U.S. hegemony in the post–Cold War era was like nothing the world had seen since the Roman Empire.
So which was it that eroded American hegemony—the rise of new challengers or imperial overreach? As with any large and complex historical phenomenon, it was probably all of the above. China’s rise was one of those tectonic shifts in international life that would have eroded any hegemon’s unrivaled power, no matter how skillful its diplomacy.
The return of Russia, however, was a more complex affair. It’s easy to forget now, but in the early 1990s, leaders in Moscow were determined to turn their country into a liberal democracy, a European nation, and an ally of sorts of the West. Eduard Shevardnadze, who was foreign minister during the final years of the Soviet Union, supported the United States’ 1990–91 war against Iraq. And after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia’s first foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, was an even more ardent liberal, an internationalist, and a vigorous supporter of human rights.
Who lost Russia is a question for another article.
But it is worth noting that although Washington gave Moscow some status and respect—expanding the G-7 into the G-8, for example—it never truly took Russia’s security concerns seriously. It enlarged NATO fast and furiously, a process that might have been necessary for countries such as Poland, historically insecure and threatened by Russia, but one that has continued on unthinkingly, with little concern for Russian sensitivities, and now even extends to Macedonia.
Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior makes every action taken against his country seem justified, but it’s worth asking, What forces produced the rise of Putin and his foreign policy in the first place?
The greatest error the United States committed during its unipolar moment, with Russia and more generally, was to simply stop paying attention.
Source: The Self-Destruction of American Power