Since the end of the Cold War, American power has surged to unprecedented heights and currently dominates the international stage. The absence of counterbalancing on the part of other major powers has lead several scholars to conclude that the international system has evolved from a balance-of-power framework to a more complex international network. Moreover, according to several theorists like Joseph Nye, power itself has developed into something “less tangible and less coercive,” and currently exists in two forms: coercive “hard power” and co-opting “soft power.” With the transformative influence of globalization, power has evolved into something more than brute strength; and with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the United States has taken the international stage as the main actor in this current power play.
Now the main question is: for how long will it last? America plays an unprecedented role, and it appears that as long as the international audience is satisfied, the performance will most likely continue. Indeed, it seems that in the twenty-first century, the biggest threat to American power is not the emergence of another strong actor or troupe of actors; instead, the biggest threat to American power is America itself. If the United States acts as a prima donna and irritates her captive audience, she may be ushered off the international stage. Conversely, America may choose to exit the world stage prematurely, thus ushering in a new wave of international actors in a new power play.
If the United States is to continue as the world’s superpower, it must learn how to effectively use both hard and soft power resources. The danger is that the United States will bow out of the international power play, financially burdened by military costs; or, the United States may become arrogant, and fail to temper hard power with attractive, soft power. Both situations may be avoided if America recognizes and respects her fellow actors. As Nye relates in the Paradox of American Power: “The multiplicity of new actors means that there is very little the United States can achieve alone” (169). Thus, it appears that on the international stage, there truly are no small parts, only small actors. The United States, as the ‘biggest’ player on world stage, should recognize that its powerful size is largely contingent upon the support of fellow actors.