Panel argues pros and cons of the U.S. as a world superpower

The panel was part of a symposium held at the Law School that attracted 125 people.

Ed Swaray

A unipolar world with the United States as the lone superpower has both benefits and drawbacks, several panelists said during a Law School symposium Friday.

The United States can use its superpower status to aid other countries in need, University political science professor Kathryn Sikkink said. She used the U.S. intervention in Europe after World War II as an example.

“Europe was weakened after World War II, but the United States used its influence to build its institutions and strengthen its laws,” Sikkink said.

Likewise, the United States can add its military and economic strengths to international organizations and laws, Sikkink said. If the United States chooses not to participate in those organizations, however, those coalitions might counter U.S. influences, she said.

Sikkink pointed to the International Criminal Court and the Mine Ban Treaty as important international arrangements established without U.S. membership that might work against its superpower status.

Established in 1998, the International Criminal Court is composed of judges from 18 countries who try cases involving issues such as genocide, aggression and war crimes. The Mine Ban Treaty, established in 1997, banned the use of antipersonnel mines.

Marco Sassoli, a professor of international law at the University of Quebec, said superpowers should maintain an awareness of world events. For example, he said the U.S. government wrongly used the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to justify violating international humanitarian laws, claiming the attacks were unique events.

“Unfortunately, war, terrorism and widespread deliberate attacks against civilians and violence by nonstate actors are not new phenomena,” he said.

Third-year law student Matt Telleen, among 125 people at the symposium, said this abuse of power could lead to problems with other countries.

“There is inherit danger if we decide to use our power to disrespect other countries,” he said. “This will create a culture of ‘might makes right,’ which could degenerate into military conflicts between countries.”

Law student Jeremy Wagner, however, said the U.S. role as lone superpower could instill either enmity or respect among other nations.

“If the United States continues to act independently, animosity against it will grow in other countries,” he said. “However, if it uses its status as the lone superpower to implement peace through nonviolent methods, it will be seen as a respected leader in the world.”