AFRICANGLOBE – The international political system changes. Sometimes it changes in accord with hegemonic design. The dynamic history of America’s global development project, and its necessary relationship with sweeping international change, has marked changing global order since the end of World War II. Today, however, there exists the increased reach of multinationalcorporations, and many transnational actors; they also alters the international political landscape. These entities operate with great autonomy.
They work within a largely unregulated, anarchic international space. Their supranational agency (and inter-state context) also lends itself to elements some perceive as threats to “general security.”
International economic gangster-ism, and the choppy waters of cyberterrorism, are two relevant areas. Some further argue that wherever power shifts, global governance must follow. But do these global governance exponents mean to maintain the status quo? Do they want to propel the current liberal world order for any specific reason? Curiously, they do not ask whose security is threatened, or who qualifies to construct global governance. Given such drastic changes to the international political system within just the last few decades, it is important to know how power has become what it is today.
Moreover, it is important to ask why this power now enters twilight.
Pakistani social scientist, Hamza Alavi, shared his thoughts on “overdevelopment” in the early 1970s. His observations escorted one simple conclusion in particular: Colonial powers engineered governmental structures of their proxies to serve (and preserve) their imperial interests. Two key components were the colonial state’s sophisticated civil and military administrations, and their Westernised legal systems. Specifically, colonial powers and empires overdeveloped these two areas so as to create a lack of symmetry and to also skew development within the colony state. They structured their rule accordingly.
Alavi’s observations relate to Samuel P. Huntington’s philosophy regarding modernisation. The American political scientist, Huntington, argued that without the constructs Alavi described, popular participation would result in perhaps total political collapse, and would give way to uprisings and general insurrection. Huntington further prescribes the constructs of Alavi’s “overdevelopment” as the remedy for such turmoil. Initiating any kind of economic or social development processes, suggested Huntington, come after political process were thoroughly institutionalised, and state apparatuses, thoroughly extended.
Alavi and Huntington, however paradigmatically different, both witnessed the end of empire as a politically legitimate organisation of power on an international level after WWII. This transition colored the thoughts of many social scientists as the world indeed saw the nation-state, with its self-determination, triumph legitimate. A policy of non-intervention by foreign powers in the domestic/internal affairs of sovereign nation-states, along with striving for development, became the international political norm to emerge with the many unfolding post-colonial states.
Post-war America was the ever-industrialising global hegemon of the late 1940s. The US pushed weaker European colonial powers to relinquish control of their colonies. Some cite America’s anti-colonial stance as righteous; however, the fact remains that political independence of colonial states was itself largely inevitable. Other observations indicate that US risked European powers doing more harm than good should it cling to colonial rule too long. America thus sought to expedite the process; she did not want groups radicalizing within colonial states, crowding-out potential alliances with friendly nationalist groups in-colony.
One National Security Report (NSC 51) averred that 19th century imperialism was not anathema to communism, especially in more revolutionary areas. To the contrary, the report declared imperialism an ideal propellant for communism. America’s goal then was to propagate militarised nationalism for the sake of resisting international communism, which threatened the private ownership of property in de-colonizing nation-states. The key to sustainable hegemony was making use of the power consolidated within colonies via the overdeveloped state mechanisms treated by theorists like Alavi and Huntington.
Alavi’s overdeveloped asymmetrical civil administrative and military elements, were to theorists like Huntington, the necessary preconditions for both sustainable progress and political stability in new states. Some espoused that such state organs were the strongest gears of post-colonial states—they could be used to build and modernise states. The problem with overdeveloped civil and military bureaucracies, however, is that they lead to underdeveloped democratic elements. Post-colonial states that have, say, weak assemblies, or representative parties, but yet have strong civil and military administrations, give cause for concern. Democratic deficits call into question the purpose of the state’s existence: Does it exist to serve foreign capital and other foreign interests?
Historically, nationalist forces inside colonial areas already pushed the issue of independence, or sovereignty. Many colonies held movements to agitate for independence. They were well organised, and copious amounts of denizens mobilised. Kenya, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia—even Portugal’s colonies saw the inevitable dawning of independence from below.
Domestic pressure, and human as well as financial costs, forced colonial rulers to grant independence. US hegemony, thought many statecraft architects, would benefit from decolonisation and militant nationalism as the post-colonial states sought to further development. Preying on democratically-weak nations to secure a unipolar future of American hegemony would simply become easier.
The change for once imperial powers was great after the war. US anti-colonialism precipitated the consolidation of power in Europe. As European empires quit their formal coloniser status, European states had to shift their focus to political and economic issues within Europe. This shift indelibly marked the de-legitimisation of empire as an acceptable form of international political rule, and America’s project for international development took flight. But before America heralded the golden age of capitalism through lofty presidential rhetoric in the post-war interim, her commitment to international development and widespread economic liberalism was long underway in her own backyard.
US-sponsored development projects plagued one region, Latin America, since the 1930s. America’s Export-Import Bank, established by Roosevelt through his Good Neighbor Policy. Other US-sponsored development institutions, already mediated coercive interactions in the region. America preyed on the overdevelopment of many poor nations within Latin America. US planners clearly subscribed to classically liberal notions of politics within Latin America. The American experience with forcing the economic liberalization of Latin American states invariably influenced US involvement with post-war international reconstruction and development in a quickly anti-colonial world.
As opposed to America’s post-war hegemony of many decades, the global shift towards a multiple polarity of political power means shifting alliances. The West will continue to learn that states are now more interdependent than ever. Just as empire that was once the order of the day in the international political system, the American hegemony of the late 20th century eclipses.
Nation-states simply cannot expect to act unilaterally anymore; their actions make waves far too big. As America’s project for global development still falters in yielding desirable, egalitarian effects, the American post-war hegemony of the last seven decades is soon to eclipse.
By: Mateo Pimentel