One definition of power might be “how much an actor, be it person or state can forward their will and/or act either without significant opposition or with the ability to disregard opposition.” This power can be expressed through “hard” or “soft” means, “hard” being militaristic or forceful, and “soft” being the idea of cultural and diplomatic cooperation (Agnew 875). This loosely (perhaps too loosely) invites the idea that hegemony is soft power control of markets and ideas, and empire is hard power control of territory and nations. This of course begs the question as to whether hegemony is achieved by empire, and at least to an extent it would seem so. However, there may be another way of looking at the relationship of empire and hegemony—not as opposing ideas, but instead as consecutive ideas. While creation of empire is arguably also to create hegemony, modern events might well suggest that hegemony creation has rewards of its own: increased power allowing for unhindered empirical actions.
Immanuel Wallerstein argues that hegemony is “one state . . . able to impose its set of rules on the interstate system, and thereby creates temporarily a new political order” (Scheidel 4). This implies that this sort of soft power reorganizes an existing economical or political structure of a region or group of states to favor the one state’s agenda. In this case, holding the high cards (e.g. natural resources) is nice, but making the rules on how, when, and where the cards can be played is a far more preferable and superior position. By this a hegemon, through soft power can arrange a system that narrows the options for opposing agendas set forth by other states or non-state actors. If this is the case, then hegemony helps dictate future responses, and sets a precedent for future actions by those under the umbrella of its own authority and influence.
This level of hegemonic influence isn’t necessarily a moral force in and of itself, but rather a stage for the actions and values of the hegemon. It’s possible to argue over whether or not states should possess such power and influence, but the focus here is instead to ask what states can do with said power. Agnew divides this expression of power into two themes, “involving either relatively benign (or even sacrificial) ‘leadership’ or profoundly exploitative relationships based on steep power gradients between a hegemon and its subordinates in a hierarchy of power” (Agnew 876). One expression of “benign” leadership might be seen in “Operation Unified Response”, the US humanitarian mission to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake near Port-au-Prince. The hegemonic power of the US in the region allowed for the greatest organization of aid, and the US worked to ensure that although troops were on the ground, they did not interfere with Haitian politics, nor did they stay long. It would be naïve to assume that this was entirely based on good will; merely being the hegemon in the region dictates a certain necessity and expectation of humanitarian response. Likewise being the recipient of such a benefit implies the need of the beneficiary to remember the hegemon’s interests and preferences in the future. Even so, this sort of qui pro quo arrangement (though unspoken) is a reflection of benign, soft power.
On the other hand, Agnew calls negative expression of this power “profoundly exploitative” as hegemonies engage in practices that have little semblance of concern for states under the umbrella of the hegemon. Worse, in such a situation the dominant power often has relatively little commitment to the weaker states. However, this approach seems to rest on the idea of hegemony as the end goal. There may be another approach to consider, one with far more serious consequences: not empiricism to gain hegemony, or even exploitative hegemony, but rather hegemony being used as a means to control the game to the point where all options are viable options—including those that abuse power and state sovereignty. One such example of this might be seen in modern events: Russia as a hegemonic power and its current relationship to Ukraine.
In recent years Russia has emerged as a renewed hegemonic power. Vladimir Putin’s brokering of the Syrian quasi-disarmament deal certainly lent credence to the idea of his extensive regional authority. However, this authority has been expressed more recently and extensively in Ukraine itself. In December 2013, the Kremlin bought $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds, and cut natural gas prices by a third for Ukraine according to EUbusiness. The move was to save Ukraine $7 billion alone on the natural gas purchases, arguably a good deal for the struggling nation. However, this move was at the very least somewhat exploitative, or possibly even predatory. Maria Lipman expressed no doubts as to the motives when she said, “This is not done out of the kindness of Putin's heart. This is to strengthen Russian influence over Ukraine and make the country more dependent on Russia" (“Putin . . . ”). EUbusiness also affirmed this idea by stating, “Putin will above all gain a new economic foothold in Ukraine” further reinforcing the idea that at the very least Russia, and Putin in particular, hold to an idea of hegemony that is even stronger than Wallerstein’s (“Putin . . .”).
Just how much stronger has been revealed in the last month, and in particular the 48 hours. As protestors opposing the pro-Russia regime gained the upper hand the president of the country fled, and the opposition installed a new, more pro-EU, pro-western government after the state failure of February 2014.
On Friday, February 28, US President Barack Obama warned Russia against violating Ukraine’s state sovereignty, but by Saturday night the Crimea region was in Russian control (Smale). Obama made a 90-minute call to Putin on Saturday, March 1 opposing Russian troop presence and control of the Crimea region and government buildings (Smale). Thus far Russian forces and leadership have not yielded on any front.
This then is where the idea of hegemony leading to empiricism takes shape. Russia acted in a hegemonic manner with the last Ukrainian regime that was loyal to the Kremlin, but the ousting of this regime has forced their hand. When Ukrainian leadership was allied with Moscow the norm of was for Moscow to use economics as the means of control. Now that power has shifted to a party that seeks membership at the EU table, Putin seems determined to bring Ukraine back to his own table. Carnegie analyst Maria Lipman foreshadowed this with her prerevolutionary statement, “from Putin's point of view, it is absolutely unacceptable to lose control over Ukraine" (“Putin . . .”). At the time this could only be read as an indicator of strong hegemony politics, but time iteself has revealed a deeper meaning. Russia may have established itself as a hegemonic power in the region, but it revealed empirical motives and methods when soft-power politics failed. Russia’s military presence in Ukraine is vastly different from the US military in Haiti in the aforementioned example. The US presence was finite in Haiti from the beginning and exclusively for humanitarian aid, whereas Russian forces have no withdrawal date and their mission is to secure control for pro-Russian factions in Ukraine. By doing so, Russia has moved from merely hegemonic maneuvering to empirical action in Ukraine.
In conclusion, hegemony is soft power control and influence that can be used for positive and negative purposes. Russia engaged in the more powerful methods of hegemonic influence with Ukraine, but switched to empiricism once soft power was no longer expedient. Arguably Putin has taken Russia to a place of powerful hegemony, where others may oppose or speak out against his actions, but the true show of his hegemonic power is revealed when he can ignore the outcry of the international community and advance an agenda of empiricism. Russian hegemony has allowed the country to write the rules of the regional game; with the final rule changing exactly which game is being played. Perhaps traditional wisdom suggests that empires are built to gain hegemony, but it may well be that Russia has attained hegemony to build its empire. How far this power goes will be revealed in the backlash, or lack thereof from the international community as time unfolds.
"Putin Bails out Ukraine to Assert Kremlin Power." EUbusiness. EUbusiness Ltd, 18
Dec. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <http://www.eubusiness.com/news-
Scheidel, Walter. "Republics between Hegemony and Empire." Princeton.edu.
Princeton University, Feb. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Smale, Alison, and David M. Herszenhorn. "Kremlin Clears Way for Force in Ukraine;
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