Soaring Eagle: Prestige and American Empire, 1998-2003
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What are the causes of the US foreign policy of imperial expansion between 1998 and 2003? US foreign policy in this timeframe is distinctive by its unilateralism and use of force compared to previous instances of American expansion as well as to its political line in the early 1990s. Hence, the thesis conducts an inquiry into the reasons for this transformation in American foreign policy. By contrast to the existing literature on American foreign policy, the thesis argues for an alternative hypothesis in terms of prestige-seeking on the part of the US. Despite its advantage in capabilities, the US found itself constantly unable to translate its preferences into successful outcomes in the 1990s. This discrepancy eventually created the conditions for status inconsistency, i.e. the gap between the social ranks an actor occupies in multiple social hierarchies. An actor experiencing status inconsistency will attempt to balance ranks so as to achieve eventual superiority under all hierarchies. In world politics, prestige is a function of social ranking or status, which is itself conferred according to three dimensions: military capabilities, economic capabilities, and political performance—the ability of successfully translating one’s preferences into successful outcomes. It in this latter respect that the US felt it was particularly deficient in the aftermath of the Cold War, hence the need to conserve and enhance American prestige so as to match America’s pretensions of world leadership. Accordingly, the thesis examines in detail how the pursuit of prestige affected American foreign policy in the contexts of rejection of the ABM and the ICC treaties, the use of force without a UN Security Council authorization the bombing of Yugoslavia over Kosovo, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The thesis concludes that prestige represents a significant and enduring influence over states’ foreign policy conduct due to status inconsistency. Furthermore, the recent American policy of imperial expansion from 1998 to 2003 under the presidencies of Clinton and George W. Bush is likely to be a harbinger of things to follow, because the circumstances favoring status inconsistency and the consequent policy of prestige are still present.