The period from the mid 1990s until a decade ago was that of America’s dominion in the world. Full of conviction that the victory of its liberal model in the Cold War constituted an “end of history” in terms of political evolution, America began its dominion benevolently.

America wanted to shape the world in its own image. This was not out of hubris, but because, from its perspective, America’s shape had proven itself the most suitable in the past and the most promising for the future. In both, the Republican and Democratic parties, and within many of America’s most influential intellectual circles, the idea that America’s victory in the Cold War tantamount to a vindication of its global role, was gaining major ground. Ideas from the writings of the Founding Fathers of the American republic, about America’s mission and destiny, became common references in the American political rhetoric at the time.

And indeed, as presented in the previous article in this series, the world was looking with fascination, not merely at America’s military power and political success, and at the same time, at the weakness that had engulfed the successors of the Soviet Union, but also at America’s soft power – from science to entertainment - which technology was showcasing to the world at unprecedented scale and speed.

Many in the world wanted America, perhaps as much as America at the time wanted the world. There was a meeting of minds between those in America who were touting the supremacy of the American model, and those outside of America who wanted to copy, internalise, and in many cases partake, in the American model.

America’s expansionism in the world in the 1990s began with so called multinational companies, banks, and other financial institutions, entering new markets, quickly establishing strong presences, and gradually assuming significant economic and political influence in different parts of the world. At the simplest level, the arrival of McDonald’s franchise signalled a change in an economy’s outlook. In cities all over the world, thousands of consumers waited for many hours at the opening of the first McDonald in their city, not particularly to taste the burger, but to undergo what they felt was a quintessential American experience.

Arms followed money. Many in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s were at least as keen as the United States on expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) eastwards. For many in America and Europe, the expansion of NATO was much more than building military presence in countries such as those in the Baltics, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Slovenia, and others. It was integrating the defence of these countries into the military, industrial, economic, and financial structure America has created and sustained since the Second World War. In this view, NATO’s expansion was a victory of the foundational political ideas with which America led the West since the early 1940s. The military presence, political influence, and economic prevalence were seen as but facets of the city upon a hill radiating its light far and wide.

America’s expansionism in the 1990s in South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, was not much different. There was also a strong military component. American military bases were popping up in these regions, though without the dramatic signalling that came with NATO’s expansion. Gone were the selective military presences concentrating on North America and Europe, and in was a new network of military commands covering the entire globe. This was a transformation in American thinking, from the defender of the “free world” in the decades from the Second World War to the end of the Cold War, to the keeper of a new world order, secured by the reach and might of a global empire.

And also in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East, arms came in the steps of economics. But it was not only American companies and banks building presences and acquiring notable market shares in different economic sectors. Perhaps more importantly, the more economically open countries have become, and the more their markets became connected to global supply chains and investment circles, the more these countries came to be integrated in the global economy. This entailed a major increase in the importance of US Dollar-based trading for almost all countries in the world, as well as increased dependence on the US Dollar-dominated global sovereign bond market. And often the power of that bond market was at least as compelling as that of American military might.

Modernisation theory seemed to have won the argument about how to develop. The theory which, in its most basic form, holds that the more the middle classes grow and become richer, the more a country will develop economically and then politically towards democracy, inspired developmental experiences in different parts of the world. Related to this view, the American model became an inspiration and often a yardstick of development. With this thinking, and as America was rapidly spreading its presence all over the world, along with the economic model and financial investments, came America as a solution provider, arbiter, or adjudicator on political and economic progress.

As the world entered the second millennium, the 200-years old America seemed not only the mightiest empire the world has ever known, but a model and an inspiration for large sections of people the world over. But as had happened repeatedly with empires, challengers coming from the periphery, along with partners who had seen their power diluted in the dominion of the global hegemon, appeared determined to stop the new order – the Pax Americana – from prevailing.