Does it take a hegemon to run a stable world?

by Yuliia Kondrushenko, Global UGRAD program


Perception of international relations, even though it is based mostly on the single paradigm of realism, varies around the world. European social science is more systemic and structure based, while United States’ social science is unilateral and hegemonic. So is Europe or the US a bigger “realist” and does it really take a hegemon to create a stable system?

For example, the Palestinian-Israeli, Russian-Ukrainian,Russian-Georgian  among other conflicts could have been easily and quickly resolved on a governmental level with the help of the world government or other type of international authority, also known as the hegemon. This concept is not new and was brought to life several times during these conflicts. Let us compare the experience of European and American approach to this issue.

Western Europe, the most deeply integrated part of the world, emphasizes the importance of mutual respect, cooperation and equality. International institutions allow states to maximize gains while contributing limited and bearable amount of resources. Geographically, as limited space as Europe has, that space can be used efficiently only with a significant amount of mutual work. But there is a drawback: interdependence, which guarantees the political weight of Europe as a single actor in an anarchical world, requires a large amount l of bureaucratic procedures. For example, to accept a country as an associated member to the European Union, the treaty should be approved by each member of the EU separately plus by the Europarliament. Every member wants to be heard and every single decision needs to have consent of other members.

The idea of such institutions as the EU might have spread and worked as a World Government 101 theory, but this framework does not apply to the entire world system. Political changes are not created for an interdependent world. Once countries are involved in some kind of supranational structure, it is extremely hard to leave and accomplish other things. And what is more important – big scope can be sustained by power only and this power should be more decisive and unilateral.

Let’s head to another model of world organization: a single country with immense ambitions, the United States of America. American literature on foreign affairs reveals a new dimension of a world for me – a unipolar one. How can people here believe  the statement that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the only acceptable way to end the World War II? How U.S. can claim they had not officially started any wars since WW2? How can Americans  call their state the main exporter of democracy in the world, yet put boots on the ground and never think of a way to pull out? America overthrew democratic regimes, supported contras, and boosted intelligence into sabotage. This propaganda can be seen everywhere, even in what is perceived as the most liberal country in the world.

Two months later, having survived a renormalization period, I started questioning my mind if it accepted the rules of the international affairs game. I realize that the world is not unipolar and I  recognize the significance of unilateral action in it. I have never seen Russia or China acting in other parts of the world, while the U.S., as an “indispensable nation,” cannot pull out of some states abroad. Superpower can be used to create momentum and capture oil fields or install nuclear warheads, but at least these interests are nicely hidden in the promotion of democracy, liberal values and the fight against terrorism. There is no alternative way to rule the world now, with this fashion for liberalism arising fromt fear and disgust for authoritarian regimes and hegemony.

Diplomatic games between allies and adversaries, concealed interests and endless fight for scarce resources moves our world to conflict. I do not think that we can face a major war now — this is too dangerous for survival of the Earth itself — but I do know that conflicts can never be over. And, like cars on the road, countries need a police force to restrain hypothetical criminals, enforce rules and restore harmony.

I  acknowledge that this world needs some kind of high authority. While liberal institutions like the European Union show us decisions which are slow and faulty and all we can do is just express “deep concern,” we lack a hegemon or at least a decisive power. The US, even though it has domestic problems, is one of the most prosperous and stable societies in the world. And it has all possible resources to help states all over the world, and in the same time benefit from this situation.

Centers of power like China, Russia and the EU still cannot let the US run this show – the stakes are too high. Weakened economic situation, absence of a unified government and crossed national interests prevents US from taking the position of world’s government.  And any other actor, along with US, is afraid to take this responsibility right now, even though it is highly demanded by our fragile world.

I am ready to acknowledge that, both a perfect world and an  imperfect one needs some kind of restraint and regulation forces, possibly in the form of a hegemon. But as long as one regime will not dominate others, we have no real possibility to hope for a working high authority, run by a single state. And even knowing how imperfect the international institutions are, right now we cannot hope for a better solution.