Is America on the Decline?
As the world continues to progress into the 21st century, analysts and scholars such as Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek are beginning to ponder the implications of a rising multi-polar world. In what Mr. Zakaria refers to as the “rise of the rest,” the international community is gradually experiencing a shift in power that has not occurred since America’s ascendance after World War II. Over the past five decades, nation-states in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East have been forced to contend with a hegemonic American authority; a country in charge of world commerce, the flow of social ideas, technological sophistication, and the already growing realm of medical science. And of course, as most observers recognize, Washington has been able to exert its control through its hard and soft-power: both in terms of military force and in terms of democratic and humanitarian values.
However dominant the United States was in the past, Mr. Zakaria argues that other states are transforming themselves into major players in the arena of international politics. As Zakaria notes in his book, The Post-American World, “the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance…one defined and directed from many places and by many people.” While the United States is still viewed as the primary political and military actor, the all-important financial and social dimensions of global political life are rapidly drifting towards the other side. Brazil, a country once regarded as a mid-level player in the Latin American region, has grown steadily under the leadership of President Lula de-Silva; so much so that many academics are labeling Brazil as the spokesmen for the developing world. Russia, once a remnant of its former Soviet ancestor in the 1990’s, is building up its economic criteria as one of the main exporters of crude oil. China, for whatever flaws remain in its political system, is projected to pass the United States in terms of GDP in the year 2050. Even terrorist organizations, insurgent groups, and militias are making their presence known in the cracks and crevices of this new international system. This was unfortunately confirmed by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Al’Qaeda: a group that continues to undermine American and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At first glance, this unipolar-turned-multipolar world seems genuinely beneficial to all involved. After all, the percentage of the world population categorized as poverty-stricken is exponentially decreasing. In 1981, 40 percent were living on a dollar-per-day, an astounding rate considering that the world consists of 6 billion people. Yet, despite the hardship endured by many, the changing dynamics of global economics (such as steady growth from at least 124 countries) has lowered this rate to 18 percent. There is no denying the fact that this is an amazing development. However, concerning the narrow national-interests of the United States, this “rise of the rest” is threatening to replace its superpower-status.
Russia and China, although still meshed into the “developing world” category, have both established an alliance in the hopes of increasing their leverage in Asian affairs. Regional players such as Venezuela and Bolivia, although poor by western standards, continue to bash Washington’s agenda in Latin America: damaging America’s ability to pursue economic ventures in the Western Hemisphere. Iran and Syria, despite their repressive and autocratic nature in the wider Middle East, are united in an “Islamic resistance front;” obstructing American intervention while supporting the complete destruction of Israel. Even in Europe, a continent that consists of pro-American states, is challenging the United States in unprecedented ways. The fact that the United States is second to the EU in GDP is not a coincidence: Europeans are sacrificing their history and nationalism in order to confront the face of the American “war-machine.” Germany and France’s reluctance to join the United States in its invasion of Iraq only serves as a precedent.
Therefore, while Zakaria is certainly correct in his conclusions, a more decentralized world in terms of power and authority is not necessarily a good thing for Washington. At the same time that America’s allies are strengthening, America’s adversaries are forming partnerships. “What will this new era look like in terms of war and peace, economics and business, ideas and culture?” No one knows for sure.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-This blog was based on Fareed Zakaria’s book, The Post-American World