Instructor Jamie Weitl
November 14, 2011
How America Became a Global Superpower
The United States of America is the world's last remaining superpower. However, this was not always the case. The United States toiled in relative obscurity on a global scale for most of its history. As the world evolved, so too did the young nation. The United States attempted to stay out of world affairs, but a time came when that was no longer possible. Necessity dictated that the United States become a major player at the global level. The United States entered into World War II a great power and emerged a global superpower. What is a superpower?
In order to properly examine the events that led to the emergence of the United States as a superpower it is important to understand exactly what constitutes a nation gaining the status of that title. According to Lyman Miller of the Stanford Journal of International Relations, “A “superpower” is a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time, and so may plausibly attain the status of global (2006)”. There have been many global superpowers throughout history. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States have all spent significant time in the past as global superpowers.
The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the United States to become the only nation with a legitimate claim to the title of global superpower. However, there are other nations that may be able to lay claim to the title at some point in the future. Perhaps the most visible, and closest, of these countries is the People’s Republic of China. Over the past 20 years, China has grown into both a military and economic power. China has the second largest GDP in the world, next to the United States, according to the International Monetary Fund. However, Miller doesn’t seem to believe China will be evolving anytime soon. “At a broader level, in global affairs, its stature and power are growing, but in most respects it remains a regional power, complementing the cast of other great powers under the overarching dominance, however momentary, of the United States (Miller, 2006)”. Focus on Domestic Issues
The United States stayed out of foreign affairs throughout most of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. These policies actually served the country quite well as the young nation had many domestic problems that needed to be resolved before it could take a prominent position in global affairs. This did not stop the United States from intervening when it was necessary.
Aside from this, the citizens of the United States did not really have the stomach for foreign powers. This could perhaps not be better stated than it was by George Washington, the first President of the United States, in his farewell address in 1796. “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities”.
The first major problem the United States wanted to tackle was the belief that the country was destined to expand across the continent. This led to a focus on expansion. The dream began with Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory. This purchase doubled the size of the United States. Between 1811 and 1912 the...