Fiona Hill has declared that the war in Ukraine marks the passing of Pax Americana. In an explosive speech delivered two weeks ago in Estonia, the foreign affairs specialist warned that there had been a “mutiny” against US dominance that would force a reset in global relations. “In 2023, we hear a resounding no to US domination,” Hill said, “and see a marked appetite for a world without a hegemon”.
The former presidential advisor to Donald Trump stated that Russia had “cleverly exploited deep-seated international resistance” to American leadership, using the war in Ukraine as a means to drive a wedge between the West and “the Rest”. Hill went on to deny that there was a proxy war between Russia and the West but, rather, the “reverse — a proxy for a rebellion by Russia and the ‘Rest against the United States’”.
The Russia specialist noted that the Ukraine war was the latest in a “long series of dramatic events since 2001” that undermined support for the US as a global hegemon. Citing the War on Terror, inaction in Yemen, “selective interventions in Libya and Syria” as well as the 2008 financial crisis and the election of Donald Trump, Hill said that these events had “cast further doubt on the US capacity for global leadership”. “Unfortunately, just as Osama bin Laden intended, the US’s own reactions and actions have eroded its position since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11,” she said. “‘America fatigue’ and disillusionment with its role as the global hegemon is widespread.”
By consequence, Ukraine has suffered “guilt through association for having direct US support”, because other states view the conflict through the prism of a proxy rebellion. “Defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity gets lost in a morass of scepticism and suspicions about the United States,” Hill said.
In an interview earlier this year, Hill told UnHerd that the West “should have handled things better” with regard to Russia, a theme she expanded on in this Lennart Meri Lecture. Chiding the West for not consulting global partners on their response to the invasion, the former UN official said that non-Western elites questioned why sanctions were implemented when “no one” sanctioned the US over its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. “Why should they step up now?” questioned Hill.
Despite working for three American presidents, the former advisor pulled no punches in her criticism of the US and West more generally. It was wrong, she argued, to refer to 6.5 billion people as the “Global South” or “the Rest” when “they are the world […] our terminology reeks of colonialism.” In these countries, there is “no sense of the US as a virtuous state,” Hill added, “perceptions of American hubris and hypocrisy are widespread.”
To rehabilitate the West’s image on the global stage, Hill argued that a “diplomatic surge” was required alongside a “skilful and patient effort” on the military front to end Russia’s invasion. While she was open to China playing a mediating role in the conflict, she argued that India had the “historical goodwill” to help “break common ground”. Importantly, however, it was down to the West to forge stronger ties with the rest of the world in order to have an “honest conversation” about the stakes of the war. “We need the manoeuvrability of an Inuit kayak, not the laborious turns of a supertanker […] or an encumbered superpower,” she concluded.