Dissecting American Hegemony: Part II- Popular Peace

After witnessing the horrors of the two ‘World Wars,’ people have come to the conclusion that shooting guns at each other may not be the brightest idea. As states gradually came to favor the general people as the decision maker rather than a potentially despotic king or Fuhrer, the possibility of starting a war grew even dimmer. After all, people would never want to sacrifice their property and more importantly, their lives. Going to war isn’t popular, and in a democracy, politicians tend to distance themselves as far as possible from unpopular ideas.[1]

Such phenomenon is nicely summed up by what’s called Democratic Peace Theory (DPT). DPT is a “proposition that democracies are more peaceful in their foreign relations.”[2] Of course, even within the theory there are disagreements on how to define “democracies” or “peaceful,” but in general the theory proposes that democratic states prefer less brutal ways (like starting a war or arguably supporting a war) to deal with its foreign affairs. Now, this theory now poses an interesting question: are democratic hegemonic powers also more likely to be peaceful?

 

Reasons Behind Peace

Although there exist various types of DPT, in this article we will only focus on the most widely accepted, dyadic DPT. Dyadic DPT limits the scope of DPT by saying that democracies are peaceful with other democracies (i.e. with each other) but not necessarily so when dealing with non-democratic countries. There exist various explanations for this, but to list a few:

 

  1. Human Rights:

War is not humane. That is a fact, and people fully well knows this. In an age when people are ever more sensitive about ‘human rights,’ it would be a political suicide to openly say, “Let’s ignore basic rights of humankind and kill people!” Of course, this is often not the case, especially when a state with strong nationalistic sentiment feels ‘challenged’. In that case, concerns for human rights may not do much to prevent politicians from declaring war, since people will be supportive of trampling the human rights of the opponents.[3]

photo-1419848449479-6c8a7d8d62c2.jpg

“War is not humane.”

  1. Kinship 

You are less likely to shoot your family members and friends. The closer your personal connection to the other is, the more uncomfortable you become of turning 180 on them and declaring their destruction. In the modern world where globalization connects people from different civilizations and culture, people are less likely to revert back to the ancient ‘us and them’ logic and decry people from other countries as ‘barbarians.’ With this sense of kinship, people are less likely to call for war as they come to understand better the other culture and identify with them as humans.

 

  1. Marketplace

Democracy is often (although by no means always) accompanied by capitalism. In a capitalist point of view, the ideal world is a place where people play by the rules rather than use brute force to simply get what they want. For these reasons, democracies with advanced capitalist economy prefer the rule of international law to the rule of military force- with peace grows prosperity, and nobody hates prosperity.

 

Fatal Flaw

According to this theory, one would expect the US to be unlike the previous hegemonic powers- after all, it is the birthplace of democracy. But the world we face today is far from ‘peaceful.’ So what is the fatal flaw in this theory?

The thing is, America’s preference for peace in foreign policy is only applied when the counterpart is also a democracy. When the state they are dealing with doesn’t fit the moral standard America’s democracy upholds, the hegemonic power often declares them as ‘rogue,’ and uses force to ‘correct’ them. So does this mean that the US, as a hegemonic power in the modern world, is just like any other previous hegemonic power despite all the rhetoric about Pax Americana? In the next article, the question of whether American hegemony has been a recipe for peace or possibly, a recipe for neo-imperialism.

*Photo Credit:

Photography by Jordy Meow, uploaded on 29 December 2014, provided by Unsplahs

Available at: https://hd.unsplash.com/photo-1419848449479-6c8a7d8d62c2

 

[1] This is a sweeping generalization; for example, PM Tony Blair decided to go to war with Iraq despite the public’s grumbles against the decision. It may perhaps be better to add that even when politicians make unpopular decisions, they try to keep up their popularity as an individual.

[2]Oxfordbibliographies.com. (2016). Democratic Peace Theory – Political Science – Oxford Bibliographies – obo. [online] Available at: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223-0014.xml [Accessed 5 Sep. 2016].

Advertisements

Dissecting American Hegemony: Part I-The Transition

As an extremely diverse global community, we tend to disagree rather than agree on various issues; it is incredibly difficult to find a truism that everyone agrees with. However, it would be very hard for one to argue against the fact that the United States of America has long held dominance in world politics. Its influence in diplomacy, economy, ideology and the society in general during the modern era is almost impossible to ignore. Often, people describe this as the ‘American hegemony.’

 

What is Hegemony?

Hegemony is defined as “the preponderant influence or authority over others.”[1] When put simply, it means that a decision or an action of a hegemonic power could cause a worldwide butterfly effect. Hegemonic states are at the very core of an international society, and often acts as the final decision maker. Its effects are not restricted to a single domain, but influence all aspects of the society including economy, politics, ideology, and culture.

 

From Europe to America

Although it has only been a century or so that nations from different parts of the world true became fully aware of each other’s presence, regional hegemony was not a rarity both in West and East. While the East had a single powerful nation called China dominating international politics, Western power was more devolved, shared between a handful of powerful European countries. It was only when the United States of America gained independence in 1789 that the power balance gradually started to shift.

In his book Paradise and Power, Kagan labels the argument that America had an ‘isolationist’ tradition as a myth, pointing out how since its birth America was viewed both by European nations and Americans themselves to be a “Hercules in the cradle,” destined to become an “empire of liberty.”[2] Despite such firm belief in destined greatness, in its initial years America was a relatively new and therefore weak state in the Western hemisphere. It lacked the great military and economic prowess that its former colonial master and its league of friends had; it therefore “both consciously and unconsciously…used the strategies of the weak to try to get their way in the world.”[3] By the “strategies of the weak,” Kagan refers to extolling of Enlightenment values when dealing with an international crisis, most notably the use of commerce over brute force. He argues that America advocated peace and international cooperation when it was weak, while Europe in its heyday flexed its military muscles when a crisis came its way.

photo-1462715412043-8d09205be605.jpg

History thus provides us with an apparent rule of hegemony: if you are the strongest, you can use ‘brute force’ to have things your way.”

It is ironic therefore that Europe’s definite point of decline from its throne precisely due to such ‘strategy of the strong’; World War One was a significant turning point in Western if not world international politics, as America began to replace Europe as the regional hegemon. After the destructive war, Europe was no longer capable of pursuing the power politics it uses to pursue before, partly because public opinion at home was extremely hostile against militant policy but also because it did not have the economic and infrastructural resources. From this sentiment (and reality) that Europe could and would not endure another war came forth the notorious policy of appeasement in the 1930s. So when another war eventually did happen, Europe was no longer the superpower it used to be; America now held the key to international politics. This is how we ended up with the modern state of international affairs; America became the ‘new Europe,’ exercising its military power and effectively making use of power politics when needed, while Europe returned to the Enlightenment ideal of international cooperation and economic interdependence to maintain peace.

History thus provides us with an apparent rule of hegemony: if you are the strongest, you can use ‘brute force’ to have things your way. But does this statement remain true in today’s society where democracy significantly restrict what the government can and can’t do? After all, the majority of people in democratic countries desire peace over war. With these questions in mind, to what extent America is a living example of this supposed truism will be explored in Part II.

*Photo Credit: Sofia Sforza, uploaded on May 8, 2016, provided by Unsplash. Available at: https://unsplash.com/search/gun?photo=AEP4lyBafBs

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hegemony

[2] Kagan, R. (2003). Of paradise and power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[3] ibid. 

 

Subway Memorial: Perception and Feminism in South Korea

On the 17th of May 2016, a young woman in her early 20s lost her life to a man.

When put this way, the news seems almost mundane- millions of people are murdered every day around the world after all. That doesn’t make murder ‘right’, but it is true that in today’s world we have grown quite callous to a premature death of an individual we don’t know that well. However, this one woman’s death ignited one of the fiercest feminist movements in South Korean history.

Before I go into the details of the actual event, let me give you an insight to women’s position in the history of South Korea. Since Chosun dynasty, the introduction of Confucianism constructed a patriarchal society where women were considered inferior to men by law, culture and politics. It was considered a socially appropriate and virtuous for women to be obedient to her father before marriage, to her husband during the marriage and to her son after the death of her husband. Although almost 50 years have passed since Korea modernized, it is true that such social perception is still deeply rooted in the Korean society. Furthermore, even after the modernization, women were treated unfairly in the workplace, at university, at government and even at home where they had to serve their husbands’ parents rather than their own. Such traditional oppression of women is gradually diluting, but the subtle discriminations and restrictions against women undoubtedly still exist; a most obvious example would be the OECD statistics that ranks South Korea last in gender pay equality, with women receiving almost 36.3% less on average than their male counterpart. (OECD, 2016)

However, it is not the wage inequality or discriminations in the workplace that triggered the recent feminist movement. It is a more fundamental problem, a problem from which all other gender inequality issues stem from: perception.

118H.jpg“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea.” – Inception, (2010)”

What shocked the South Korean public was the fact that the murderer killed a stranger simply because she was a woman. A cold-blooded murder was planned and carried out due to the murderer’s memory of being “belittled and ignored by women.” When the news came out people were vehement, and the death of one woman soon became a symbol that reflects oppression that Korea women suffers. It was the idea that one person killed another person simply due to his ‘hatred for women’ that was intolerable for many people. A public memorial was set up in Gangnam station to mourn this unfortunate woman.

I am probably not an expert in feminism. In fact, it has not been that long since I started to consider myself a feminist. But even to me, some facts are plain as daylight; the murderer killed a woman not simply because the women were mean to him, but because the murderer thought he was being “belittled and ignored” even by women. It is hard to think that the murderer was a popular figure between anyone regardless of gender, yet he targeted women. It is from this that we can see his perception of women; we can infer that he regarded women as inferior to men, and the fact that such ‘women’ belittled him was what fueled his anger.

Some say it still can’t be an issue for the society because it is simply that particular individual’s mental health problems that lead to this tragic event. But I disagree. A man in his 20s must have had the chance to experience the world enough to contact different people and different ideas. Even if he had mental health issue, it would be absurd to think that he fostered his hatred for women, strong enough to kill someone, on his own. We need to be aware that the society had a role in creating his distorted perception. What we need to remember is not that a single ‘crazy man’ hated women, but that the society that allowed such hatred was planted and nurtured.

I do not think that the death of one woman is an evidence enough to doubt all men for being a potential murder or rapist. But don’t we live in a world where an overwhelming majority of rape victims are women? Shouldn’t we first question why women feel more unsafe when walking down a dark alleyway than men? Why are we not first questioning society’s perception that all women are potential victims and so should be careful before questioning the idea that all men are potential perpetrator?

I know, women are generally and biologically weaker than men in physical terms. But we are not animals. I feel that as humans, we have the responsibility to protect those who are weaker and more vulnerable, not prey on them. I hope that this tragic death is not abused as a political ‘icon’ but as an unforgettable reminder that the world is still more hostile to women than to men. Let the memorial be a true ‘memory’-al.

 

Reference:

OECD (2016), Gender wage gap (indicator). doi: 10.1787/7cee77aa-en (Accessed on 01 July 2016)

Photo credit:

Downloaded from Gratisography

New Around Here?

hey thereWelcome.
This blog is really simple. It’s basically a collection of posts which will either entertain you or enlighten you. There are four main categories:

1. Introduction to Politics & International Relations (biweekly)
: Most posts in this category will be informational, and will be mainly focused on introducing key concepts and vocabularies to those who have only just found the subject interesting.

2. Commentaries on Current Affairs (once a month)
: This one is pretty self-explanatory; I will choose a news article (something related to politics/international relations, obviously), summarise and write a brief commentary of what I think. Criticisms welcomed.

3. Commentaries on Historical Affairs (once a month)
: Exactly the same as number two, except that I’ll be choosing events from the past rather than the present to commentate on.

4. Book/Film Recommendations and Reviews (every once in a while) 
: I’ll be introducing a book or a film related to politics and write a review of it. I know, you’re probably thinking it will be boring as hell, but I’ll try my best to make it entertaining.

Well, let’s hope now that i) you enjoy what I blog and ii) I actually blog.