By Michelle Gamage
The United States is currently the world’s hegemonic power. With easily the largest Army, Navy, and Air Force—not to mention the largest cache of nuclear weapons in the world—the United States has enjoyed an unchallenged seat of power since the end of the Cold War. If you view this seat of power through the international relations theory of liberalism, then America’s seat of power is grand, with countries like Canada and Mexico sitting happily on its borders and enjoying considerable allowances of extended deterrence, exclusive trade deals through programs such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Organization (NAFTA) and shared non-governmental organizations, such as the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders. As the United States has not recently been hostile towards either of these countries, liberalism theory would suggest that peace would continue while all counties continue to benefit from one another.
However, if you view America’s throne of power through the international relations theory of realism, you would see a very different and more violent system. The United States would be struggling to maintain its hegemony and fretting over every relative gain made by an enemy—which Mexico and Canada would easily be considered as they would profit from invading the United States and stealing its resources—which would make the United States more scared of its neighbours. Realism suggests that all states are natural enemies in the anarchic international system and therefore are constantly afraid of one another and the relative gains made by all other counties.
My research question is if the United States, as the global hegemon, was under domestic nuclear attack from an enemy, would it remain in good liberalism trust of its neighbours and continue to attack its enemy, or would it take on a realist stance and fire nuclear weapons at its neighbouring countries to ensure their relative power was reduced along with its own? If the United States were under attack, would its nuclear policy be liberalist or realist? I am interested in this because understanding the global hegemon’s nuclear policy could advise Canada and Mexico what kind of nuclear strategy they should develop. With nuclear non-proliferation unsuccessfully limiting the spread of nuclear weapons the chances of some form of nuclear exchange eventually occurring increases every day. Therefore it is important for America’s neighbours to understand how they should approach the nuclear goliath sitting on their border. To test to what extent the United States is afraid of its neighbours, and therefore acts more realist than liberalist, I will explore the case study of when the Unites States entered the First World War, and what was then known as the Prussian Invasion Plot but is today refereed to as the Zimmermann telegram—where Germany attempted to make an alliance with Mexico and Japan to invade the United States. This proposed alliance telegram was picked up and decoded by the British who presented it to the United States, and is often cited as the straw that broke the camels back pushing the Unites States into WWI1. Therefore, this paper will explore if the United States entered WWI because of domestic threats. Is the United States just afraid of its neighbours?