For much of the period since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States was politically, militarily and economically unchallenged. The U.S. was now the world’s hegemon and, to remain dominant, it couldn’t allow powerful challengers to arise. This goal meant that the U.S. viewed the relationship with nations such as Russia and China as a zero-sum game, thus reducing the space for cooperation.
If we examine the past 30 years, what might one conclude about the outcome of this period? Has the U.S. been a benign hegemon or has it acted primarily to advance its corporate interests? There are many issues one could examine, but four major threats during this period were climate change, nuclear conflict, food insecurity and the wealth gap.
I’ll focus on the first two of these issues which are clearly existential. We already knew something about the climate change threat in the 1980s. The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 began the effort to address this issue. However, the Rio agreement and subsequent conferences lacked any real enforcement mechanisms. Disappointingly, instead of pushing for enforceable limits on greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. was one of the nations that led opposition to them. This shameful U.S. position demonstrated the power of the fossil-fuel lobby in our system of legalized bribery of politicians. Had the U.S. acted responsibly in the 1990s, could it have convinced other major fossil-fuel extracting nations to take real action to combat climate change?
We are now seeing the failure of the tepid approaches that were adopted. Record high temperatures, huge fires, long-lasting droughts and unprecedented flooding are just some examples of this human-caused chaos, and they are occurring much sooner than predicted. Despite this overwhelming evidence, some U.S. politicians and those in other major extractive fossil-fuel nations still oppose enforceable limits on greenhouse gases. The greed of fossil-fuel corporations knows no limits and they are apparently willing to sacrifice the future of humans on the planet.
Regarding the other existential threat of nuclear conflict, the Doomsday Clock was created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to assess how close we are to destroying the world through our technologies and, since 2007, climate change. Since 2020 the clock has remained at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest the clock has been to midnight in its 75-year history. This assessment is frightening and represents a huge change since 1991 when the clock was at 17 minutes to midnight.
A key moment occurred in February 1990 when the Soviet Union agreed to allow the reunification of West and East Germany and the U.S. and allies promised not to expand NATO one inch eastward. Within a few years, the Clinton administration reneged on the promise and began the expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders. In 2007 and again in 2008 Russia strongly opposed Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO. Russia was concerned about having a hostile military alliance on its border threatening its security. To understand this situation, recall how the U.S. was willing to risk a nuclear conflict over Soviet missiles in Cuba.
NATO nations, particularly the U.S., have been providing huge amounts of weapons and training to Ukraine, in effect turning this conflict into a proxy fight between NATO and Russia. Instead of providing more weapons and risking an unintended nuclear conflict, the U.S. needs to strongly support a diplomatic resolution.
Turning to China, its long-term economic and political outreach to much of the world has proven to be far more popular than the U.S. approach of relying on military power. The U.S. has reacted by: 1) provoking China through its military presence close to China’s coastline; 2) creating a military alliance against China; and 3) arming Taiwan, despite allegedly accepting that Taiwan is part of China. The U.S. is again unnecessarily increasing tension with another nuclear power.
In addition, the criminal and cruel unilateral U.S. sanctions against nations such as Cuba, Venezuela and Iran have greatly harmed tens of millions. The U.S. war crimes in the Middle East and its support for criminal Israeli actions have also played a major role in devastating much of the region.
Looking at these past 30 years, the U.S. political leadership has shown itself to be grossly incompetent and shamefully uncaring about the lives of the other. It has also wasted trillions of dollars on unnecessary and terribly destructive military campaigns instead of dealing with looming environmental catastrophes. The U.S. leadership has also needlessly increased tensions by withdrawing from weapons agreements. The elite U.S. media played a major role in these horrific crimes as it enabled the government’s actions by misinforming the U.S. public.