From the Cold War into the 21st Century:

Change and Continuity in American Hegemonic Strategy


Dennis Florig

Graduate School of International Studies

Hanyang University


My original assignment today was to talk to you about U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War.  As I began to think about this topic I quickly realized that it would be better to take a dynamic, historical approach rather than try to make static generalizations across the whole period of the Cold War.   To effectively explain U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War requires seeing not only the continuities, but also the changes, in U.S. foreign policy.  So although it is a bit arbitrary I will break down U.S. foreign policy into 4 periods:  1) the early Cold War, 2) the later Cold War, 3) the post-Cold War, and 4) the Terrorism War.


I.                   Continuity in American Hegemonic Strategy


While most of this paper will trace the evolution of U.S. policy, there are important continuities throughout these periods that set the basic parameters of the U.S. role in the world.  Throughout this entire era, the U.S. is the hegemon of the international system.  To understand any important aspect of U.S. policy, one must see it in the context of the American attempt to preserve and extend its hegemonic position.  Hegemony is more than simple domination.  It has several dimensions as indicated in Figure 1.



Figure 1: Five Dimensions of the Concept of Hegemony

1. Military: The hegemon has the strongest military in the world, significantly stronger than any of its rivals. Its military alliance system is significantly stronger than any rival military bloc.

2. Economic: The hegemon has the largest and most technologically advanced economy in the world. It is a major trading partner of most of the nations of the world, including most of the major powers.

3. Political: The hegemon has a wide range of political allies and friendly relations with most nations and major powers.

4. Institutional: The hegemon, along with its allies, usually controls most of the international institutions and thus significantly shapes the rules that govern global political and economic relations.

5. Ideological: The hegemon largely determines the terms of discourse in global relations. The predominant ideas about globalization are the ideas of hegemon.



In the 19th century Great Britain was the hegemonic power.  The British conquered an empire on which the sun never set, and the British navy ruled the seas.  British technology led the industrial revolution.  Britain constructed a world-wide system of alliances, skillfully checking the rise of potential rivals in Europe, dividing and conquering India, teaming with rising power Japan to check other European empiresí» advances in East Asia, etc.  British institutional and ideological power can be seen in the mimicking of its corporate and political practices by other European empires and the influence of its statesmen, economists, scientists, and even novelists on intellectuals around Europe and within its empire.

However, by the end of the 19th century the U.S. surpassed Britain in industrial production.  In the first world war the potential to translate U.S. economic power into military force was demonstrated.   But the U.S. did not yet have either the will or the ability to match Britainí»s global political network.  It was not until the aftermath of the second world war, with the British and other European imperial powers either destroyed or exhausted and the U.S. untouched and triumphant did the U.S. seize political, institutional, and ideological hegemony. 

The postwar world bore the stamp of American leadership, from the UN to the NATO alliance.  The U.S. proclaimed a global ideological struggle with communism and the Soviet Union, formalizing alliances with World War II partners Britain and France, defeated powers Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the more conservative of the new regimes rising from the decolonizing European empires.

U.S. foreign policy from the end of World War II up to the present has had one elemental constant—the attempt to sustain American hegemony.  However, different administrations in different time periods facing different conditions have adopted different strategies for maintaining hegemonic position.   

Perhaps the most fundamental variation in American hegemonic strategy has been a recurring oscillation between policies of hostile confrontation against adversaries and hegemonic engagement of potential challengers of U.S. power.  Different administrations in different time periods have relied more or less on hard power vs. soft power to obtain their objectives. 

Hegemony requires both hard power and soft power--political alliances, international institutions, and ideological influence must supplement more obvious military and economic superiority.[1]  Without the soft power, there is no hegemony but mere domination.  When the international system is functioning smoothly, the U.S. can rely on its political alliances, its sway in international institutions, and the power of its mass media to spread its influence around the world.  For example, in the late 1990s the U.S. was riding high and confident that its power was unchallenged, hence there was much talk about the decreasing importance of military power, the rising significance of international institutions and networks, and the inexorable process of globalization.

Reliance on soft power can also be seen during the Nixon presidency.  The U.S. covered its retreat in the wake of the Vietnam fiasco with the opening to China and arms control treaties with the Soviet Union.  What was called détente at the time can now be seen as the beginning of a long period of hegemonic engagement of communist adversaries that used U.S. soft power to eventually transform enemies into potential partners.

But without the hard power, there is no hegemony.  Historically, hegemons have had to enforce their power by periodically going to war with challengers and dissidents.  The hegemon requires an ideology that can mobilize for war at any time, a military-industrial complex that provides the means to do so, and a permanent war mind set.

When the U.S. feels truly threatened by ominous developments in the international system, there is a tendency to turn to its hard power to attempt to control events.  Such turns toward militarization of conflict and reliance on hard power can be seen in both the early Cold War and the current Terrorism War.

At these times the U.S. tries to bind its friends into close military alliance or even joint military action.  However, allies and neutrals often have more to lose and less to gain from direct military conflict, thus military action designed to preserve U.S. hegemony can actually undermine the legitimacy of American leadership of the international system, weakening the ties of mutual interest forged with American soft power.

The oscillations in American hegemonic strategy reflect two contradictions in U.S. foreign policy.  Hegemony itself contains a contradiction.  On the one hand, the hegemon must forge a complex set of institutional relations, political alliances, and ideological justifications of its power and position.  Economic and military superiority were important in the U.S. victory in the Cold War, but probably even more crucial was Americaí»s ability to bind most of the other major powers—England, France, Germany, Japan, and later China—into its alliance systems and international institutions it designed.  But on the other hand, the hegemon needs a certain freedom to take decisive military action to preserve both the system itself and its preeminent position in the system.  Such action may be unpopular with its friends, allies, and other powers who do not have such a deep stake in the maintaining the existing system.

The second contradiction is between the imperative of hegemony and the unique legacies of American history, between the necessity of the hegemon to act through multilateral institutions and the traditional American tendency toward unilateralism.[2]  Historically, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans insulated the U.S. from European and Asian conflicts and rivalries and allowed white America nearly unlimited power to eradicate Native American Indian tribes, enslave African-Americans, and dominate its smaller neighbors to the South in the Caribbean and Central America.  For most of its history, the U.S. did not need to concern itself with politics beyond the North American continent.  There is still a tendency within the U.S., seen most dramatically since 9/11, to revert during crisis to pre-hegemonic modes of thought deeply embedded in the American experience.


II. Hegemonic Strategy in the Early Cold War


The basic parameters of the bipolar cold war structure are well known.  Today I want to highlight a few important dimensions of the Cold War from the U.S. point of view: 



Figure 2: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War


1. Soviet Union and its communist allies characterized as absolutely evil,

    Communism seen as total enemy of the western way of life


2. Isolation of the Soviet Union,

    Containment not only of Soviet military power but its political and economic reach


3. System of alliances with most of the other major world powers


4. Formation of global institutions such as the UN


5. Global military confrontation


6. Nuclear arms race


7. Proxy wars in the í░Third Worldí▒


8. Military struggle as the irreducible element of the conflict




Harry Truman, president at the beginning of the Cold War, summed up American moral absolutism.


One way of life is based upon the will of the majority and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. . . .

The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies on terror, oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.[3]


While American thinking about the Cold War evolved over time, the same moral absolutism could still be found as late as the 1980s when movie star turned president Ronald Reaganí»s characterized of the Soviet Union simply as the í░evil empire.í▒

The policy of isolation of the Soviet Union and containment of communism was laid out succinctly in the key National Security Directive 68, a blueprint for fighting the cold war produced in the late 1940s:


ContainmentíŽseeks by all means short of war to (1) block further expansion of Soviet power, (2) expose the falsities of Soviet pretensions, (3) induce a retraction of the Kremlin's control and influence, and (4) in general, so foster the seeds of destruction within the Soviet system that the Kremlin is brought at least to the point of modifying its behavior to conform to generally accepted international standards.[4]

            National Security Directive 68 identified military power as the essential component of containment.

It was and continues to be cardinal in this policy that we possess superior overall power in ourselves or in dependable combination with other likeminded nations. One of the most important ingredients of power is military strength. In the concept of "containment," the maintenance of a strong military posture is deemed to be essential for two reasons: (1) as an ultimate guarantee of our national security and (2) as an indispensable backdrop to the conduct of the policy of "containment." Without superior aggregate military strengthíŽa policy of "containment"íŽis no more than a policy of bluff.[5]

In order to effectively encircle Soviet power in a world devastated by total war, the U.S. needed to construct allied regimes out of the postwar chaos.  The occupation forces in Japan and West Germany carefully crafted pro-U.S. regimes.  At the same time, the Soviets used the Red Army to create pro-Russian regimes in eastern Europe.  In France, Italy, and Greece strong indigenous communist parties had been hardened by underground resistance to the Nazis and ready to exploit postwar chaos and deprivation, but eventually pro-U.S. forces won out.  Most of western Europe, including major powers Great Britain, France, Italy, and West Germany fell into the western camp, and the NATO alliance was formed.  When the Soviet Union responded with the Warsaw Pact with the communist regimes in the east, the division of Europe was codified.

A similar struggle raged in Asia.  The U.S. occupation was successful in installing a pro-American regime in Japan, although it took into the 1960s to fully overcome strong Communist and pacifist Socialists who challenged the U.S.-Japan security alliance.  However, the Soviet Union gained its only major ally China with the triumph of Mao Zedongí»s forces over pro-U.S. Chiang Kai-shek.  Korea was divided between U.S. and Russian zones of occupation. 

The first major conflict of the Cold War came as the pro-Soviet North invaded the pro-U.S. South.  The U.S. led the forces of the newly created United Nation that aided the South against the North.  When the UN forces swept through North Korea to within sight of the Chinese border, the new communist regime in China sent its forces into Korea, although the Russians never sent troops of their own.  The war ended with a stalemate between the Chinese and the UN, leaving Korea a divided nation.

The use of the UN in Korea points to another aspect of U.S. postwar strategy—the construction of new international institutions.  American perception was that the old League of Nations had failed, in part because the U.S. had refused to join.  The new United Nations had a charter that allowed it to take decisive action in collective defense and a Security Council dominated by the 5 major victorious allied war powers.  The permanent U.S. seat on the Security Council and particularly the right of the 5 permanent members to veto any action against their interests went a long way to satisfying the critics of the old League of Nations that the new international body could work against the interests of the U.S.  Other notable global institutions set up in the postwar period include the International Monetary Fund, The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (later to become the WTO), and the Breton-Woods currency regime.  In the early Cold War, the U.S. and its allies tended to control these international institutions.  As western control of the UN in particular began to wane, the U.S. relied less on the institutions that did not reflect its will.  For example, the U.S. fought under the UN flag in Korea, but it fought the Vietnam War with no international legitimation and little allied support.

By the end of Korean War the basic structure of the Cold War world had been set.  The two superpowers and their allied camps faced off in a tense military confrontation that was suspended just short of shooting war.  Europe was divided by an í░iron curtain,í▒ Northeast Asia by a í░bamboo curtain.í▒  On both sides of the divide, massive militaries armed with nuclear weapons faced each other down.   By the mid-1950s both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had acquired enough nuclear weapons to annihilate each other and most of the rest of the world, yet the nuclear arms race continued unabated through the 1960s, as both sides accumulated absurd levels of í░overkill.í▒

Yet paradoxically, because of the suicidal costs of all out war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were deterred from attacking each other.  Instead, the í░hotí▒ conlficts spawned by the Cold War, most notably the Korean and Vietnam Wars, were proxy conflicts, fought in the so-called í░Third World,í▒ in the domain left open by the decolonization of the European and Japanese empires, defeated or exhausted by the second world war. 

Lyndon Johnson, justifying escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in 1964, captured the ideology of a global military struggle:


We fight because we must fight if we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny, and only in such a world will our own freedom be finally secure. . . . Around the globe, from Berlin to Thailand, are people whose well being rests in part on the belief that they can count on us if they are attackedíŽ

Let no one think that retreat from Viet Nam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then anotheríŽTo withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next.[6]




III. The Later Cold War


As the Cold War entered its second decade, its irrational nature became ever more apparent.  As both the U.S. and the Soviet Union sought security through military power and nuclear arsenals both became ever more hostage to the specter of nuclear annihilation.  As proxy wars proliferated around the planet, the cost in human life and treasure mounted, and the probability of a disastrous defeat or escalation to all out war both increased dramatically.

The Cuban missile crisis drove this point home to both Americans and Russians.  The Cuban missile crisis was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War because instead of waging conflict through proxies, the U.S. and the Soviets faced off against each other directly and came within hours of a war with each other that could have quickly escalated to a nuclear exchange.  After the crisis subsided, the commitment of both Americans and Russians to never ending military confrontation was shaken by the stark realization that the culmination of this struggle could be mutual extinction.  Speaking a few months after the Cuban missile crisis President Kennedy called for a new attitude based on new realities.


Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmamentíŽuntil the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe we must re-examine our own attitude—as individuals and as a nation—for our attitude is as essential as theirs.

Both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. . . For in the final analysis, our most common link is that we all inhabit the same planetíŽAnd we all are mortal.[7]

But as Kennedy was talking peace, he was deepening the U.S. commitment in the Vietnam conflict.  A year later, Kennedy had been assassinated and his successor, President Johnson sought and received a resolution from Congress empowering him to Americanize the war in Vietnam. 

However, the Vietnam War proved a decisive turning point in U.S. Cold War policy.  In order to preserve U.S. hegemony after the humiliating defeat in Vietnam, President Nixon launched diplomatic offensives that transformed U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, China, and U.S. Cold War allies.  Nixon, like Kennedy before him, foresaw a new relationship between the U.S. and the communist world.

Peace must be far more than the absence of war. Peace must provide a durable structure of international relationships which inhibits or removes the causes of war.

Our commitment to peace [must] be convincingly demonstrated in our willingness to negotiate our points of difference in a fair and businesslike manner with the Communist countries. We are under no illusions. . . . But any nation today must define its interests with special concern for the interests of others. If some nations define their security in a manner that means insecurity for other nations, then peace is threatened and the security of all diminished. This obligation is particularly great for the nuclear superpowers on whose decisions the survival of mankind may well depend.[8]



Figure 3: Changes in U.S. Foreign Policy in the Later Cold War


Détente (Engagement) and arms control with the Soviet Union


Opening to China


Greater reliance on allies (Greater multilateralism)




The Nixon doctrine reversed several early Cold War strategies.  Engagement with the Soviet Union required moderation of the ideological conflict, an end to the demonization of the communism as an absolute evil.  Although the basic principle of containment was unaltered, now rather than isolating the Soviet Union, the attempt was to draw it into a series of agreements and give it a stake in the existing international system, with the hope that engagement would inexorably transform Soviet behavior and eventually the Soviet system itself.  While the global military competition continued, the probability of direct war between the Soviets and the West was reduced by the establishment of the Conference for Security Cooperation in Europe, an institution for all of Europe to regularly meet to defuse military and political tensions.  The nuclear arms race was also moderated by the SALT agreements based on the principle of mutual assured destruction.  Now that both sides could deliver a death blow to the other even if the victim of a surprise attack, both sides were effectively deterred from deliberately starting a general war.  In this situation not only was the arms race increasingly illogical, arms control was possible and even desirable as a way of reducing the possibility of accidental war.  Negotiation of differences first supplemented and eventually superceded military confrontation as the central characteristic of the U.S.-Soviet relationship.

Another dimension of the changing view of communism was the opening to China under Nixon, leading first to tacit strategic cooperation with China against the Soviet Union and eventually policies designed to encourage China to enter the world system.  The Sino-Soviet split and tensions between the two communist giants were exploited.  But this required some ideological justification for cooperation with a major communist state.  Hard-headed realists could rationalize cooperation with China on the plane of pure power—on the simple grounds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  But the moralistic American ideological system required more high-minded legitimation.   The rise of Deng Xiaoping as Chinese leader gave the U.S. a way of distinguishing between í░reformingí▒ communism vs. Stalinism.         

The Nixon Doctrine also recognized changes within the Western alliance.  Western Europe and Japan had recovered from their wartime devastation and had reemerged as centers of the global economic system.  Even as it retreated from Vietnam, the U.S. held one decisive advantage in the Cold War—it had most of the other major powers in the world on its side.  The Vietnam War shook some friendly nationí»s confidence in American judgment, but it did not cause lasting damage to the key American alliances.  As the Sino-Soviet split widened, even China, the Soviet Unioní»s only major ally, defected and entered tacit strategic cooperation with the U.S.

Unlike in the case of Korea, its major allies had counseled the U.S. not to intervene in Vietnam, and when that advice went unheeded, the NATO allies and Japan sat out the conflict.  After the Vietnam defeat Nixon recognized the need to repair these crucial alliances and enlist the political and material support key allies could give in future conflicts.

Peace requires partnership. Its obligations, like its benefits, must be shared. . . . To insist that other nations play a role is not a retreat from responsibility, it is a sharing of responsibility.[9]


Not all political forces in the U.S. were committed to the late Cold War strategy of hegemonic engagement.  As governor of California Ronald Reagan had opposed every arms control treaty negotiated with the Soviet Union, and had consistently taken Taiwaní»s position on relations with China.  When Reagan became president in 1981, he took a much more hostile stance toward the Soviet Union which many dubbed the í░new Cold War.í▒


The Reagan administration embarked on a massive military build-up, dramatically increasing the Pentagon budget, particularly for advanced nuclear weapons systems.  A new generation of missiles was deployed in Europe, over the objections of many allies and a growing popular nuclear disarmament campaign.  The Star Wars missile defense system was conceived and begun under the Reagan administration.  Arms control negotiations came to a standstill.  Counterinsurgency campaigns against leftist forces around the world were intensified, particularly the attempt to overthrow the Marxist regime that had come to power in Nicaragua.  


However, the í░new Cold Warí▒ was not very popular either in Europe or in the U.S.  A massive nuclear freeze campaign advocating no more new nuclear weapons drew millions of supporters to demonstrations, petition signings, local referenda, etc.  Although Reagan easily won reelection in 1984, the new Cold War was clearly his greatest political liability.


The first Reagan term was a period of instability in the Soviet leadership.  The death of Breshnev, who had held the reins of power for a generation, set off a long power struggle in which two old guard successors came to power only to die almost immediately after taking office.  Finally, a new generation leader, Gorbachev, came to power promising, new thinking, economic reform, and political openness. 


The rise of Gorbachev gave Reagan a chance to reverse his unpopular hard-line toward the Soviets.  Proclaiming Gorbachev to be a different kind of Soviet leader, Reagan began a period of summitry, arms control, and warming of relations that surpassed any previous U.S.-Soviet cooperation.  Reaganí»s solid credentials with the American right wing allowed him to improve relations without facing the severe criticism from the right that his predecessors, particularly Democrat Jimmy Carter, had endured.



IV. Hegemonic Habits in the Post-Cold War World


The Cold War ended suddenly and surprisingly with the collapse of the Soviet empire, first in the Eastern European satellites and then only a couple of years later with the breakup of the Soviet Union.  The end of the Soviet system was seen in the U.S. as the triumph of American foreign policy.  American conservatives believed the U.S. won the Cold War largely because of its military superiority.  Liberals believed the U.S. won largely because of its economic superiority.  Almost all Americans believed the superiority of the U.S. political system and the attractiveness of the American way of life also played a major role. 

In any case, with the Soviet Union out of the way the American political class saw U.S. hegemony as unchallenged.   The U.S. was the only superpower left.  The collapse of the Soviet empire brought the rise of a new í░waveí▒ of democratic states and market openings, not only in the former Russian satellites, but also in East Asia, Latin America, and even Africa. In one of the widely quoted expressions of American triumphalism, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the í░end of history,í▒ meaning that with the defeat of fascism and then communism in the 20th century, there was no longer any political or philosophical system that could seriously oppose liberal democratic capitalism.[10]  Others like Samuel Huntington, with his í░clash of civilizationsí▒ hypothesis, predicted that the moment of unchallenged American supremacy would be brief, as a variety of forces around the world remained unsubdued by American hegemony.[11]  However, even Huntington modified his early clash of civilizations hypothesis with his later concept of í░uni-multi-polarism,í▒ which asserted that while many civilizations, peoples, and states remained resistant to American hegemony, they would have great difficulty coalescing into an alliance system that could match the U.S. and its western allies.[12]

In the 1990s several of the changes in U.S. hegemonic strategy that had been apparent in the later Cold War continued and even accelerated.  Enemies and potential enemies were engaged rather than isolated, from old Cold War adversaries such as China and North Korea to new Islamic states like Iran.  Great faith was put in the attractiveness of the global economic system and the institutions of western-style democracy to induce recalcitrant states to gradually modify their behavior.  Many argued that economics, politics, and culture would be more important than military power in the post-Cold War world.  Potential enemies tended to be seen as not absolutely evil, but rather misguided and foolish, the victims of arrested development.   

Globalization seemed inexorable and in the U.S. globalization was taken to mean Americanization.  Any resistance would eventually be overcome by the enticements of capitalist wealth and democratic peace.  When necessary, the U.S. could bring to bear its economic and soft power to speed the process.  At times the U.S. would need to open protectionist doors or aid in democratic enlargement.  Multilateral institutions, like the IMF, the WTO, APEC, etc. would also contribute to the global spread of capitalism and democracy. 


Figure 4: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Immediate Post-Cold War Era


Similarities to Late Cold War

Similarities to Early Cold War

Engagement of China, Russia, + other potential enemies

Increasing conflict with new enemies

in Islamic world

Growing Multilateralism

Maintenance of nuclear overkill

Growing commitment to

international institutions + systems

War with Iraq

Many low intensity conflicts

in Muslim world

Greater reliance on economic + soft power

Maintenance of global military capability



However, some policies developed during the early Cold War persisted despite the dramatic change in global conditions.  The Soviet challenge had been the justification for the global deployment of U.S. military forces and the NATO alliance.  Despite the collapse of the Soviet system, U.S. forces remained in Europe, East Asia and the Middle East.  The military-industrial complex that had been justified by the Cold War also remained largely unchanged. 

Nor did direct and indirect U.S. military intervention around the world cease.  The Soviet system had barely given up the ghost when the first war with Iraq erupted.  The U.S. remained entangled in a wide variety of í░low-intensityí▒ conflicts around the globe, particularly in the Islamic world.

Nor did nuclear issues disappear along with the Soviet Union.  Nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction remained a preoccupation of American foreign policy.  The U.S. and Russia continued the arms control regime begun during the late Cold War, but they both retained massive overkill capabilities.  At the same time, the U.S. tried to deny access to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction to states not assimilated by U.S. hegemony, that the U.S. often called í░rogueí▒ nations.

Even before the demise of the Soviet Union old cold warriors were scanning the globe looking for new enemies to confront.  The í░China threatí▒ school warned that in the 21st century China could emerge as a new hegemonic challenger.  Since the Iranian revolution, militant Islam had become another potential enemy to justify a global American military presence, another í░evilí▒ force to be combated.


V. The Terrorism War: Comparison to the Early Cold War


The most recent dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy came after 9/11/2001.  It is difficult for foreigners to understand the shock effect of September 11 on the American people.  Unlike most nations of the world, the U. S. had been shielded from attack by its geographic isolation for more than a century.  From the Civil War until the middle of the 20th century Americaí»s borders were literally inviolable.  Americans were stunned when Pearl Harbor was bombed in World War II, but even that was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean far from the continental mainland.  Part of the virulence of the early Cold War was due to the American recognition that its homeland was vulnerable to Soviet missiles and bomber attack.  But the Cold War never became a direct conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, so again, Americans were spared the reality of war on their home territory.  For a century and a half, for Americans war was something that happened overseas, far away from the home front.

The Bush administration almost immediately responded to the new reality of U.S. vulnerability by declaring a world-wide war on terror, aimed largely against Islamic militants who challenge American hegemony.  But the Terrorism War did not begin on 9/11.  It did not begin when the U.S. went to war for the first time in the Persian Gulf in 1991.  It did not begin in 1979-1980 with the Iranian Islamic revolution and western support for Saddam Husseiní»s Iraq in its attack on the Iranian revolution.  It did not begin with U.S. support for the state of Israel in the permanent war between Israel and its Arab neighbors that has raged since the late 1940s.  It did not even begin with British, French, and Dutch invasion and colonization of most of the Muslim peoples of the world in the age of imperialism.  The terrorism war of the 21st century goes back at least as far as nearly a millennium ago to the Christian Crusades against Muslim peoples living in the holy lands of the Middle East.

Animosity between the U.S. and the Muslim world can bee seen in the writing in the late 19th century of Teddy Roosevelt, soon to become the first American president to articulate a global role for the U.S.  Roosevelt characterizes the í░barbarian nationsí▒ in a way similar to George W. Bushí»s 21st century characterization of an í░axis of evil.í▒

The growth of peacefulness between nations...has been confined strictly to those that are civilized... Whether the barbarian be the Red IndianíŽthe AfghaníŽor the TurkomaníŽ(i)n the long run civilized man finds he can keep the peace only by subduing his barbarian neighbor; for the barbarian will yield only to force.

It is only the warlike power of a civilized people that can give peace to the world. The Arab wrecked the civilization of the Mediterranean coasts (and) the Turk wrecked the civilization of southeastern Europe, setting back the progress of the world for centuries, solely because the civilized nations opposed to them had lost the great fighting qualities.[13]

It is striking that more than a hundred years ago, Afghans and Arabs were identified as enemies of í░civilization.í▒  Add the Turks, also an Islamic people, and you can see that Samuel Huntington did not invent the í░clash of civilizationsí▒ at the end of the 20th century.

The Terrorism War has another í░back to the futureí▒ dimension.  U.S. foreign policy has regressed in many ways back to its early Cold War character.  Again the U.S. sees an enemy that is absolutely evil.  It took George W. Bush roughly 5 months to transform the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center into a holy crusade against the í░axis of evil.í▒

North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.  Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.  Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decadeíŽStates like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.  By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.[14] 

The new crusade is a new global military campaign, requiring a permanent military-industrial complex and a world-wide network of bases and permanent deployments of U.S. troops.  Soon after 9/11 Bush noted that the terrorists í░want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries.í▒[15]  According to Bushí»s axis of evil speech, Americaí»s new enemies í░view the entire world as a battlefield, and (therefore) we must pursue them wherever they are.í▒[16]  In other words, the U.S. also views the entire world as its battlefield, taking to itself the right to overthrow governments in the Muslim world. 



Figure 5: Comparison of the Early Cold War and the Early Terrorism War


The Early Cold War

The Early Terrorism War

The Soviet Union is absolutely evil

Communism is total enemy of  the West

Islamic militants are absolutely evil

Rogue states form í░axis of evilí▒

Contain the Soviet Union

Preempt terrorist and rogue states

Global alliance system

Formation of international institutions

Coalitions of the willing

Multilateralism in Afghanistan

Unilateralism in Iraq

Global military confrontation

Global military action

Nuclear arms race

Deny terrorists and rogue states

weapons of mass destruction

Proxy wars in the Third World

U.S. in wars in Islamic world

Military conflict is the essential dimension

Military conflict is the essential dimension



In some ways the new crusade requires even greater U.S. military intervention at a deeper level in more local and regional conflicts around the planet than the previous crusade against communism.  The power of the Soviet Union limited the U.S. to a strategy of containment and proxy wars.  But there is no Islamic superpower to deter the U.S. from all-out war wherever in the Islamic world it chooses.  Thus, in the new crusade the doctrine of containment has been replaced by the doctrine of í░preemption.í▒


Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past. The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of todayí»s threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversariesí» choice of weapons, do not permit that option.  We cannot let our enemies strike first.


The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inactioníŽTo forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.[17]


The continuities of the terrorism war with early Cold War ideology can be seen in a speech about terrorism by Ronald Reagan during the brief revival of the Cold War hard-line in the early 1980s.


Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua—continents away, tens of thousands of miles apart—but (they have) the same goals and objectivesíŽMost of the terrorists who are kidnapping and murdering American citizens and attacking American installations are being trained, financed, and directly or indirectly controlled by a core group of radical and totalitarian governments—a new, international version of "Murder, Incorporated." And all of these states are united by one, simple, criminal phenomenon—their fanatical hatred of the United States, our people, our way of life, our international stature.[18]


Note that Iran and North Korea already headed the list of terrorist states two decades ago.  Iraq, the third member of Bushí»s axis of evil was exempted by Reagan because at that moment its war of aggression against Iran was being supported by the U.S.  When Iraq invaded an enemy of the U.S. it was taken off the list of terrorist nations.  Of course, when it invaded an ally of the U.S., it then found itself at the top of the list.

The way the Bush administration has conducted the terrorism war puts into question for the first time since the beginning of the Cold War an American administrationí»s commitment to a hegemonic strategy.   The go it alone unilateralism of the Bush administration is not consistent with the requirements of a hegemon to gain consent of its allies and other partners in the global system, to base its strategy on close political cooperation with its allies, reliance on international institutions, and a shared ideology about international community rather than simple military and economic dominance.  The doctrine of preemption undermines a half a century of international law and custom built up by U.S. presidents from Truman to Clinton, including Bushí» father.

The Bush administration came to power with a deep skepticism about the web of international agreements that emerged in the later Cold War and the post-Cold War.  Before 9/11 the Bush administration had already withdrawn from the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) Treaty which was the key to all the subsequent arms control treaties with Russia.  Before 9/11 the Republican party and President Bush had opposed the Kyoto treaty on global warming.  And most significantly, given recent headlines, the Bush administration tried to keep a permanent International War Crimes Court from coming into being and continues to try to keep the U.S. exempt from its jurisdiction, even bullying and threatening its own allies who disagree.  

Immediately after 9/11, the U.S. had broad international sympathy and was able to gain UN and allied support in striking at terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and even at the Taliban regime that sheltered them.  Yet in its zeal to spread the Terrorism War to other fronts the Bush administration soon squandered this broad international goodwill.  When the Bush administration was unable to gain broad international support or a UN resolution endorsing its plan to attack Iraq, they just invaded without even a fig leaf of international legitimacy.

The Bush administration seems to be waking up to the perils of unilateralism.  It has reversed itself and now seeks the help of the UN, NATO, and friendly Muslim nations to help extricate itself from the debacle in Iraq.  The U.S. demanded the six party talks on North Koreaí»s nuclear weapons partly to put international pressure on North Korea and partly to dodge direct negotiations with Pyongyang, but now that it has begun, the U.S. will find it difficult to abandon a process it has started.

Perhaps the unilateralism of the Bush administration in Iraq will just be an interlude, a phase that does not last long, like Reaganí»s new cold war in the early 1980s.  Probably the U.S. will revert to its historic hegemonic strategy of relying more on its soft power--on its political influence over allies and international institutions and the power of its leaders and its media to shape how people around the world think about events. 


VI. Lessons from the Conclusion of the Global Cold War for Ending the Residual Cold War on the Korean Peninsula


Other scholars and policymakers in this program will have much more to say about bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula.  But I will try here to briefly draw some lessons from the conclusion of the global Cold War for the situation here in Korea.  Correct interpretation of the end of the global cold war is crucial for understanding how to terminate the residual cold war on the Korean peninsula.  Drawing the wrong í░lessonsí▒ of history will prolong rather than speed reconciliation of the two Koreas.

The wrong interpretation of Cold War history is that the Soviets were brought down by the military superiority of the West and the steadfast will of the United States in grimly confronting the communist menace.  The brief interlude of the revived Cold War in the first Reagan term unfortunately makes this misreading of history more plausible than it should be.    

However, the more plausible interpretation of the conclusion of the Cold War is that it was the engagement of the Soviet Union and China, what at the time was called détente, which made reform of the communist systems possible.  It was gradually reducing the military pressure, conducting protracted negotiations over specific military and political details, and patiently crafting arms control regimes and political structures to mitigate sources of tension which gave the Soviet Union in particular a way out of never-ending conflict, a way where everyone could be winners in peace rather than losers in war.

Demonization of the adversary, belief that negotiations with the demon adversary are fruitless, and permanent military confrontation were the not way out of the global Cold War, and they are not the way to bring a peace regime to the Korea Peninsula today.

[1] Nye, Joseph, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (Basic Books, 1991)

[2] Dunne, Michael, í░US Foreign Relations in the Twentieth Century: From World Power to Global Hegemony,í▒ International Affairs, vol 76, no 1, 2000

[3] Truman, Harry, í░The Truman Doctrineí▒ in Dennis Florig, The Power of Presidential Ideologies,

[4] National Security Council, National Security Directive 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security,

[5] ibid.

[6] Johnson, Lyndon, í░Speeches on the Vietnam War,í▒ Florig, op. cit.

[7] Kennedy, John, í░Address at American University,í▒ ibid.

[8] Nixon, Richard, í░The Nixon Doctrine,í▒ ibid.,

[9] ibid.

[10] Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992)

[11] Huntington, Samuel, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996)

[12] Huntington, Samuel, í░The Lonely Superpower,í▒ Foreign Affairs, vol 78, no 2, Mar-Apr 1999

[13] Roosevelt, Theordore, í░Expansion and Peace,í▒ Florig, op. cit.,

[14] Bush, George W., í░State of the Union 2002,í▒

[15] Bush, George W., í░Address to a Joint Session of Congress,í▒ September 20, 2001,

[16] Bush, í░State of the Union 2002,í▒ op. cit.

[17] Bush, George W., The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,

[18] Reagan, Ronald, í░A Confederation of Terrorist States,í▒ Florig, op. cit.,