Temptations of a superpower


Temptations of a superpower

Ronald Steel

(The Joanna Jackson Goldman memorial lecture on American civilization and government)

Harvard University Press, 1995

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Includes bibliographical references



America may now be the last remaining superpower, but what does this triumph mean when the challenges faced often defy military solutions? This text examines this question with its implications for America's role in the post-Cold War world. Ronald Steel offers a critique of a high-stakes game of foreign policy played by rules that no longer apply, and then proposes an alternative view of the world and America's place in it. The Cold War imposed a certain order on the world, providing a certainty as to who the enemies and allies were. This text explores the history of America's present predicament where the loss of such certainties has led to a disruption in the social balance of other areas. It explains the dangers of adapting outmoded but habitual policies to a new world whose shape is fast evolving. What, for instance, is the future of the US military, deeply embedded as it is in America's culture and economy? What distinction should be made between America's nearest neighbours and distant nations? How should economic needs and ethical imperatives be balanced? Analyzing the turmoil sweeping the world from China to Bosnia, Haiti to the Caucasus, Steel depicts the dilemmas facing American policymakers. What concern should the United States have with many world quarrels? How can national interest be reconciled with strategic considerations and morality? When should domestic needs take precedence over foreign policy? He asks not only what America should do for the world, but what it must do for itself. Remembering that foreign and domestic policy are inseparable, Steel argues that a renewed foreign policy must address not only changes in the world order, but the pressing, unmet needs within America itself.


  • An ambiguous victory
  • interest and morality
  • finding a role
  • nobody's Europe
  • visions of order
  • shibboleths
  • what America can do.

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