The U.S Offshore Balancing in the Contemporary International System – part one

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the events of 9/11, the international system radically changed, urging the United States to adopt a new grand strategy to deal with the regional crisis and to extent its hegemony in the long run. Through the U.S administrations national security strategies from George W. Bush to Donald Trump, it is possible to underline the evolution of U.S posture toward the world, from primacy to offshore balancing. This is an alternative approach which suggest relying on the prisms of balance of power based on allies own security to assure U.S interests abroad and prevent the rise of hostile hegemons in vital regions. These are identified to be the Middle East, Eurasia and Est Asia. The rise of China and the strong presence of Russia affecting both European and Eurasia dynamics enshrines the formation of a multipolar international system. To keep its supremacy alive, the U.S is embracing an offshore balancing strategy, showing how crucial is to rebalance its strategic posture to contain competitor’s power projection, while preserving its grip over regional dynamics.

Questo articolo costituisce l’inizio di un’analisi che verrrà pubblicata in due parti.

The U.S Offshore Balancing in the Contemporary International System – part one -


The U.S strategic problems in the contemporary international system

The evolution of the U.S global strategy in the last 20 years has been spurred by a several transformations regarding the steadily international system rearrangement and the new threats originated by the concentration of power in a sole pole. The end of the Cold War made the global order to assume several distinctive features by changing its nature from bipolarity to unipolarity, opening up new challenges for the U.S posture and the way to manage its hegemony over the entire system.

First of all, it became evident the issues related to assure stability on a global range, responding to any kind of threats rising in every corner of the world with the purpose of granting its interests and the security of its allies. The risk of this dilemma lies on the gradually loss of hegemony itself, due to the increasing costs associated with the maintenance of the status quo, which at the same time heavily damage its available economic resources, with the risk of plunging into a financial crisis. The illusion of having reached a unipolar status relies on this constant paradox, because the maximization of a state superiority requires more efforts, especially in financial terms, which can endanger its position in the international sphere. As a matter of fact, unipolarity creates problems of governance, because other light powers will find less attractive to be supported by the strongest in the system, fearing to be dominated, exploited or left behind. The disappearance of a competitor pole means that there aren’t any options for weaker states to balance the U.S. On the other hand, there is no benefits to have granted the security protection, due to the lack of threats to other powers survival, as it was during the bipolar world.

Secondly, the implications of unipolarity imply that a hegemon is able to exercise its power worldwide, and this outreach must be supported ideologically and politically by a considerable part of state actors, in order to achieve a kind of legitimacy in pursuing its actions. The pick of this form of recognition was at its highest point in favor of the U.S in 1989-91, when the collapse of the Soviet Union, changed the distribution of power in the international system. Legitimacy, however, has some shortcomings which can be analyzed under two facets: On the one hand, the U.S superiority could be perceived by the other states as threat, especially due to its arrogance and imperialist policy to project power and gain territories abroad. On the other one, its superiority and soft power could always more function as a great attraction for weak states or potential regional allies to rely on its commitment in security and financial terms.

Thirdly, the unipolar system suffers from its high grade of indeterminacy. During the period of Cold War, the competition between the two superpowers made their alignments very rigid with few opportunities of misperceiving a threat rising in regional areas. On this ground, we find a major characteristic completely in contrast with the past, so that nowadays it is impossible to act in the same way in regional complexes as the superpowers used to do in the bipolar era, because each of them has its own particular political and historical facts. From this indeterminacy, the U.S can only have as objective to maintain its power at the top of the international system. To rationally pursuing it, the U.S has already set other complementary goals: preserving its national security and its freedom of actions, preventing the rise of hostile hegemony in the regions considered to be a crucial interest, as Europe, East Asia, and the belt which runs from the Middle East up to the Central Asia. Moreover, the U.S has an interest to contrast the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to pursue an open-door policy, capable of granting a stable international economy by patrolling the major line of communications, key markets and strategic energetic resources. For these reasons, given the ambiguity of the contemporary system, the U.S power projection is linked to regions, over which the hegemon can benefits from the control of them.

These complexes are extremely heterogeneous and make the world stabilization even more daunting in terms of cognitive, military and economic efforts for the United States. So, in this sense, we are assisting to an international system where the regional dynamics directly shapes the global ones. This is mainly because of the fragmentation on global politics. In fact, the increase of the number of states, the interrelations among these entities caused by conflicts uprising, the effects of globalization and especially the rise of non-state actors have become the landmark of the complexity surrounding the U.S in the world order. The problem for the U.S establishment is how to deal with the local tensions, preventing threats and the rise of a regional hegemon. That is why not even an American grand strategy has been able to solve out the ambiguity of the contemporary system, with a constant tension between unipolarism and regionalization. The impact of the new American foreign policy on main regions which define the modern international field, has resulted to be inconsistent, leading to trigger the creation of new process of competition both on the ground of regional relations and within local actors. From one point of view, the re-thinking of the strategic meaning of a global approach have already resulted in a new conception of the distribution of power in several given contexts attempting at creating some benefits to someone and negative effects to other ones. The direct result of this choice has been the recognition that the offshore presence in Europe and North Asia is no longer suitable for the new strategic environment, where American interests are global and new potential threats are emerging in other parts of the world.

Looking more closely to the regional complex mentioned, the Middle East has had much of attention due to the diffusion of jihadist groups, and that’s the reason why U.S is engaged to not create lively condition for these non-state actors to settle within weak or rogue states. Europe has been deleted from the top least of priority because Russia today, is not perceived to have any aggressive intentions to conquer the West region, as it attempted to do after the World War II. So that, American national security has the objective to hamper terrorism actions, movements and rhetoric both regionally and internationally, pursuing as the same time the reduction and the disposal of nuclear proliferation program, especially with Iran and North Korea. By changing alignments in the regional sphere, the U.S finds itself caught into the exercising of international conservative and aggressive power on the regional side. In fact, given the U.S objective to preserve its global hegemony in the system preventing the rise of any regional challengers, the enlargement of its military presence in states such as Iraq and in regional complex as Central Asia, tends to be interpreted as a threat to the regional stability by key local actors fostering a defensive response and a counter-balancing stance. For these reasons the tension between the unipolar moment and the process of regionalization involves a dangerous perception and political decisions often contradictory: the strengthened of U.S global hegemony increases the mistrust of regional great powers and, by doing so, their interest in putting into effect new process of competitive regionalization; the aggregation regional poles function create on its own sake much more mistrust and it usually provoke the reaction of weak actors; the formation of special relationship between these entities and the U.S increases the mistrust of great regional powers.

The U.S grand strategy has to deal with this process of regionalization which has been shaping the international political scenario in the form of subtle threat, like terrorism or cyber-attacks, and on the regional complex which vary from one another to imply the right approach to impede the rise of a potential hegemon in these areas, maintaining its supremacy over the international system, thinking about the long run consequences of projecting power everywhere in order to control the main hotspots where key strategic interests lie. This could result in the steadily loss of financial resources and erosion of global legitimacy for exercising a new form of modern imperialism, exposing itself to menace its stability.