‘Liberal hegemony’, writes John Mearsheimer, ‘is an ambitious strategy in which a state aims to turn as many countries as possible into liberal democracies like itself while also promoting an open international economy and building international institutions. In essence, the liberal state seeks to spread its own values far and wide.’ Mearsheimer believes that the pursuit of liberal hegemony has had a disastrous effect on American foreign policy. Since the end of the Cold War, the results have included a succession of costly and failed wars, a powerful backlash that has resulted in the emergence of nationalist and fundamentalist movements and a massive reduction in America’s global authority.
A long-standing advocate of realism in international relations, Mearsheimer argues that in the case of the USA the alternative to pursuing liberal hegemony is a much more restrained foreign policy that aims chiefly to promote the American national interest. Adopting this limited approach would enable needless wars to be avoided and in future allow the equivalent of the $5 trillion estimated to have been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan to be used in renewing American infrastructure. A realist foreign policy might even restore the primacy the USA possessed in the unipolar world that followed the collapse of the USSR.
Mearsheimer makes an extremely powerful case. His argument that post-Cold War Western – and particularly American – foreign policy has been a failure is nigh irrefutable. Refreshingly, he revives the well-founded belief that any