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It is well known that the United States of America is the worlds, at the time, supreme superpower. This is a unique situation; no other nation has ever had the same amount of power in such a concentrated way as the US has. Despite other potentially superpowers in an ever changing world such as China and maybe eventually, the European Union, today, and probably for many years to come, the US remains the most powerful nation in the world. Financially, politically and not least, military, the US are the leading nation. The country is incredibly inflencal in the entire world, causing it to have many allies, but also many enemies.
Because the US politics on international and internal matters are of such an importance to the entire world, and because it reflects upon the evolution of the US as a nation, its relationship to other countries and the many conflicts the US is and has been involved in, the USA is undoubtedly one of the most interesting countries analyse. Also, because the actions of the USA in the next few years will decide much of the future, many find the USA interesting in this context. Describing the rise of the USA as a superpower, and, considering recent events, how they have behaved after the recent terrorist attacks is also relevant in the world today.
The rise of the USA as an international superpower
After the World War I, the prosperity grew in the American society. An economic optimism was growing, and many believed that the US would never face financial problems again. In the early 1930’s, however, the US was hit by a severe economic depression after the Wall Street hit the bottom the 24th of October 1929. This was triggered by a general concern for the American economy, because of the current low dollar and the much larger amount of export than import. People began to sell their stockholdings, and as a wave of panic spread as the Wall Street index slowly decreased, more and more sold stocks. This led to the Wall Street collapse, that would eventually lead to a period of economical depression.
The American government was forced to intervene, as it was clear that the financial matters would not get better by themselves. In 1938, president D. Roosevelt started the New Deal program, a program in which the government financially boosted the civilian economy by regulating and pushing capital into the economy, hoping to stabilise it and to create more jobs. To avoid the poverty spreading further, a minimum standard of living was established, and the rather primitive social security system was largely enhanced. This undoubtedly led to some improvements in the American economy, but it did not put a complete end to the economic crisis known at the Great Depression. By the end of the 1930s, almost 20% of the American working force was still unemployed.
An unexpected end was to come to the crisis soon, however. As the war broke out all over Europe, the US maintained their passive role for the first time of the war. However, they were forced into action after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. This attack, in which the American pacific fleet suffered severe losses (though not fatal), triggered the USA to engage in the war not only in the pacific against Japan, but also on the European continent, against Germany as well. Cooperating with the UK, Russia and other allies, the Americans managed to free the invaded parts of Europe and push the Nazis back to Germany. In the aftermath of the war, the USA also managed to put an end to certain communist regimes in eastern Asia. Interestingly, in the time leading from World War I to World War II the USA had been relatively isolated in a military perspective, and was thus not considered a very influencal country compared with for example France or Britain. At the end of the Second World War, however, the US rose as a major power as many other, such as Germany and the United Kingdom lost much influence and power. In the years after the Second World War, the only power able to match the US was the Soviet Union, which is now long since dissolved.
Thus, the results of the war were the US taking a leading role in international politics, a role that it still holds. Not only did the Americans make the Axis fall, they also prospered greatly internally because of the war.
The many war facilities required to maintain the American army during World War II had provided more than enough jobs for the American people. After the war, many of these facilities effectively adapted themselves into making more peaceful products, such as cars and civilian airplanes. This newly created industry did not only maintain the jobs for the ones working under the war; it also provided jobs for the many unemployed who volunteered for the army during the war. As a result, only 670 000 Americans were unemployed in 1945. This great economic leap for the Americans also allowed them to give economical help to the many countries ruined by war through the Marshall Plan. This plan mainly was about giving Europe dollars to spend on American products, something that would boost the civil economy of the USA even more. Almost as much as 12 billion dollars was freely distributed around Europe as a result, and most of these dollars were spent on American products or spent on buying American services for rebuilding Europe. At this time, the US was completely out of the Great Depression, and they had also started to make important influencal bonds with Europe, helping many countries in their time of need.
This would later lead to many important European allies. At this time, the US started to realise their full potential, understanding that the USA had, by "saving" Europe during World War II, started their period of superpower.
Just having stabilised itself and Europe, the USA did not have to wait long to be involved in another conflict. As the US gained more and more influence in Europe and Asia, they quickly came in conflict with the communistic Soviet Union. Basically, the reason for the conflict was the different ideologies of the nations, with the USA being capitalistic and the Soviet Union being communistic. From 1945 and to the 1990s, both of these countries tried to spread their ideologies throughout the world. In this process, both nations used not only politics, but also military power. Luckily, the nations never went to war with each other directly. They fought their wars in other countries, fighting for them to be either capitalistic or communistic. Examples of such wars are the war in Afghanistan, the war in North-Korea and the well known Vietnam War. This dangerous time of indirect warring and espionage is known as the Cold War, a war in which the use of nuclear weapons was an imminent threat. Because of incredibly inefficient economical systems, because of ignoring the civilian economy while pushing too much money on the military and because of corrupt leaders, the Soviet Union fell in the early 90s. This left the US as the single most powerful nation in the world, with no one to compete. This gave the US even more influence around the world, and caused further economical growth, despite the military being somewhat lessened.
Despite behaving fairly well, stopping many conflicts and contributing to the international society in many ways, the US can really do whatever they want in the world today with few exceptions. They can for instance refuse to sign international resolutions such as the Kyoto-agreement without having to face any consequences but a few demonstrations.
No country has been able to pose a potential military threat to the US in the recent years, and this is in many ways reflected in the ways the US behave towards the rest of the world. However, many extremist groups who greatly oppose the politics of Western Europe and the US, commonly known simply as the West, now pose a threat in the new way of waging war: terrorism.
The war on terror
Being the worlds most powerful nation, even the USA finds that it cannot be protected from all kinds of wars. This was shown on 9/11 2001, when a terrorist group known as Al Quaida crashed planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. This led to the US declaring war on terrorism. This war has been waged relatively independently of the other nations, as many European countries have critical views on US international politics. The fact that the US is not entirely in co-operation with the UN and the rest of Europe, was clearly shown when the US decided to attack Iraq without the UN agreeing. Attempting to force democracy into other countries in order to rid the world of terrorism might not be a strategy agreed upon by many.
The current US president, George W. Bush jr., has made many decisions that are generally disliked in the international community. In the aftermath of the second Gulf War, many now asks for the true reasons for invading Iraq. The original motive was to instate democracy and to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, but as no weapons were found, and as the Americans were met by great both military and civilian resistance in the country, many now question whether it was right to go to war to Iraq. Some even believe that the US invaded the country in order to get access to the oil recourses there.
Regardless, the war on terror goes on, but with a seeming lack of success, and incriminating the US in accusing them of waging war on nations like Iraq and Afghanistan for no reasons but to get their oil, the US is not considered the shiny knight it once was. Involving itself in many conflicts and wars in the Middle East the last twenty years, some to oppose the soviets, some to instate democracy, some to stop terrorists and some, seemingly, only to get oil, the US is not very popular in that part of the world today, either. Despite invading Iraq and ridding it of its dictator, Saddam Hussein, many Islamite extremists as well as civilians feel that the US involvements in the Middle East has only lead to worsening the conflicts, and believe that the US want to impose their much contrasting culture to the Middle East as well. This hostile attitude in many places of the world has lead up to the current situation, in which the US with the rest of Europe is trying to stop the terrorism that has mainly aspired from the Middle East.
A centre of this conflict today, is the recently invaded Iraq. Here, American soldiers are being attacked every day as a response to their invasion of the country. Here, the US focuses its military power to crush the extremist groups opposing them, while they are waging an international war of intelligence against terrorism in general.
Consequences of the US as the one supreme power in the world
Today, as said, the United States is the world’s only superpower. But how do they use their enormous influence, especially in the war on terrorism and what are the consequences?
“A superpower is a state with the ability to influence events or project power on a wide scale. In modern terms, this may imply an entity with a strong economy, a large population, and strong armed forces, including air power and satellite capabilities, and a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.” (Definition from the online lexicon Wikipedia (wikipedia.org)). Today the US has all of these characteristics.
The USA today is involved in a series of conflicts all over the world, and which many feel that they have no business. An example of such a conflict is the conflict in Israel and Palestine, a long ongoing religious war between Jews and Muslims. The US has for many years supported Israel military, and Israel is now a leading military nation in that part of the world. A reason for the US boosting Israel in such a way would probably be to gain popularity also in the Middle East and to avoid Israel being invaded by one of the near Muslim countries. Israel has, however, used much of its military power to limit the state of Palestine, taking much of what is considered Palestine land. In this conflict, many Europeans feel sympathy for the Palestinians, being suppressed by Israel. The many Palestinian terrorist groups do, however, limit this sympathy. Regardless, with the US supporting Israel and many Europeans supporting the Palestinians, the European negative attitude towards the US has increased. If anything, the Iraqi war also contributed much to creating negative attitudes towards the US and its president, Bush, also among European allies.
Into the future
After spending enormous resources on the Iraqi war, many now realise that not even the US can wage an unlimited amount of wars without suffering severe economic and military losses. Many believe that the Iraqi war shows that the US will not have its place of power uncontested in the future. The fact that a large part of the US industry depends on Middle-east oil, is in itself a weak link in the American economy. In addition, the fact that the US is dependent on many raw-resources from Asia and Europe, it is now clear only good economics is not everything.
With the European Union discussing whether or not to establish an army and with China’s incredible economic growth, the foundation for other superpowers to rise are now evident. Whether or not several superpowers are better than one remains to be seen.
Visions 1 written by Hilde Hasselgård, Karen Patrick Knutsen and Kristin Årskaug, published by Aschehoug & Co 1. edition 2002.