Pax Americana

From Academic Kids

The term Pax Americana (Latin: "American Peace") denotes the period of perceived peace in the Western world since the end of World War II in 1945, coinciding with the dominant military and economic position of the United States. It places the US in the military and diplomatic role of a modern-day Roman Empire or British Empire (based on Pax Romana and Pax Britannica, respectively). During this period, no armed conflict has emerged among major Western nations themselves, and no strategic weapons been used, while the United States and its allies have been involved in various regional wars (such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War), and have maintained espionage and covert operations in various other areas.

The term Pax Americana is used by critics of U.S. policy to describe an effort they allege is made by the U.S. to suppress countries that do not cooperate with U.S. policy, but some supporters of American foreign policy also use the term, so it is not necessarily derogatory. For example, it appears repeatedly in a September 2000 document, Rebuilding America's Defenses, by the Project for the New American Century, widely regarded as a neo-conservative think-tank.


Origins of the peace

The Pax Americana derives partly from the direct influence of the United States, but as significantly or more so from international institutions backed by American financing and diplomacy.

Even the so-called unipolar moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union does not compare with the advantageous position of the United States in 1945 with respect to the rest of the industrialized world. It was then responsible for half of global industrial output, held 80 percent of the world's gold reserves, and was the world's sole nuclear power. Already the largest economy in the world, the United States ended World War II with its domestic infrastructure virtually unscathed and its military forces at unprecedented strength. The catastrophic destruction of life, infrastructure, and capital of the Second World War had exhausted the empires of the Old World, however, victor and vanquished alike.

The U.S. invested heavily in programs such as the Marshall Plan and in the reconstruction of Japan, economically cementing defense ties that owed increasingly to the fall of the Iron Curtain and widening of the Cold War. The aegis of American backing enabled not only the rapid reindustrialization of Europe and Japan, but allowed nations to experiment with new structures such as the European Coal and Steel Community, further enhancing international cooperation.

But in the best position to take advantage of free trade, culturally indisposed to traditional empires (though not without its own colonial interests), and alarmed by the rise of communism in China and the detonation of the first Soviet atom bomb, the historically isolationist U.S. also took a keen interest in developing multilateral institutions which would maintain a favorable world order, among them.

Some critics maintain that these programs and organizations are in effect instruments of American power or state policy, or are mismanaged and have deleterious effects on certain nations. Others express resentment at their countries' dependence on U.S. military protection, due to disagreements with U.S. policy or the presence of U.S. forces themselves. The ability of the U.S. to act as "the world's policeman" is constrained further by its own citizens' historic animadversion to foreign wars. Nevertheless, the institutions behind the Pax Americana have persisted into the early 21st century.

Pax Americana as Imperialism

The long history of U.S. isolationism subsided only after major shocks associated with the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, the Cold War, and various post-Cold War conflicts with non-state actors. There are those who believe that the United States has sought, or has found itself forced into, a quasi-imperialist role by its status as the world's sole superpower. However, the term "isolationist" in this context applies to the global stage; the United States has never been isolationist with respect to the Western Hemisphere, which it has considered to fall within its sphere of influence, and has a long history of military intervention within this region of the world, in the spirit of the Monroe and Truman Doctrines.

The fiercest debates between imperialist and isolationist factions occurred at the end of the 19th century. At that time, the "jingoes", including Theodore Roosevelt, favored U.S. control of Hawaii and the Philippines. Those who favored traditional American policies of avoiding foreign entanglements included Samuel Gompers and Andrew Carnegie. At that time, "imperial" was used as a positive term by jingoes and as a negative term by opponents. When Theodore Roosevelt became president following the assassination of William McKinley in 1900, U.S. foreign policy began to undergo its first major shift away from isolationism towards a policy of foreign intervention.

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