America’s Rise to Hegemony Through War

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A nation born from war, and currently engaged in war, the United States has been involved in numerous conflicts throughout its relatively short history. Since the Spanish American War in 1898, the United States has been involved in two World Wars, numerous military interventions, and currently, a war that does not have an end in sight. All of these conflicts have taken place outside the United States, and serve as a testament to the United State’s military power. From the Spanish American War to the War on Terror, each conflict, and the reasons for going to war serve as an indicator to America’s rise as the predominant global hegemon.

The first instance where the United States rose to global prominence as the result of war, was the Spanish American War in 1898, where the United States acquired its first overseas territories. Prior to the war, the United States had numerous assets in Cuba, then controlled by Spain, and were constantly the subject of harassment from the Spanish[1]. Given that Spain did not intervene, resentment towards the Kingdom of Spain by the United States government was high before the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana. The American press was quick to blame Spain for the destruction of the warship, and Congress granted the president a Declaration of War on Spain[2]. After the conclusion of the war, the United States obtained Spain’s overseas colonies, and became an actor on the world stage[3].

The two conflicts that followed the Spanish American War, both World War I and World War II, beginning out of hostile actions taken before America entered the conflicts, and would further signal America’s growing role in global affairs. The deliberate attack of the Lusitania by a German submarine, and the Zimmerman Telegram were clear indicators to the United States that the German government acted with hostility towards America[4], and there was no alternative but to go to war. After seeing catastrophic loss of life on foreign soil, isolationism dominated American attitude towards global affairs, but it would be another attack that would bring the United States into another war. The preemptive strike carried out by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor left the United States no alternative, but to go to war with Japan, and its Axis allies[5]. The Second World War would give the United States a new perspective on readiness with the introduction of the “Pearl Harbor System,”[6] which the United States would take a more offensive stance towards threats abroad, and would also be the last time the United States officially declared war. Following World War II, the United States gained the status of a permanent member of the newly-formed United Nations Security Council, thus underlining the global influence of the United States.

With the conclusion of the Second World War, the United States faced a new adversary in the form of communism (primarily the Soviet Union), which would lead the United States into conflicts abroad without being directly provoked. Chiefly due to the ‘Long Telegram’ by George Kennan, which claimed that the Soviet Union acted out of paranoia, and would not negotiate with a rival power[7], America pursued the policy of containment: which meant fighting the spread of communism throughout the world. Thus, the ability to intervene worldwide to preserve the balance of power, while simultaneously combating the threat of communism, the United States had the ability to influence the globe in a manner that benefited American foreign policy interests highlights American supremacy on the world stage. The containment policy led to the Korean and Vietnam Wars, both incontrovertible cases of the overwhelming desire to halt the spread of communism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States became the undisputed global hegemon, and shifted the focus of its military interventions.

Given United States military supremacy and communism no longer a threat, The United States began to engage in military interventions that benefited the international community as a whole. The first conflict in which the United States engaged in after the Cold War, was Operation Desert Storm, in which Iraq invaded its neighboring nation of Kuwait. The United States, along with allies that formed a coalition, intervened and swiftly repelled the Iraqi invasion[8]. The United States also engaged in humanitarian assistance operations, such as Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, but the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 would bring about a new form of conflict for the United States. Given that terror organizations operate without borders, the United State’s overarching objective has been to combat terrorism worldwide to prevent similar attacks[9].

It is incontrovertible that America’s wars are indicators to its rise as the global hegemonic power. Beginning from acquiring overseas territories, to being able to intervene throughout the world, every conflict has built upon the United State’s status as a global superpower. The United States still wields the capability to intervene throughout the world, and will continue to do so throughout the ongoing Global War on Terror.

Work Cited:

1) Berner, Brad K., and Kalman Goldstein. 2014. The Spanish-American War. [Electronic Resource] : A Documentary History with Commentaries. College Complete (Ebook Central). Madison : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ; Lanham, Maryland : Rowman & Littlefield, [2014].

2) U.S. Congress. Senate. Declaration of War with Spain. S. Res. H.R. 10086.

3) “1898: The Birth of a Superpower.” U.S. Department of State.

4)Boghardt, Thomas. 2012. The Zimmerman Telegram : Intelligence, Diplomacy and America’s Entry Into World War I. Annopolis: Naval Institute Press.

5) U.S. Congress. Senate. Declaration of War with Japan, WWII. S. Res. S.J.Res. 116.

6) Stuart, Douglas. Pearl Harbor System at 75*

7) Doc. The Kennan ‘Long Telegram’ at 7 (1946).


9)Valdez, Jamie. 2015. The Cost of War and Terror Operations Since 9-11. Terrorism, Hot Spots and Conflict-Related Issues. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.