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Public Affairs: The Impotence of American Power

- Abstract

THE UNITED STATES has at its disposal the greatest concentration of material power existing in the world today; in view of its productive capacity and military strength, it is the most powerful nation on earth. Yet the government of that most powerful nation is incapable of making the actions of even the weakest of foreign governments conform to its desires. It is incapable of doing so even with regard to those governments which owe their very existence to American support and which could not survive for twenty-four hours were that support withdrawn.

South Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan are cases in point. None of these governments could exist without the economic and military support of the United States and without the American commitment to go to war in their defense. Yet we have told the government of South Vietnam that it ought to change its policies and composition, and it has changed neither. We have told the government of South Korea that it ought to respect at least a minimum of democratic rights, and we have been rebuffed for our “intervention.” We have told the government of Taiwan that it ought not to station some of its best troops on the offshore islands, and these troops are still stationed there.

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