“Today, the United States is a superpower that lacks true power, a world leader nobody follows and few respect, and a nation drifting dangerously amidst a global chaos it cannot control.” —From The Decline of American Power
One can see numerous such pieces of work which ominously predict that the days of American glory are coming to an end; that China and other powers will effectively ring the death-knell on this 20th Century superpower. Such prophecies have especially gained traction after the failure faced by the US in Afghanistan, and after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, which sent the world’s largest economy into a dizzying economic recession. All of these events construct a very gloomy and dismal image of America of the 21st Century.
But what if the best days for America are yet to come? Of course, current events will make any sane-headed person think twice before betting money on the prosperous future of America, but my article will attempt to show you the often overlooked version of this story. The version where America remains the sole global superpower till the end of the century. So let’s get started!
Have you ever thought how did the European powers dominate the 18th and the 19th centuries, even though the Indian kings and the Chinese dynasties were more wealthy? The answer is that the European powers controlled the seas. Geo-politics can be readily simplified by the fundamental fact that whoever controls the oceans also controls the power. So let us apply this simple principle to the European powers of the 19th century.
For the past 500 years, Europe was the center of all industrial and trade activity of the world. Europe was also the place where the international system rested. The main highway of trade with Europe was the North Atlantic. Thus, whoever controlled the North Atlantic, controlled 75% of the world’s trade. Thus European Powers, due to their strategic position, enjoyed unfettered trade access with the whole world, ushering an era of prosperity (not peace, mind you). Then came a significant shift to this equation.
The early 1980s was the first time when the Trans-Atlantic trade equalled the Trans-Pacific trade. Over 80% of the global trade passes through either of these oceans. Thus, the North Atlantic was no longer the single key required for military and economic domination. Now whatever country controlled both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans could control, if it wished, the world’s trading system, and consequently the global economy. In the 21st Century, any country nation located on both oceans has a tremendous advantage. The only country which borders both of these oceans and controls them is the United States (The US Navy maintains presence in every ocean of the world; consequently all trade activities are monitored 24X7 by the Navy).
Can China control the Atlantic Ocean? Can China control the Eastern Pacific?
Many also say that the failure of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan is evidence to the fact that US power is declining. These people overlook the fundamental purpose for these invasions. Victory in the Islamic world wasn’t and isn’t a goal for the U.S. The goal is simply to disrupt the Islamic world and set it against itself, so that an Islamic coalition which could potentially control the critical Mediterranean Sea does not emerge. These statements might seem outlandish at first, but if you look deeper into the history, you will realise why the US has only invaded the countries having very strong, nationalist leaders (the Taliban in case of Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein in case of Iraq). This is also the reason why the U.S. does not support the Arab Spring, which brought Islamist leaders into power across the Middle-East.
The United States doesn’t need to win wars, it just needs to disrupt things so that the other side can’t build up sufficient strength to challenge it.
The chief speculative rival to the United States is China. However despite its remarkable economic and military progress, China cannot rival the U.S. globally. First of all, China lives on oil, and China receives this oil through the Western Pacific. The Pacific is the only highway of the Chinese to trade with the world. If anyone disrupts the economic activity in the Western Pacific, it could spell serious trouble for China. Now look at China in the World Map. We have Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia in this region. Remarkably, not a single country has good relations with China. Even though Chinese military can outweigh all militaries in the region, don’t forget that all of these countries will have the full backing of the United States, which will go to any length necessary in order to disrupt Chinese trade activities in the region. Dominance in raw GDP does not necessarily mean Geo-political dominance. The best example of this fact is Russia. Even though Brazil has a higher GDP than Russia, can you imagine Brazil dominating the world like Russia is doing today?
Additionally China is fundamentally unstable. It is ruled by a hated Communist government, which has given the populace of almost no ways to express dissent. History is witness to the fact that such a scenario always ends in confrontation between the common people and the elite ruler class. The unemployment rate in China has tripled to 13% since 2012, and external borrowings have increased two-fold during the same time.
What about the economic status of the U.S. ? The U.S. economy is better than ever before. Unemployment rates and inflation have reached historic lows, and external borrowings are at a 12-year low. Growth rate is acceptable for such a large economy. Remember, the 2008 economic recession is not the worst economic crisis the U.S. has faced. The U.S. managed to emerge from the 1929 Economic depression which was far worse.
I am not saying that emerging powers like China and India are doomed to fail. I am just saying that even though these powers will continue to rise; for all intents and purposes, the United States will remain the sole global superpower for the decades to come. And yes, the best days for America are still ahead.
Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.
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