The USA—A History of High-Handedness

Economically affluent countries which wield immense influence on international politics and command crucial positions in the global arena have repeatedly shown little concern for others in their decisions and actions. This can be illustrated by making a multi-dimensional observation of the behaviour of certain countries over the years, the US being the subject of this case study. The US has been at the helm of global affairs since the beginning of the post-World War phase. By virtue of its economic competence and the hard and soft powers that come along, it has held positions of leadership on several global platforms.

Now while the pursuit of national interest is pragmatically expected to have an impression when a country dispenses its international obligations, observation of certain basic principles is desirable, which has constantly been found lacking in the US’s approach to international affairs. The UNO, established immediately after the culmination of the Second World War, has almost all sovereign countries around the world as members and serves as a platform for regular and efficient collaboration on global issues. It has been instrumental in formulating several international laws, regulations and norms to be adhered to by all members for maintaining harmony. However, instances of UN regulations serving the purposes of the financially influential countries only, have always been rampant.

What is worse is that the same countries have then also gone on to blatantly breach regulations as per convenience, when they impose sanctions on other members for doing the same. On the economic front, the US has been a power whose credibility has stood the test of time. In fact, it is precisely with its economic prowess that the US has built a hegemonic status for itself. Beginning immediately with the Marshall Aid Plan (1948), which was an American initiative extending financial assistance for the reconstruction of West European countries. On the other hand, however, the US had already adopted an excellent strategy in the form of the Bretton Woods Arrangement. Through this, currencies of all countries were pegged to the US dollar instead of the Gold standard.

This allowed the US a beneficial and privileged position economically as it was the sole authority that could print currency, had a considerable freedom in pursuing its domestic objectives, and could sustain balance-of-payments deficits for long. After benefiting for a long period, the US unleashed the breakdown of the system as the dollar was not in a position of stability to comply with the obligation of convertibility to gold. This is not to suggest that the Bretton Woods system or the Marshall Plan did not confer benefits on other countries, they certainly did. And it was in fact natural that only an economic power of the US’s might could take a lead at that point. Only, it is inappropriate to provide to the US, the recognition of a repository of human salvation on this basis.

To take a time leap and consider another instance, US imposed a series of trade tariffs on its major trade partners and allies in 2018, which were called the Trump Tariffs. With allies like the European Union, Canada, Mexico and China within the fold of the policy, US seemed absolutely unapologetic in defending this bold move in the name of ‘America First’. It can also be seen as retaliation to the disadvantages it had incurred due to international trade norms, when it had earlier itself been the flag-bearer of liberalisation and globalisation policy being made mandatory for every member country of the UN. It further criticised retaliatory tariffs from other countries as breaching the norms of the WTO.

When these tariff decisions were condemned by co-members of the UN and the WTO, the US threatened the world by announcing its plans of reducing contributions to the UN Annual Budget. In fact, the US has manipulated its status as the largest contributor to the UN Budget on other occasions as well. UN and most other global forums have largely remained ineffective in guiding the behaviour of global powers like the US, the USSR, China, etc. because of their absolute control on all decision-making apparatus, the Security Council and the Secretariat, to be specific. While in the former, the Veto Power of the permanent members has been instrumental, for the Secretariat, the US has ensured that every consecutive Secretary General has an ideological compliance to its policies.

This to the extent that while all other Secretary Generals of the UN have been granted a second term in office, the only one to have been blocked from serving another term was Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian diplomat (Term of Office: 1992-1996), whose term was marked by political frictions with the US. Due to its differences with the man, the US had stopped its funds to the UN during his tenure, and this could obviously not have sustained for long. It is interesting to note how this global ‘big brother’ has cared little about being clandestine in practising such behaviour, boldly making moves to suit its purposes.

Picture Courtesy- Sputnik International


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