chapter  5
25 Pages

International order and American preponderance

Whether it is liberal critics of neoconservatism such as Gary Dorrien or paleo-conservative critics such as Patrick Buchanan, few have resisted the urge to return and analyze the contents of the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), often presenting the document as a precursor to the Bush administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy and the inauguration of the neoconservative quest for a pax-Americana.1 Rarely, though, has this literature examined the extent to which neoconservative critiques of détente paved the way for the arguments of the neoconservative unipolarists writing in the 1990s. It was, after all, throughout the Nixon-Kissinger era of détente that neoconservatives began to emphasize the importance of attaining and preserving American military preponderance. This chapter, therefore, moves away from some of the more idealistic features of neoconservatism, entering instead the realm of neoconservative ideas on American power and primacy. Support for a unipolar order, a key feature of post-Cold War neo-

conservatism, cannot be understood unless one returns to the era of détente and examines the set of ideas embedded in neoconservative critiques of the Nixon-Kissinger administration’s attempt to forge a multipolar world in which no state predominated. The administration’s attempt to embrace and forge a multipolar world, I explain, did not mean that America would no longer retain a unique position in the international system. Contrary to several neoconservative portrayals, the Nixon-Kissinger administration sought to preserve a unique role for America in the world, a role many neoconservatives regularly deprecated and often considered tantamount to appeasement.2 What is important to note, however, is the way in which neoconservatives on both sides of the Cold War identified threats requiring the attainment and preservation of American military preponderance. For neoconservatives throughout the Cold War, the messianic zealousness of the Soviet Union was said to require a strong and preponderant America capable of resisting Soviet advances. For neoconservatives throughout the 1990s, the threat was said to inhere more in the structure of the international system and the potential for the world to revert back to a destabilizing period of global multipolarity. International order, neoconservatives argue, is fragile. It is a product, they insist, of American power. Before that argument is

examined, however, I begin with an analysis of the ideas that evoked their steadfast opposition.