Friday, June 19, 2009

U.S Declinism theories are nothing new

Most predictions about a multipolar world and the decline of U.S. dominance are mistaken. At worst and, as I have said before, American hegemony is merely experiencing a period of recalibration. This is especially so in a military gist. Moreover, even if something truly extraordinary came long to challenge it, like times past, America will rise to the challenge and for this, we should be pleased.

U.S Declinism theories are nothing new. In 1970, Andrew Hacker a political scientist published a book entitled, “The end of the American Era where he confidently predicted American decline citing poor fiscal policies, excessive individualism, and imperial overstretch. Sound familiar?

America will remain the sole superpower even if not quite as powerful as in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, and further, the prediction that the rise of India, China and Russia will have profound implications for its foreign policy also appear wrong.

As Stephen M. Walt of the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard University wrote in a recent piece at the Foreign Policy website:

This prediction is mistaken, or at least premature. To begin with, the U.S. economy still dwarfs the other major powers. According to the World Bank, US GDP was $13.9 trillion in 2007, compared with $4.3 bn. for Japan, $3.3 bn. for Germany, $3.2 bn. for China, and $2.8 bn. for Great Britain. In 2007, therefore, the US economy was bigger than next four powers combined. It’s true that the U.S. economy took a big hit in 2008, but so did everyone else, including China.

Second, U.S. military power dwarfs all others, despite our difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only does the United States spend more on national security than the rest of the world combined, but no other major power spends as large a percentage of its GDP on national security as the United States does. Not surprisingly, no country has the global reach of the United States or the capacity to operate with near-impunity over most of the world's common spaces.

Third, this situation isn't going to change very much, because the United States is the only advanced industrial power whose population will grow significantly over the next few decades. Most European countries have low birth rates, which means their populations are both shrinking and getting older. This trend is especially evident in Russia and also in Japan. China's population will projected to increase slightly over the next twenty years and then begin to decrease, as the effects of the "one-child" policy kick in. China will also have a very large demographic bulge of retirees, which will be an increasingly costly burden over time.
This financial crisis will pass as others have and the world will once again look to America for leadership in matters that include international security. It will continue to be the one to guarantee security whether in Europe against a resurgent Russia, Taiwan against China, or Israel against Iran. Even under a President Obama, their innate nature will ensure this is the case.

As a final point, and for those with the Newsweek or Zakaria mindset, I submit the wise words of Robert J. Lieber:

Over the years, America’s staying power has been regularly and chronically underestimated—by condescending French and British statesmen in the nineteenth century, by German, Japanese, and Soviet militarists in the twentieth, and by homegrown prophets of doom today. The critiques come and go. The object of their contempt never does.
Further reading:

Visit my former blog, American Interests and follow the "International Security" label amongst others.