem to worry some intelligence operatives. One is the assumption that ‘rogue’ states will proliferate like busy bacteria. Destructive technologies will be available for non-state networks to play with. Iran’s attempt to get the bomb will cause a spiraling arms race in the Middle East. Some states, even nuclear-armed ones, may prove ungovernable, overtaken by criminal elements.

Mahan tended to see the international system as one occupied by power junkies bent on conflict. It was far better to get on with the business of war first. Diplomacy would duly follow. We already saw the consequences of that approach under the Bush administration. Let’s hope the Obama administration takes much of what this report says with a grain of salt (apart from the obvious) and keeps diplomatic channels open. Now that would be novel.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge.


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