Class 12 Political Science Chapter 3 US Hegemony in World Politics NCERT Notes

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Chapter 3 US Hegemony in World Politics Class 12 Political Science NCERT Notes are important for students who want to score high marks in their exams and save your time. It will help students in remembering and retaining the syllabus more easily and efficiently.

Class 12 Political Science Chapter 3 US Hegemony in World Politics Notes is important for students to learn new things so that they can develop themselves. They are very useful in making you memorize things easily and quickly.

Chapter 3 US Hegemony in World Politics Contemporary World Politics Class 12 Political Science CBSE NCERT Notes


After the end of the Cold War, a period of US dominance or a unipolar world started. In this chapter, we
try to understand the nature, extent and limits of this dominance.

We start with the rise of the new world order from the First Gulf War to the US-led invasion of Iraq then after we will understand the nature of US domination with the help of the concept of ‘hegemony’.

After that, students will discuss India’s policy options in dealing with the US. Also, we will see if there
are challenges to this hegemony and whether it can be overcome.

Beginning of the ‘New World Order’

US Hegemony began in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union left the world with only a single power, the United States of America. The US Hegemony was established to show the overwhelming superiority of its military capabilities that can reach any point on the planet accurately.

The US Hegemony also emerged in order to shape the “world economy” because, an open world economy requires a hegemon or dominant power to support its creation and existence.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and subsequently annexed it. After a series of diplomatic attempts failed to convince Iraq to withdraw its aggression, the United Nations mandated the liberation of Kuwait by force.

The US President George H.W. Bush hailed the decision as the emergence of a ‘new world order’.

A massive coalition force of 660,000 troops from 34 countries, with nearly 75% from the US, fought against Iraq in the First Gulf War. However, the UN operation, which was called ‘Operation Desert Storm’, was overwhelmingly American.

The Iraqi forces were quickly defeated, and Kuwait was liberated.

The First Gulf War revealed the vast technological gap between the US military capability and that of other states. The highly publicised use of so- called ‘smart bombs’ by the US led some observers to call this a ‘computer war’.

The war was also characterized as a ‘video game war’ due to the widespread television coverage that allowed viewers to watch the destruction of Iraqi forces live.

The Clinton Years

The US President George H.W. Bush lost the presidential elections of 1992 to Bill Clinton, who focused more on domestic rather than foreign policy issues.

During the Clinton years, the US government focused on “soft issues” such as democracy promotion, climate change, and world trade, rather than “hard politics” of military power and security.

However, the US did show readiness to use military power on this occasion. One such instance was the 1999 NATO-led air strikes against Yugoslavia in response to its actions against the Albanian population in Kosovo.

Another significant US military action during the Clinton years was the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Africa by Al-Qaeda, which prompted President Clinton to order Operation Infinite Reach, a series of cruise missile strikes on Al-Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. Some of the targets were later alleged to be civilian facilities unconnected to terrorism.

9/11 and the ‘Global War on Terror’

On 11 September, 2001 terrorists attacked World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Nineteen hijackers took control of four American commercial aircrafts shortly after take off and flew them into important building of U.S.

The attacks are known as “9/11” and killed nearly three thousand people, making it the most severe attack on US soil in terms of loss of life.

The US response to 9/11 was swift and ferocious. President George W. Bush launched “Operation Enduring Freedom” against all those suspected to be behind the attack, mainly Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime was overthrown, but remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remained potent, launching terrorist attacks against Western targets.

US forces made arrests all over the world, transported these persons across countries. Some of them were brought to Guantanamo Bay, a US Naval base in Cuba, where the prisoners did not enjoy the protection of international law or the law of their own country or that of the US.

The Iraq Invasion

On March 19, 2003, the US launched its invasion of Iraq under the codename ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’.

The invasion was led by the US and joined by more than 40 other countries as part of the ‘coalition of the willing’.

The UN did not give its mandate to the invasion, and the ostensible purpose was to prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

No evidence of WMD has been found in Iraq, leading to speculation that the invasion was motivated by other objectives, such as controlling Iraqi oilfields and installing a regime friendly to the US.

The government of Saddam Hussein fell swiftly, but the US has not been able to ‘pacify’ Iraq, and a full-fledged insurgency against US occupation was ignited in the country.

The US has lost over 3,000 military personnel in the war. Iraqi casualties are very much higher. It is conservatively estimated that 50,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the US-led invasion.

What does Hegemony mean?

Politics is about power, and countries and groups of countries are constantly trying to gain and retain power in the form of military domination, economic power, political clout, and cultural superiority.

During the Cold War (1945-91), power was divided between two groups of countries, with the US and the Soviet Union as the two centres of power.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world was left with only one power, the US, and the international system was said to be dominated by a sole superpower or hyper-power, which may be more accurately described as hegemony.

Hegemony as Hard Power

The word ‘hegemony’ comes from classical Greek and denotes the leadership or predominance of one state over others.

The first meaning of hegemony relates to the relations, patterns and balances of military capability between states.

The bedrock of contemporary US power lies in the overwhelming superiority of its military power. The US has military capabilities that can reach any point on the planet accurately, lethally and in real time, and no other power can match them.

The US today spends more on its military capability than the next 12 powers combined. Furthermore, a large chunk of the Pentagon’s budget goes into military research and development.

Undoubtedly, the US invasion of Iraq reveals several American vulnerabilities. The US has not been able to force the Iraqi people into submitting to the occupation forces of the US-led coalition.

Hegemony as Structural Power

The second notion of hegemony emerges from a particular understanding of the world economy. An open world economy requires a hegemon or dominant power to support its creation and existence.

The hegemon must possess the ability and the desire to establish certain norms for order and sustain the global structure.

The hegemon usually does this for its own advantage. It takes advantage of the openness of the world economy without paying the cost of maintaining its openers.

Hegemony in this second sense is reflected in the role played by the US in providing global public goods. The best examples of a global public good are sea-lanes of communication (SLOCs) and the internet.

It is the naval power of the hegemon that underwrites the law of the sea and ensures freedom of navigation in international waters.

The US share of the world economy remains an enormous 21 percent. The US also accounts for
almost 14 per cent of world trade, if intra-European Union trade is included in world trade data.

The economic preponderance of the US is inseparable from its structural power, which is the power to shape the global economy in a particular way.

The Bretton Woods system still constitutes the basic structure of the world economy, and the World Bank, IMF, and WTO are the products of American hegemony.

A classic example of the structural power of the US is the academic degree called the Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). The idea that business is a profession that depends upon skills that can be taught in a university is uniquely American. The first business school in the world, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, was established in 1881.

Hegemony as Soft Power

US hegemony goes beyond military and economic power and also includes the ideological and cultural dimension.

This third sense of hegemony is about the capacity to ‘manufacture consent’. Here, hegemony implies class ascendancy in the social, political and particularly ideological spheres.

Hegemony arises when the dominant class or country can win the consent of dominated classes, by persuading the dominated classes to view the world in a manner favourable to the ascendancy of the dominant class.

American culture is the most seductive and powerful culture on earth, and this cultural presence contributes to US hegemony.

Blue jeans were a symbol of liberation for Soviet young people during the Cold War and represented aspirations for the good life that were not available in their own country.

While the US struggled to score victories against the Soviet Union in hard power during the Cold War, it succeeded in the areas of structural power and soft power.

Constraints on American Power

The biggest constraints to American hegemony lie within the heart of hegemony itself.

The first constraint is the institutional architecture of the American state itself. A system of division of powers between the three branches of government places significant brakes upon the unrestrained and immoderate exercise of America’s military power by the executive branch.

The second constraint on American power stems from the open nature of American society. There is a deep scepticism regarding the purposes and methods of government in American political culture. This factor, in the long run, is a huge constraint on US military action overseas.

There is only one organisation in the international system that could possibly moderate the exercise of American power today, and that is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The US has an interest in keeping the NATO alliance of democracies alive, and its allies may be able to moderate the exercise of US hegemony.

India’s relationship with the US

During the Cold War years, India found itself on the opposite side of the divide from the US.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, India suddenly found itself friendless in an increasingly hostile international environment.

India decided to liberalize its economy and integrate it with the global economy during this time, which led to impressive economic growth rates and made the country an attractive economic partner for a number of countries, including the US.

Two new factors have emerged in Indo-US relations in recent years: the technological dimension and the role of the Indian-American diaspora. These two factors are interrelated. For this, consider the following facts:

  • The US absorbs about 65 percent of India’s total exports in the software sector.
  • 35 per cent of the technical staff of Boeing is estimated to be of Indian origin.
  • 300,000 Indians work in Silicon Valley.
  • 15 percent of all high-tech start-ups are by Indian-Americans.

Like all other countries, India too has to decide exactly what type of relationship it wants with the US in this phase of global hegemony. Within India, the debate seems to be around three possible strategies:

  • Some analysts advocate for maintaining India’s aloofness from the US and increasing its own comprehensive national power.
  • Other analysts see the growing convergence of interests between the US and India as a historic opportunity for India and advocate for taking advantage of US hegemony to establish the best possible options for itself.
  • A third group of analysts advocate for India to take the lead in establishing a coalition of developing countries that may succeed in weaning the hegemon away from its dominating ways.

India needs to develop an appropriate mix of foreign policy strategies to deal with the complex nature of its relationship with the US.

How can hegemony be overcome?

There is no world government like the government of a country.

The exercise of military power is not formally curtailed by any factors in international politics, except for the laws of war that restrict but do not prohibit war.

In the short term, no single power is near balancing the US militarily, and a military coalition against the US is unlikely given the differences among big countries like China, India, and Russia.

One strategy open to states is to “bandwagon” with the hegemonic power, which involves taking advantage of the opportunities that hegemony creates and operating within the hegemonic system to extract benefits.

Another strategy is to “hide” from the dominant power as much as possible, but this may not be viable for big second-rank powers for a substantial length of time.

Resistance to American hegemony may come from non-state actors in the economic and cultural realms, such as NGOs, social movements, public opinion, media, intellectuals, artists, and writers, who may form links across national boundaries to criticize and resist US policies.

If the behavior of the headman (the hegemonic power) becomes intolerable in the “global village”, resistance may be the only option available, as leaving the global village is not possible.

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