With the collapse of the Soviet Union, international politics transitioned from a bipolar structure with two opposed superpowers to a unipolar world, with the United States as the only superpower. To many, this signaled a victory for American-style liberal democracy against alternative forms of governance. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that it signaled an “end of history,” and that liberal democracy and free markets were the final stage in the development of human government. Others like Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, however, argued that despite America’s “unipolar moment,” there was a “clash of civilizations” on the horizon as Eastern cultural powers began to gain economic and military strength.
The presidencies of George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993 and Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001 were marked by increased international economic integration and a few brief military engagements. Both presidents worked to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed during the Clinton administration and greatly increased trade between the three signatories: Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Meanwhile, the United States started to become a sort of international military police force. When Iraqi Prime Minister Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Bush administration quickly reacted with a swift military engagement that pushed Hussein’s forces back into Iraq, and maintained Kuwait’s independence. During the Bush and Clinton administrations, the United States also had brief military engagements in Panama and the Balkans. It was in this atmosphere that George W. Bush, son of George H.W. Bush, took office in early 2001. America’s role, it seemed, was to maintain the international peace.
- With the end of the Cold War in 1989, many people thought that liberal democracy was finally here to stay. With the 20/20 hindsight of today, the picture seems much cloudier.
- Why do you think peoples and nations have not embraced liberal democracy?
- Are the reasons different in secular countries, such as Russia, and religious ones, such as Iran?
- Do you believe that people everywhere aspire to be free. If so, what explains the continuation of authoritarian regimes in many countries? If not, what are the reasons why some people do not want to be free?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.
20, April 2018, U.S. and Soviet Tanks face off [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.