Decline of the American Empire
I just finished reading a New York Times Magazine article that did a great job of pulling together all of the information that I've been hearing bits and pieces of, addressing the United States as a declining power. It is possible that some of my Economist-reading friends might find it old-hat, but I found it interesting enough that I thought I'd pop it up on my blog list. A pretty long read, but I thought it was a worthwhile way to spend some time on a Saturday morning.
It is "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony", by Parag Khanna [who] is a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation. This essay is adapted from his book, “The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order,” to be published by Random House in March.
Just a paragraph that sets the flavor of the article:
It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.
The author divides the coming/present world into three superpowers: the United States, China ("Across the globe, it is deploying tens of thousands of its own engineers, aid workers, dam-builders and covert military personnel."), and the EU ("What other superpower grows by an average of one country per year, with others waiting in line and begging to join?").
The author also raises the concept of the "Second World" ("From Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia"... "[who] are distinguished from the third world by their potential: the likelihood that they will capitalize on a valuable commodity, a charismatic leader or a generous patron"). They are rising, but not top-level economic powers, that play these three superpowers off each other, and typically try not to be completely tied to any. The key second-world countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia are more than just “emerging markets.” If you include China, they hold a majority of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves and savings, and their spending power is making them the global economy’s most important new consumer markets and thus engines of global growth — not replacing the United States but not dependent on it either.
To understand the second world, you have to start to think like a second-world country. What I have seen in these and dozens of other countries is that globalization is not synonymous with Americanization; in fact, nothing has brought about the erosion of American primacy faster than globalization. While European nations redistribute wealth to secure or maintain first-world living standards, on the battlefield of globalization second-world countries’ state-backed firms either outhustle or snap up American companies, leaving their workers to fend for themselves. The second world’s first priority is not to become America but to succeed by any means necessary.
Also, there are some interestingly pithy quotes which jibe with how I see the world going together, explaining why this decline is happening.
Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the U.S. We didn’t educate them, so we have no claims on their brains or loyalties as we have in decades past.
Also, in response to the "Let's just go kick some ass to show how great we are," portion of this country's electorate:
Make no mistake: America was never all powerful only because of its military dominance; strategic leverage must have an economic basis.
One has to be only a basic student of history to understand this. Just look at the U.S. role in World Wars I and II. Also, I remember as a kid, looking at the World Book Encyclopedia article on the American Civil War. They had a graphic comparing the economies of the North and South--in terms of numbers of factory workers, miles of railroad track, etc. As you would expect, the North was completely dominant on that front. So even though the South arguably had a better-trained military and superior generals, bravery and skill is no replacement for steel and fuel.
Finally, the article wraps up with a section, So let’s play strategy czar. You are a 21st-century Kissinger. Your task is to guide the next American president (and the one after that) from the demise of American hegemony into a world of much more diffuse governance. What do you advise, concretely, to mitigate the effects of the past decade’s policies? It's a pretty interesting, and hopeful section with various recmmendations. We can only hope that as the other superpowers rise further, this country behaves gracefully.