Rarely in history has a country been as powerful as the United States is today. And that may be taking a toll on the rest of the world.
While the US expands its global reach - militarily, economically, and culturally - other countries are increasingly growing wary of US dominance, and seeking more balance in a world they see as unipolar. US rivals like Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba have been trumpeting those concerns for years. But their calls of late have become more focused and unified.
"Just as there should not be only one color in the world, so there should not be only one civilization, one social system, one development model, or one set of values in the world," said Chinese President Jiang Zemin at last week's United Nations summit, where complaints of the US overreaching its bounds created an undercurrent of unrest.
Fears of US dominance have also taken firmer root in more America-friendly countries that are gradually trying to assert themselves, such as Japan, India, and France. Over the past year, for example, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine has begun to refer to the US as a "hyper-power."
Some developing countries, furthermore, complain that they are too often bullied by the US and European Union, which they accuse of trying to dictate the pace and means of their development. Those laments were heard at last year's meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, and again this week at a World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne, Australia.
Part of the reason for the growing resentment against the US is its continued military presence around the globe. The US-led interventions - in Yugoslavia more than a year ago and ongoing in Iraq - haven't helped.
But other issues are causing grumbling as well, including the recent US decision to help fund Colombia's drug war against rebels in the south, a topic that drew strong criticism at a meeting of Latin American countries in Brazil last month.
Then there's national missile defense. Both allies and potential rivals are concerned at the prospect of either a US advantage in strategic weaponry or a renewed arms race. President Clinton deferred a decision to deploy the system, but development continues, and the next president will have to address the subject.
The US has also rejected popularly supported international initiatives, including the formation of a permanent international court to try accused war criminals, an agreement to ban nuclear-weapons testing, and a proposal to outlaw landmines.
Patrick Cronin, a national-security expert at the US Institute for Peace in Washington, says it's natural for the rest of the world to rally against a nation when it gets too strong.
"You can get away with unilateralism for only the briefest of times," he says. "You can't have it both ways - pushing for greater globalization but not supporting things like an international court or the United Nations."
The hegemony problem is likely to be a crucial foreign-policy issue for the nation's next chief executive to confront.
"One of the most important things the next president will have to do is strengthen our alliances and explain to other countries why our presence is needed around the world," says John Hulsman, a foreign-policy expert at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Mr. Hulsman likens the role of the US to that of a chairman of the board - someone who can call the shots, but who can't get anything done without support.
Yet in recent months other countries have shown that they are willing to take on international issues without US help.
Japan and Russia recently met to try to resolve their ongoing dispute over the Kurile Islands, which were taken by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Until recently it would have been unthinkable for such a meeting to take place without some form of outside mediation - probably by the US.
In one of the world's most dangerous nuclear flashpoints, Kashmir, an increasingly assertive India is insisting that the US keep out of any negotiation with rival Pakistan (see story, below).
Even Germany, a strong ally, is beginning to demand more of a say in world affairs.
"A state cannot simply stand back from its strategic potential, from the size of its population and economic power, and ignore its geopolitical situation," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said recently in an appeal to get his country a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Japan and India have also appealed for permanent Security-Council seats.
Still, it is apparent that a strong US role is essential in some parts of the world.
North Korean President Kim Jong Il recently surprised observers by telling South Korean President Kim Dae Jung that US troops were needed on the peninsula, even as tensions decreased - in part to prevent a power vacuum.
Also, analysts say, it is apparent that the US is the only country with the strength and reputation to broker a deal between the Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East.
"The need for American mediation won't go away," says Thomas Smerling, the Washington director of the Israel Policy Forum. "The US is the only country with the trust of both sides."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society