The case of Edward Snowden illustrates: USA is no longer a superpower

Since the end of the Second World War, America has been the undisputed superpower of our world, matched only by the sheer size and nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and thus the collapse of the USSR, America has been the unprecedented champion with military and economic might that could not be rivalled by any other nation.

However, recently America has experienced failure after failure in achieving their objectives and coercing other nations into following USA’s orders. For instance, America desired that after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, these nations could be transformed into free and democratic regimes. Quite the opposite has acquired- Iraq is now practically a rogue state with a failing government, sectarian violence and an ever friendly relationship with Iran. In Afghanistan, the situation is precarious- it is yet unclear whether the Afghan government will manage to achieve peace with the Taliban and whether any future elections will be free and fair. No doubt the USA has managed to achieve their short term goals of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and severely damaging the Al-Qaeda groups in Afghanistan. However, America’s long-term vision of changing the hearts and minds of the people in the region never materialised.

The case of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden is no doubt completely different from Iraq and Afghanistan, but it illustrates just as well, if not better, the shear weakness of America nowadays. Since Snowden revealed to the world that the USA is spying on its own and foreign citizens, America has been itching to arrest Snowden and deliver him a harsh sentence, just like for Bradley Manning, to send a message to future whistle-blowers that announcing the truth about America’s illegal and immoral actions would be dealt with brutally and harsh prison sentence. And yet, America has failed to coerce either China or Russia to hand over Edward Snowden, and now, Russia has granted the whistle-blower a one year asylum, which ensures that Snowden is, at least for now, safe from America’s clutches.

The case of Snowden may seem to minimal to claim that America has lost its influence and power, and yet it is a symbolic example which proves just that. The anger and frustration with which many American Senators reacted to the news that Russia has refused to listen to America, illustrates that it has hit a nerve with the USA officials.  Americans are used to having it their way, so the case of Snowden and the inability to do anything substantial about Syria, while Russia continues to support President Assad has infuriated many US officials.

There are a number of reasons why America seems to be losing its influence and the ability to use soft power to achieve their objectives. Firstly, the USA is not a slick economic machine that it used to be after WW2. In fact, the recent news that Detroit has gone into bankruptcy illustrates that America’s economic situation is rather precarious. While President Obama and his Administration have managed to create some growth this year, the underlying problem of huge debt and financial insecurity remains.  The second reason is that Russia and China, America’s biggest rivals, have continued to get stronger. Thirdly, whilst in the past, many viewed America as a beacon of light among the dark forces of dictators and authoritarian regimes, now America simply cannot claim to be the moral nation which brings peace and democracy to other regions. The failures of Iraq and Afghanistan described above, plus the recent revelations from whistle-blowers about America’s atrocities at home and abroad, have ensured that many simply no longer trust America to be the ethical police state. The US has brought upon itself too much controversy, with drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the lies about the Iraq War, tortures in Guantanamo Bay prison, and more recently spying on its own citizens. America has lost its credibility as an ethical state that wants to do good in the world, and therefore, other nations are reluctant to listen to it.

No doubt America is still a very powerful nation, both from the military and economic perspective. It still has powerful allies in Europe and other regions and very recently the US has managed to re-start peace talks between Israel and Palestine, a feat only the USA could probably do. Nevertheless, recent examples of failure illustrate that America is no longer a mammoth influential state that it used to be. And with the growing power and influence of other nations (especially the BRICs) and uncertainty about America’s economic situation, it is likely that the US will continue to lose its influence in the world, a fact that for many Americans might be a tough pill to swallow.

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Categories: International politics

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