Multilateral Challenges to "the World's Sole Remaining Superpower"

The last half of the 1990s was characterized by multilateral challenges  and the enlargement of NATO eastward to former Soviet bloc nations. Unlawful actions by “rogue states” were a primary threat, resistant to resolution through traditional diplomacy. The perception of the United States, even by allies, as a “hegemonic” sole remaining superpower made negotiations difficult at times. The U.S. was often cast as the “world policeman” rather than the “world diplomat.” The U.S. was a key player in the United Nations and NATO executed military strikes to resolve conflicts in Iraq and in the Balkans.

Intractable ethnic conflicts continued, particularly in the Middle East and in the former Yugoslavia, which saw ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Kosovar Albanians by the Serbian majority. Peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East came tantalizingly near, but agreements to end the fighting proved to be short lived.

Kosovo families take refuge at the United States Camp Hope in Pier, Albania. May 15, 1999.

Kosovo families take refuge at the United States Camp Hope in Pier, Albania. May 15, 1999. Exhibit photos courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Terrorism against U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August of 1996 and the bombing of the naval ship U.S.S. Cole in October of 2000 cost the lives of U.S. diplomats and service men and women abroad. Terrorist tactics in regional and ethnic conflicts put U.S. diplomats in greater danger than ever before, without declared war.
The U.S. enjoyed a record level of prosperity through its leadership in global trade and the new information and bio-medical technologies, with positive corollary effects throughout the industrialized world. Unfortunately, income and development disparities frequently led to political instability and economic regression in nations unable to compete in the new hyper-tech global economy. In Africa, deteriorating economies suffered the added scourge of AIDS which severely weakened the population. In Asia, economic downturns followed a period of greater prosperity. The uncontrolled migration of people seeking a better life in the U.S. or fleeing regional and ethnic conflict was another continuing challenge to U.S. diplomacy.

In 1999, the U. S. Information Agency (USIA) and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) were consolidated into the Department of State, with the intent of fundamentally reorganizing the conduct of U.S. diplomacy. The role of State in relation to the National Security Council, the Congress, and the Justice Department was debated. The increasing presence of law enforcement agencies and other non-State entities in U.S. missions abroad also brought change. U.S. domestic politics and lack of agreement over the role of diplomacy in the post-Cold War world translated into lean budgets and diminished staffing for the Department of State in the 1990’s. Dedicated Foreign Service personnel found themselves “doing more with less” in increasingly risky foreign environments.


Warren Minor Christopher, 1993-1997

Warren Christopher
Secretary of State

Madeleine Korbel Albright, 1997-2001

Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State

Colin Luther Powell, 2001-2005

Colin Powell
Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice, 2005-2009

Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State

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