It’s much easier to dominate when you’re competing against piles of rubble instead of a reunified Germany, a high-tech Japan, and a no-longer commie China. If the U.S is no longer in a position to underwrite the global economic order -who will?
If we consummate our big lurch towards the social democratic model, with its higher structural unemployment, higher taxes, and paper tiger military… who’s going to advance free trade, pay for protecting sea lanes, invest in scientific research, and serve as the primary engine of global economic vitality?
The UN and other NGOs? Hopelessly inept and corrupt.
China? When they can no longer innovate by stealing IP, can their system generate its own? Will they grow old before they grow rich? Will they destroy their environment or have an Enron-style accounting collapse at the national level?
A united Europe? The social democratic model only appeared to work in Europe since WWII because America paid for their defense and their technological innovation – especially healthcare innovation. That arrangement now teeters as the euro strains, citizens riot, and their demographics slide off a cliff. And at some point, probably soon, we won’t be picking up the check anymore.
In Back to the Future, Jim Lacey thinks it will revert to form as a multi-polar world:
The “rise of the rest” will, over the next couple of decades, present the United States with a radically changed strategic environment, one in which America remains the world’s dominant power, but in which over a dozen nations can make life difficult for us militarily. Of course, through the adroit use of diplomacy and the smart use of our economic and military power, we might well be able to persuade these nations to join us instead of challenging us, and help ease our strategic burdens.
Nothing about this new multi-polar world is truly new. This is the world as it has always been. Since the collapse of the Roman Empire there has not, until our current era, been an uncontested superpower. Although the United States enjoyed that role for most of the last generation, our uni-polar moment was always destined to end. When it does, we will once again have to master the old arts of diplomacy, so as to create the balances of power that can check potential enemies and support our friends.
We find ourselves in an emerging environment not unlike the one Britain was in from 1815 to the beginning of World War I.
With the defeat of Napoleon, Britain became the superpower of the age. Through its uncontested control of the seas, Britain maintained a global empire, enforced the admittedly imperfect Pax Britannica, and maneuvered to balance the other great powers of Europe. Moreover, because of its head start in the Industrial Revolution, it was by a wide margin the globe’s dominant economic and financial power for nearly a century.
Unrivaled overall power did not, however, mean that Britain always got its way on the major geopolitical issues of the day. In fact, the Foreign Office had a pretty high rate of failure throughout the period. What economic and military power did allow, however, was for Britain to influence much of what happened in the world. If Britain did not always get the optimal outcome, it was usually able to avoid the worst outcomes. In the process, the British had to make some fundamental decisions about the geopolitical future. Foremost among these was what to do about the United States. Just as we are witnessing the rise of China’s economic star, Britain was watching our rise with a certain degree of trepidation. Rather than try to hamper our development, though, the British invested in it, while making the geopolitical allowances necessary to accommodate the entry of a new global power onto the world stage. But although Britain handled the rise of the United States with great skill, it failed miserably, as did the rest of the world’s great powers, to deal with the rise of Germany and Japan.
As America enters a new era of multi-polarity, several things stand out from the British experience. First among these is that it behooves the current big kid on the block to adapt itself to the rise of other powers, rather than try to find ways to challenge or contest their growth. Such challenges typically fail, and they engender a huge amount of resentment and ill will. Furthermore, while a powerful fleet assures a large degree of global influence, as crises develop, the ability to place a credible force on the ground provides the best guarantee of either a peaceful settlement or a rapid victorious conclusion to any possible conflict. Finally, without a strong economy to underpin all of our geopolitical actions, whether diplomatic or military, we run a great risk of becoming the “weary titan” of the 21st century.