I set my A2 politics classes an essay on whether American power is in decline, to do in untimed conditions at home. Here is a selection of excellent essays with a brief comment from me as to why they were particularly good.
Please note – these essays were set before we looked at IR theory and so I did not expect any references to realism or liberalism, however in their final drafts and in the exam this would be necessary. Please also note, I don’t expect them to write as much in the 45 minutes set for essay writing in the exam.
Essay 1 is by Tess Williams. I have chosen it because it is structured well and contains an excellent selection of theorists without detracting from her own analysis.
Power is the ability to influence others’ behaviours in the way in which you want. There has been increasing debate surrounding America’s power post-cold war and whether it is in decline or not. Various factors such as the rise of China, the US’s shrinking share of GDP and a loss of support has questioned America’s role as global hegemon.
A main reason America’s power has been under debate is due to the rise of multipolarity. In particular the rise of China. China’s increase in economic power has caused significant doubts about America’s power. For example, using the measure of PPP China has 16.32% of the world’s GDP whereas the USA has 16.14%. China’s growth has been so rapid that their economy grew the same amount as the size of the whole of the Netherland’s economy in 2014 when back in 1980 the sizes of the two countries’ economies were equal. Goldman Sachs believes that China’s economy will surpass the US’s by 2020. Not only does China possess great economic power but their military is also growing, for example their development of supersonic nuclear missiles.). It is said that China is rising at the expense of the US. This is exemplified by 23/39 nations believing that China will replace the US as a superpower. This is especially important as the perceptions of states has a large role to play in the power of them (relational power). Niall Ferguson acknowledges that there is a ‘descent of the West and reorientation of world towards the East’.
It is not only China that is rising but others as well such as India, Brazil and Russia helping to contribute to an increasingly multipolar world. Kupchan believes that the world is experiencing a ‘weakening of US primacy and establishment of a multipolar world’. Both P.J.Crowley and President Obama have also acknowledged the rise of India referring to them as a ‘rising power’. The 2011 report on Foreign Relations recommended that Brazil should be counted amongst the world’s pivotal powers’. Kampfner believes that the ascent to global status of these countries is ‘under-appreciated’. There is popular belief that the rise of multipolarity is very evident and therefore that means the US is in decline as a global hegemon.
On the other hand, it could be argued that China is no match to the US and therefore isn’t challenging America’s status. China has many problems which could possibly limit their growth as a power. One of the problems facing China is their ageing population. It is estimated that their workforce will decrease by 17% and their median age to reach 46.3 by 2050. This will have negative impacts on their productivity, and also possibly suggesting that they won’t be growing at the same rapid rate that they have been doing so for the last 30 years and therefore won’t overtake America as a power. Also, America still has a greater share of the world’s GDP with 25% whereas China has 15. There is also a lack of trust for China around the globe. For example, when Chinese citizen Mo Hailong stole Monsanto and DuPont GM seeds from the US it sent out an indication to others that China isare not trustworthy and ready to play by the rules. Ian Bremmer said that ‘China’s domestic vulnerabilities will have global repercussions’ suggesting that they have too many problems to be a successful leader in the world. Ikenberry also says that China’s rise is over exaggerated and that they won’t be overtaking America as they have no model for the world. Therefore, America’s power is not in decline as they are the only state to have a model for the world and are stable enough to implement it. Regarding the rise of other countries such as Brazil and India contributing to a multipolar world, it could be argued that they are simply growing economies, not powers, and do not have the ability to influence others in the way they want. They also do not have a strong regional role further enhancing this argument that they are merely growing economies. Consequently, there is not a rise in multipolarity and America remains as the global hegemon with most power in a unipolar world.
After the financial crash of 2008, the use of liberal economies as a model has been declining alongside America’s economy. Post World War II, America possessed 50% of the world’s GDP, evidently causing them to be the greatest power. Today it has shrunk to half of what it was at 25%, also using the PPP it is said that America’s share of the world’s GDP is actually less than that of China’s. This decline in America’s economy is argued to undoubtedly cause a decrease in America’s power as they becoming less able to influence and control other states. Only 10 years ago, between the US and China, the US was the larger trading partner for 127 countries, today this has reversed and China is the larger trading partner, suggesting that the world is becoming increasingly dependent on China and less so on America. This illustrates how America is in decline as fewerless countries are dependent upon it and so therefore they hold less power. Haas identified three main reasons the US’ power is in decline. The first is a structural problem with power diffusing from the west to the east. The second is the financial crash causing the America’s model for economic prosperity to being doubted. Finally, the third reason is America’s failings abroad such as in Iraq and Syria. Haas argues the US has not responded adequately to these crises and that if they were a healthier power they would have prevented them.
However, there are many who believe that America still remains as a healthy superpower. Kagan argues that America still has the highest share of the world’s GDP (25%) which is still higher than that of the peak of the British Empire’s (7%). He also argues that there are more important measures than GDP to determine the power of a country/state as it is not purely based on economic power. Also, it is argued that America’s decline in economic power has been at the expense of the rise of countries such as Germany, Japan and Europe in general. Kagan argues that this doesn’t harm the US in a strategic sense and that in fact it is actually part of US strategy to encourage the rise of others as potential competitors in an economic sense as this is part of being interconnected in a free market world. The rise of other countries such as Brazil, India and Turkey is argued to actually enhance the US’ power as they are partners of the US so it is a win-win situation for them. In addition, the US has over 50 alliances around the world whereas China only has two. This suggests that the US still remains as global hegemon and will do in the foreseeable future. Many argue that there are no real viable alternatives to a liberal economy, that China and Russia holdare variants of capitalism anyway and that if China did have an alternative that they would not be able to hold up an international system effectively. Ikenberry believes that China has no new way of thinking and therefore provides no alternative to a liberal economy. As there are no alternatives it is argued that America’s power is not in decline.
America’s moral authority has been declining especially since 9/11. This has been alongside their decline in use of soft power, power which Nye argues is vital to be a successful power. After the cold war, the US was said to be in undergo an imperial drift as they lacked clarity and purpose. They were becoming an immoral power, a unipolar hubris with a deep sense of arrogance. In 1999 Samuel Huntingdon called the US a ‘rogue superpower’ and ‘intrusive, manic and hypocritical’. Ex secretary of state Madeleine Albright said ‘If we have to use force it is because we are America’ which illustrates their deep sense of arrogance. The war on terror which followed after 9/11 undermined liberal order and international institutions. These actions of America’s had global repercussions and many were angered by what they did for exampleeg in Afghanistan. 64% of Pakistanis and 49% of Turks view the US as an enemy exemplifying their decrease in moral authority. More recently, Trump’s presidential candidacy has aided this decrease in moral authority. Although the US has attempted to use soft power in order to improve their reputation, it is yet to be effective and convincing. Friedman’s Golden Arches theory for example doesn’t work. Although soft power and perceptions may not traditionally be the measurement of power, it is increasingly relevant and the US’s decline in it suggests that they are a power in decline.
On the other hand, many may disagree and argue that America is still a moral authority. Ikenberry argues that the US exercises restraint to achieve world order and doesn’t just work for itself. After the cold war the US was referred to by some as a benign hegemon, suggesting that they are a selfless power. Additionally, some believe that America’s use of soft power is greater and more effective than any other state across the globe. Americanisation is seen in most places in the world now. It is estimated that 2bn cans of Ccoca Ccola are drunk every day. Hollywood is also a massive player in America’s soft power, so much so that some may call it the advanced forces of America’s military. American culture and corporations have massive brand value suggesting that their soft power is very effective. It could also be argued that soft power is still not that important and that economic and military might are still more important for a state to keep their global status. Therefore, America wouldn’t be seen as a power in decline due to their possession of great economic and military might. The US’ military outweighs any other in the world by a long way. The US spend more on their military than the next top 10 countries combined and clearly no other country has that capacity. This implies that America still very much holds superpower status and will continue to in years to come.
In conclusion, whether America is in decline or not depends on when it’s relative to. For example, America today compared to America post WWII has become less powerful but some people, such as Kagan say that it was inevitable. Although many countries are on the rise, America remains as the hegemon in a unipolar world. The argument that America can no longer get everyone to do what it wants is incorrect according to Kagan as he argues America could never do that. This suggests that America has been perceived to be a lot more powerful than it actually was in the past so overall America is not in decline.
Essay 2 This essay by Tasnia Uddin is written with an eloquent style and with plenty of strong analysis. She doesn’t just leave an evidence or example to speak for itself, but rather shows how it links into her argument. She also starts with a clear judgement.
Views on the idea of American decline differ greatly among political theorists. The dominant idea is that the US is not a power in decline. This is argued by the likes of Robert Kagan and John Ikenberry who say that the US retains the military, economic and structural power to maintain its title as a global hegemon. The only real threat to American power is China but it lacks a vision of an alternative world order to rival the Liberal World Order crafted by the US. However, the idea of US decline is the prevailing perception among ordinary Americans who believe that the US is playing a less important role in the world today compared to a decade ago. It can be argued that the reputation of the US and its soft power capabilities has certainly weakened but its overall power to coerce and deter remains.
The USA’s unrivalled structural power secures its role as a global hegemon. This is because it shapes the framework within which the global powers communicate. The US dominates countless international organisations- it is a security council member in the United Nations and has the most voting power in both the IMF and World Bank. Ikenberry argues that the so called ‘revisionist powers’ described by Mead, like Russia and China have embraced this framework and will not seek to alter it completely, thus preserving US power. They benefit from its rules and regulations which offer them trade, investment and tools to protect their sovereignty. They both seek more power in the system rather than replacing it altogether. This is shown by the fact that they are both active members of the G20 and have signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. The world order crafted by the US is therefore deeply entrenched and will endure. Liberal Capitalist democracy is popular and as long as this endures, so too will US power. Before World War One the world had only 10 democracies but by the late 1990s, 60% of all countries had become democracies. The US continues to entrench its democratic values worldwide such as through the UN Democracy Fund, co-founded by George Bush.
On the other hand, faith in this structure has diminished. The structures overseen by the US are not infallible. This was proved by the fact that the IMF had not predicted the 2008 Financial Crash. The consensus among most forecasters was that not a single country would fall into recession in the next year. As a result, the capitalist policy of limited economic regulation has come under heavy criticism. There has been a swathe of socialist governments elected in South America following the recession. China has been challenging this structural power too. It argues that it was weak when these structures were created and now that China is a great power, it should have more of a say. This would come at the expense of US power and so the Senate has delayed giving China its request of more voting rights in the IMF. China’s alienation has meant it has resorted to measures that establish its own regional power. It launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015 worth $100billion. Its founding members include a number of US allies such as the UK and Australia. This is a threat to US power as they have essentially endorsed China’s attempts to challenge the US Bretton Woods systems and potentially become a regional hegemon.
Another reason as to why the US is not a power in decline is because of the way it dwarfs every other state in terms of military capacity. The US spends $600 billion on its military yearly, more than the next 10 powers combined, and has more than 700 military bases in over 100 countries. China is not close to matching the US in this field yet, having only 2 military alliances (North Korea and Pakistan). The US also acts as the world’s policeman by being able to provide military assistance abroad while remaining secure at home. US power has also been maintained by its unique geographic advantage- it has no threatening neighbours and 2 oceans either side. Every other power lives in a busy neighbourhood exemplified by Germany between the world wars and China with disputes in the South China Sea now. According to realists, military power is the best way of ensuring survival meaning that the US has the necessary tools to maintain its hegemonic status. Kagan argues that a decline in US military power will result in a decline of international order overall. US dominance has deterred conflict and made co-operation easier. Its hard power gives it leverage by allowing it to pursue its interests via war, sanctions and bribes. No other state can exercise carrots and sticks diplomacy in a similar way. The US has done used hard power countless times including the 1990 Gulf War and 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
However it can be argued that this hard power is now obsolete. Nye argues that soft power is just as important but overuse of hard power has resulted in the loss of ‘hearts and minds’. The War on Terror was demoralising for the US and provoked anti-americanism throughout the Arab and Muslim world, fuelling the extremism they hoped to destroy. Haass describes multiple foreign political failures that have destroyed the US’s image. These include the exacerbation of the sunni/shia divide in Iraq, leaving a failed state in Libya and failing to act in Syria even after with Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. These failures have also resulted in a loss of support from its allies who now see the US as an expansionist ‘hyperpower’. The American people are also reluctant to support their own government and there has been a loss of appetite to preserve its role as world policeman. 90% of Americans had opposed airstrikes in Syria. Perhaps US power is declining as it has exercised a policy of retrenchment in recent years. Obama had wished to reduce troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the aim of removing all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. The US is far less militarily involved in the world compared to the Cold War period. Failure to alter its reputation will certainly have a damaging long lasting effect among both its allies and adversaries.
US power may not be in decline as its economy remains strong. Modern technology and an advanced industrial base makes the US a key trading partner to many states. It has negotiated a series of free trade agreements in the last 2 decades such as NAFTA and TPP and has reduced trade barriers with over 100 countries, including China. This economic order is of great interest to all. Moreover, the rise of the BRICs has not come at the expense of the US economy. The US share of global GDP has remained fairly steady at around 25% despite the ‘rise of the rest’ but it has been a threat to European countries and Japan. The rise of Brazil and India is not particularly a threat to the US. India is a natural ally of the US and helps to contain China’s regional influence. Unlike its rivals, the US economy is dynamic. It has a young workforce and an innovative, sophisticated economy. In contrast, China’s workforce will decrease by 15% by 2050 due to an aging population. China also has little innovation and a greater wealth distribution disparity. The US might have led the world into a recession, but it was the first one out.
However, China’s rise must not be underestimated. China’s GDP has grown by an average 8% every year and it now trades with 124 more countries than the USA, the EU being its largest trading partner. China’s GDP is expected to surpass the US by 2025 and if measured in terms of purchasing power parity, China has already overtaken. This may be a sign of US decline. The realist Mearsheimer argues that China will translate its newfound economic status into military power. This will give it the potential to become a regional hegemon which will challenge US hegemony and its freedom to roam. Obama’s ‘pivot to asia’ is aimed at preventing this by containing China as he recognised the threat it posed to US interests in the region. Naturally China will see this as encirclement and will take necessary measures to ensure its survival at the expense of US power.
In Conclusion, the US remains the dominant power for the time being and does not appear to be in a period of decline. However, if its reputation continues to be diminished and it continues to downplay the ascendancy of China, decline is highly likely. The US has been able to create a system of economic and military dependence that will underpin its power for the years to come. Even its greatest adversaries, China and Russia are deeply entrenched within the system and are not currently seeking to overturn it. Neither have suggested an alternative system that multiple countries will accept and so as long as liberal world order prevails, so too will US power.
This essay by Shaun Ali is replete with detailed evidence. It shows depth of thinking.
Since the outbreak of the international financial crisis in 2008, the question of whether the United States is declining has appeared in China and in other countries. Some people, including some Americans themselves, even believe “an irreversible decline” has begun in the United States, and that the world is entering a “post-American era.The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, world order will decline with it. It will be replaced by some other kind of order, reflecting the desires of other world powers. Or perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century. The belief, held by many, that even with diminished American power “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has argued, is a pleasant illusion. American decline, if it is real, will mean a different world for everyone. As China is the only valid competitor to the US, most comparison will be made between China and the US.
One area in which the US is declining is its economy. With the end of World War II, the United States became a world superpower. Its strength and status reached another peak in the mid and late 1990s as the Cold War ended: it accounted for about 30 percent of global economic output. However, after it entered a new economic cycle from 2000 to 2001, the American share of the world economy has gradually dropped. At the same time, certain situations, including the “weakening of advantages compared to other countries,” have appeared in some main areas of the United States’ national power. This trend already started before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, continued during the international financial crisis, and remains today. China has managed to take over the US role as the world’s largest economy in terms of GDP by purchasing power parity, detracting from the US brand of the world’s only superpower. Although China is the only realistic competitor to the US, it still provides a credible threat to US supremacy on the economic battlefield.
However, measuring changes in a nation’s relative power is a tricky business, but there are some basic indicators: the size and the influence of its economy relative to that of other powers; the magnitude of military power compared with that of potential adversaries; the degree of political influence it wields in the international system and the matter of time. Judgments based on only a few years’ evidence are problematic. n economic terms, and even despite the current years of recession and slow growth, America’s position in the world has not changed. Its share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady, not only over the past decade but over the past four decades. In 1969, the United States produced roughly a quarter of the world’s economic output. Today it still produces roughly a quarter, and it remains not only the largest but also the richest economy in the world. People are rightly mesmerized by the rise of China, India, and other Asian nations whose share of the global economy has been climbing steadily, but this has so far come almost entirely at the expense of Europe and Japan, which have had a declining share of the global economy.Optimists about China’s development predict that it will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world sometime in the next two decades. This could mean that the United States will face an increasing challenge to its economic position in the future. But the sheer size of an economy is not by itself a good measure of overall power within the international system. Chinese leaders face significant obstacles to sustaining the country’s growth indefinitely—it will still remain far behind both the United States and Europe in terms of per capita GDP. The GDP of the United States is $16 trillion, compared to China’s $8 trillion. GDP per capita in the United States is $49,000, whereas China’s is $7,000. China’s GDP growth is unsustainable – it is a bubble waiting to burst; China’s real estate market is overvalued and artificially supported by the Chinese government. Their one-child policy has damaged their demographics – China’s population will actually shrink within the next 100 years, while leaving a massive number of elderly and retired people to be cared for by a workforce that is comparatively smaller. The US does not face all of these problems; US start-ups and businesses are among the most innovative in the world, it has a relatively young population and while income inequality in the US is a serious problem, it is not much compared to the gap in China. This suggests that the idea the US is declining is a serious fallacy. No major economy in the world stands up to the US, ensuring economic hegemony.
In militaristic terms, it could be argued that the US is rapidly failing in its self-given role of world policeman. The Chinese PLA is the world’s largest military force, with a strength of approximately 2,285,000 personnel, 0.18% of the country’s population, creating a very real and dangerous threat to US interests, especially in the South China Sea, where China is trying to expand. The US has so far failed to prevent and deter China from refraining in its hostile takeover of the shipping route which runs through the Strait. This has seriously hurt US credibility. Another example of US foreign policy goals being upended is Syria. Russia has entered the quagmire of the civil war being fought in Syria, against the wishes of the US. indeed, the involvement of Russia’s forces have forced the US and its allies to rethink their strategy in Syria, in order to prevent another world war. Also, US-Philippines relations are in danger due to Rodrigo Duterte, President of Philippines. He has threatened to end US-Philippines military exercises and close down the US base in the country. The Philippines is strategically important because of its geostrategic role in the Pacific theatre, its role as a Forward Operating Base with ocean surrounding its rear. If the US were to be removed, then the US would most definitely be experiencing rapid decline.
However, China’s military is formidable, but it is weak compared to the United States. The US spends $700 billion a year on military, compared to China’s $106 billion. China commissioned its first aircraft carrier and its first successful aircraft landing on it last year – the United States has ten operational aircraft carriers with hundreds of fighter planes capable of deploying anywhere in the world in 24 hours. Arguably, the Chinese have built their army for today, the US have built theirs for a hundred years in the future. An example is the USA’s innovative and creative military industrial complex, which have designed weapons such as laser artillery, rail guns and bullets that change direction in mid-air. China poses no credible threat to the US in the Atlantic theatre, but could cause real damage in naval or air warfare outside its region of influence. China’s overall military structure and tactics are greatly behind the US – currently about 2-3 decades.this does not mean the gap cannot be closed faster than that, but it certainly will not happen in a year or two. The Russians, while a regional power, have basically lost the ability to project power into non-regional theaters, and are only managing to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, what could be described as their only successful foray into a foreign war. Furthermore, the Philippines are not needed due to the Guam and Chagos Islands which provide the US bases in China;s neighbourhoods and allow fast reaction to any hostile actions. Moreover, China’s only allies in Asia happen to be Pakistan and North Korea, with every other neighbour allied to the US. The idea that the military power and foreign policy of the US has declined can be chalked up to a grave misjudgement of the US’s ability.As Isoroku Yamamoto said regarding the Pearl Harbour attacks, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”.
The stability and influence of the American political system, ideology, and value concepts have been greatly affected in the 21st century, with the impact of two wars, high consumption, and the financial crisis. This has not only been reflected in aspects of the economy, but more importantly it is apparent in other areas such as the status, reputation, and influence of the United States in the world. The United States no longer has the overwhelming power and absolute ideological influence in the world that it enjoyed before the Iraq War. The influence of what can be called America’s self-defined ideology―democracy, freedom, and human rights―has greatly dropped around the world because of the Iraq War. The international financial crisis, caused in part by seriously excessive consumption in the United States, also has negatively affected the attraction of the market economy model. As a result, American influence around the world has seriously dropped. In the last 10 years, when U.S. government officials and politicians were loudly shouting about “democracy,” “human rights,” and “market economy” in front of the world, they seemed to lack the ability to implement these words, and in fact they also seemed lack confidence in their own rhetoric. This is because serious problems and mistakes have appeared in several areas where the United States has proclaimed itself as the “flag bearer,” “leader,” “example,” and “spokesman”. Indeed, the detainment facilities at Guantánamo, the use of torture against suspected terrorists, and the widely condemned invasion of Iraq in 2003 have all tarnished the American “brand” and put a dent in America’s “soft power”. There have been the difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which many argue proved the limits of military power, stretched the United States beyond its capacities, and weakened the nation at its core. Some compare the United States to the British Empire at the end of the nineteenth century, with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars serving as the equivalent of Britain’s difficult and demoralizing Boer War.
Nevertheless, the advantages of the United States are even more obvious in terms of soft power. No other countries in the world, including Europe and Japan, can compete with the United States or be on the same level as the United States in terms of soft power. In all issues and disputes that appeared in Asia in 2010, including those in Central Asia, all parties from Japan and South Korea to various nations under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like Vietnam and Singapore and then even Kyrgyzstan, turned their attention to the United States, leaned toward it, and worked to strengthen relations with it. It can even be said that they relied on the United States to varying degrees. This has proven that the United States is still the only superpower and is the most influential nation in Asia and around the world.
Besides its status and influence in politics and security, which are beyond comparison, the influence of U.S. culture, education, lifestyle, and thinking also cannot be matched by those of other countries around the world. Hollywood movies, fast food, music, sports stars, and other cultural products remain known all over the world. On a different note, the education system in the United States attracts the most outstanding young people from across the world. In these areas related with soft power, the status and influence of the United States both have not declined or changed much and, it must be said, other countries and regions in the world have not strengthened themselves in these areas. The rest of the world still faces a huge soft power deficit with the United States.
Although the problems and difficulties mentioned above are serious and have caused many negative effects for the United States and its society, these problems and difficulties are not fundamental and irreversible, so far. To this point, they have not generally and fundamentally affected the strength, competitive power, and development of the United States. Right now, it is still hard to determine whether or not they will generate a fundamental impact on the long-term development trend in the United States in the future. The answer to this question depends on the capabilities of the United States and its society in overcoming and solving the difficulties and problems mentioned above currently and in the future, and the results of their efforts to do so.
This fourth essay by Magnus Pederson is rather ‘eclectic’ and shows how to ‘echo’ a judgement through the essay. It is written with a sustained argument but at the same time he gives space to counterarguments.
All powers hitherto to reign over the earth have been impermanent in their hegemonies. All of them without fail have, by some means or other, fallen to irrelevance or doom where once they stood in such supremacy to ponder such a fall was ludicrous. The United States has, by all agreement, been the dominant power in the world of our time, though the time at which it assumed this status is disputed. Some have argued that the United States has now begun its process of decline, citing economic, political and military examples thereof. While others dispute these claims as over-pessimistic. In this essay I will argue the United States is a power in decline.
The most immediate evidence of a power’s decline is the pure geopolitical balance of power with its immediate or regional rivals.2014 was the year in which American decline was fully realised on the world stage signified by the Russian Annexation of the Crimea, the deal with Iran and China’s claims to the South China Sea. America has exercised its hegemony through the extrapolation of its own constitutional political structure onto world affairs. With an elaborate web of international legal norms and institutions to enforce them, ultimately backed by American force. American power thus rests in a large part upon the extent to which these moral imperatives are respected by other powers, and the level of this respect is a fair way to gauge respect for American power. At the heart of this system lies the view that war is an absolute wrong and it is fundamentally unlawful for one state to seize the territory of another. Thus the Russian Annexation of the Crimea, and America’s weak response to it, is an example of American decline. As does China’s refusal to bow to international law of the seas with regard to the South China Sea. The Iran deal shows that, in a region where it once could invade sovereign states with impunity, America now must work with and recognise the regional-power status of a state it once labeled as part of an “Axis of Evil”. China, Russia and Iran are what realist scholar Walter Russell Mead calls the “Revisionist Powers”, whose internal security depends on revising the liberal American world order, and thus serve as evidence of U.S decline.
However others would argue these are simply local mishaps and that the wider international situation shows the enduring supremacy of both the American world order, and American hard power. America continues to outspend its major competitors in defense spending combined, maintains the world’s largest navy, has 800 military bases in 70 different countries. If anything, this dominance would suggest that the “Revisionist Powers” are not an emerging counterpart to U.S world order, but a group of scared and vulnerable powers desperately trying to shield themselves from American might. As exemplified by John Kerry’s insistence that Russia’s invasion of the Crimea was a sign of weakness, not of strength. Though contrarily, you can redefine practically any action of a power as emerging from “weakness”, the U.S invasion of Afghanistan for example, weakness does not come from the need to take actions to preserve one’s power, but from the inability to do so.
The other major wellspring of power is the economy. Where again it is argued that America is in decline to the benefit of a rising China. Since Deng Xiaoping’s abandonment of central planning in the 1980s, China has boomed economically growing at a rate which dwarfs both Western and other Tiger Economies, with growth rates of 10.6% in 2010 and 2011 being examples of this. In 2014 the amount by which China’s economy grew was worth the entire economy of the Netherlands, whereas in 1980 it was smaller than the Netherlands. China now outranks America in GDP measured as purchasing power and 120 countries in the world now trade more with China than America. On the other hand America manages a measly growth rate oscillating between the figures of 1.4 and 2.5%. America runs a trade deficit, sustains a very large national debt running into the trillions and presides over a large and growing welfare state.
Contrarily, while China’s growth is certainly impressive and definitely one of the defining characteristics of our epoch, it is not evidence of America’s economic decline. Rather, America’s economy has, like all capitalist economies, adapted to the rebalancing of resources, moving away from a labour-based economy to an innovation based one. From 2010 to 2015 U.S productivity in output per hour rose, as did private debt – an indicator of business activity. Company profits and earnings remain very high. Circa.2014 in only 18 months the S&P Index gained 66% of the 2002-2007 “boom”. Deficits are predicted at below 3% of GDP by 2018. Fueled by stock markets and technological growth, America’s economy is in a boom, the reason it is not realised as a boom is that the structure of such an advanced economy means the gains go largely to the few with the cognitive ability for high finance and high tech – who are largely, unlike the silver-spooned moguls of Left-wing lore, deserving of it. China’s economy is based on its colossal reserves of labour, which have sucked up the manual jobs of Western nations transitioning into the previously described neoliberal economy. That labour will not remain cheap for eternity, and with automation becoming increasingly a reality, could dry up for good.
Another, sometimes overlooked, factor of American decline is the internal political divisions within the United States. Today these values don’t seem to hold much water. The Black Lives Matter movement, though fairly irrelevant in themselves, shows the widespread view and consequential resentment among many African-Americans that “American” means nothing but “white”, and the success of America thus worth nothing to the black population. Attempts to ameliorate this condition inevitably provoke the rage of the white working class, who increasingly see themselves blamed for the failures of liberal social policy as their jobs are outsourced to foreigners and their religion trampled by judicial activism. Liberalism as a value-system must be deliberately vague, as if it is to provide any positive system of ethics it risks undermining its own premises of human freedom. It thus does very little but provide an environment for a non-liberal ideology to come and subvert it. Finally the Donald Trump campaign is perhaps the greatest and most recent example of how close and easily the American ideological establishment can come to being undermined by a man who is almost their antithesis.
In response to this people such as Neoconservative Robert Kagan and Historian Niall Ferguson have argued that America’s internal crisis of values stem from the fact America’s founding myth of anti-colonial liberalism does not fit with its modern role as quasi-Imeprial superpower. Leading to the American elites necessity to simplify or mythologise global affairs which breeds cyncism once these myths are debunked. Ferguson argues that the American public will be more supportive of order-setting around the world if, rather than being deluded by missions of regime change, U.S interests in the regions being intervened in were honestly and accurately explained.
But it is not simply the role of America in the world which the American elites should be more honest to their citizens about. It is the truth of the values which conflict with it, or moreso the lack thereof. America’s problem lies in Liberal-Democracy itself, which is unable to compete with the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia, or the simplistic but effective worldview of radical Islam. China’s success is not solely down to an embrace of a free-market economy, the disproportionate success of China in relation to other industrialising third-world countries is specifically down to its rule by a meritocratically selected elite and authoritarian rule. Which enables the Chinese elite to plan for the long-term and respond to short term changes immediately and effectively without recourse to public opinion. Be this for the building of a railroad or the selling of foreign currencies. On the other hand America’s Liberal-Democracy, even if, as some like Noam Chomsky believe, is not adhered to by the elites which govern it, still requires that they obfuscate perfectly rational self-interested policies under a thick smear of liberal propaganda. Which in turn engenders cycnicism about those policies at home. America is in decline for the same reason the Soviet Union was in decline, its ideology is being out-competed by more efficient rivals.
The fifth essay is from Aidas Zvirblis, his introduction frames his essay well, sets out definitions of power and gives a judgement. He also makes excellent use of IR terminology.
To discuss America’s decline, one has to consider the sort of power in question. Within this distinction lie different answers. In looking at power as capacity, the possession of tangible assets like a strong military, economy and population, the US is a nonpareil. America spends more money on its military than many of its nearest competitors combined and the quality of its economy overshadows China’s crude growth. Soft power, as first coined by Joseph Nye, the ability to influence without force and coercion but through attraction, can be said to be waning. This is in viewing the America’s soft power in encouraging liberal democracies post Cold War, and not the soft power of its businesses, for though Apple and Google possess tremendous influence, they are detached from the US as a state, and so should not be considered as important actors in global politics. US relational power and the structural power of its institutions is undoubtedly waning too, especially in its weak responses to world events which only over a decade before would have provoked strong action. As a result the US is losing strategic hold on key regions. Why is such power waning? The answer lies predominantly in a movement of power and more subtly in an attitudinal change internally and externally, influenced by a mistake-ridden post Cold War liberal order. As Robert Kagan notes, the US is ‘world-weary’, and seeks a return to normalcy; ii is this that most threatens its downfall in a system descending into anarchy as American reticence grows.
The transition of power from West to East has been documented widely, most recently by Gideon Rachman, who posits his ‘easternisation’ theory. Rachman, Nye and a selection of other figures all note the growth of power in Asia. This can be seen in China’s burgeoning economy, Russia’s more imperialist tendencies and Iran’s attempt to restructure Middle Eastern power to Tehran. Whether this rise is compulsory to an American decline is debateable, but one can very clearly see how this Eastern surge is down to the fact that the US allowed it, through its encouragement of a liberal world order predicated on free trade and sovereignty after the Cold War. China’s entrance into the world market following Deng Xiaoping’s ‘open door’ policy (1979) was China’s acceptance into an interdependent world. While this rise was initially kept quiet so as not to scare the West (the ‘hide and bide’ approach), nowadays China is far more aggressive in establishing itself as a competing power, threatening the US. The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank is an enticing alternative to the interest heavy IMF, and even the UK has signed on to it, Cameron optimistically placing the UK as ‘China’s best partner in the West’. Though in 1980 China had an economy the size of the Netherlands, by 2016 each annual incremental rise equals the entire Dutch GDP. Russia’s rise is far less threatening, it’s aggressiveness partly a vapid showcase of power to stifle any criticism that with crippling sanctions and an oil dependent economy, Russia is suffering. However, it is still strong enough to tread on the Westphalian notion of sovereignty promoted by America’s world order, and this demonstrates a weakening of US influence, an ‘unravelling’ of US power, as Richard Haas suggests. America’s unipolar, hegemonic aspirations were hubristic, it was the largest power in a world of weakened or recovering ones, and it lay the ground for these powers to rise and compete with the US. The increased competition for power share in the world order exhibited mainly by China but also by Russia does, therefore, indicate that as the East rises, the increased pressure ensures at least a partial Western decline.
However, the extent to which the East has risen could be seen as exaggerated. Russia’s threat in Europe is weak, a desperate call for attention while in fact the NATO curtain bordering its Western front ensures its unlikely to impeach any further. Some may argue that America’s weak response in Crimea reflects its reticence to act on NATO, opening the door for Russian imperialism, and there is a point to be made, but some commentators argue that America’s hands off approach in Crimea was the result of a gentleman’s agreement for Russia to keep the maelstrom of conflict in Syria active made between Putin and Obama. If this is true than the US has not shown that it won’t act on NATO, and Russia would be wise to restrain itself. Obama’s pivot to Asia has also helped contain Chinese power, ergo suggesting that the South China Sea dispute is yet another vapid showcase of power to counteract the fact that China lives in, as Ikenberry calls it, ‘a decidedly democratic neighbourhood’. Japan, India and Indonesia are all close US allies, preventing Chinese expansion. Changing allegiances from weaker states like the Philippines from the US to China are, so far, unimportant in undoing America’s stranglehold on China in the region. The Trans-Pacific Agreement also aims to reinforce US structural power in the region and undermine China’s structural expansion. It also possesses many issues of its own, including environmental problems, an ageing population and a political structure which goes against much needed economic reform and limits innovation. A lot of models which predict China’s rise suggest it will do so without barriers. This is a foolhardy notion. Iran’s revisionist tendencies, as expanded by Walter Russell Mead, are too weak to be of threat at the moment. It’s not a serious contender to US power.In terms of military power, the US still spends more than the next ten biggest militaries combined. China couldn’t win in a war. None of the revisionist powers, one could argue, have enough power to pose a real threat.
Another cause of decline could be attributed to an inconsistency in the world order. George Bush’s Liberal World Order speech following the decline of the USSR identified certain tenets of America’s new order: international co-operation, sovereignty, free trade, liberal democracy. It followed these tenets in the first years of its hegemonic rule, such as in Kuwait during the 1st Gulf War, where even China and Russia were part of a global coalition. The US became a benign hegemonic power, an empire by invitation as Lundestad named it, a force which countries accepted and invited to help offer guidance and protection (as in the expansion of NATO). However, with the War on Terror, the US lost its values. Predating that was Tony Blair’s Doctrine of International Community (1999), which suggested that if atrocities occurred within a sovereign state, the global community should intervene. Though Afghanistan was seen as a legitimate war, Iraq seemed to skew the doctrine, adding to it that the global community should intervene if a threat was to rise in the future (a concept of preemption), which simply did not hold much weight with people. Noam Chomsky argues that Iraq was in fact an imperialist invasion, being the second largest producer of oil, it was an act of monopolising a commodity so as to have leverage over competitors. Sovereignty was disrespected and so was liberal respect for freedom. Some may argue that this reflects a growing, aggressive power, but the War on Terror has had a net negative effect on the US. It ruined America’s reputation, as it failed to install liberal democracies in an unwilling middle east and came across imperialist. Countries began to question the tenets of the order, which became more inconsistent: preemption was not used in Syria, nor was the Doctrine of International Community when Assad used chemical weapons, nor was Russia punished for impeaching on a country’s sovereignty. The world order has become hypocritical, and countries aren’t as inviting to it as before. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejects social liberalism and is calling for an illiberal democracy. America’s soft power has waned as it becomes to be viewed as nasty power.
Despite these weaknesses, however, the liberal world order, as it stands now, has no replacement. As Charles Maier concludes, the US ‘surfed the wave of 20th century modernism’. Calls for freedom and globalisation following two devastating cold wars and a the global competitive spirit of the Cold War accommodated well into America’s tenets. It has a distinct brand which still possesses great weight. Though some countries like Hungary have been unreceptive to liberal democracy as of recent years, the existence of the EU, and the embracing of the order’s framework by Russia and China (for example, Russia is part of the UN security council and the Chinese renminbi is now an official currency of the IMF) reflects how the US world order has no competitor. China and Russia need to find another wave to ride. However, one could argue that this embracement is simply a compromise until the revisionist powers grow powerful enough to topple it. There is no reason to believe that China and Russia need to replace the liberal world order. It is very possible that they simply want to bide their time until they can overthrow the US to be its leader. However, the very fact that the revisionist powers want to clamour to the top of the US led order signifies its power, and how though the US maybe in decline, many of its structures are still as powerful. China, in 2007, replaced a communist party proposal for a ‘’new international economic order’’ to calls for reforms for fairness and justice. The US world order is still powerful, despite its flaws, and still has a stranglehold on powers who want to rise up in it. As long as it remains its leader and underwriter, the US will not be in any sort of significant decline.
These external issues stem from internal reticence, as mentioned before. If the US was more aggressive, guaranteed protection for NATO allies, pushed for Assad’s conviction of war crimes, intervened strongly in Syria, then it would be far harder to notice its decline. However, the American people are gripped with a weary ennui. In an article in the Economist, obama himself notes that Americans have ‘a certain anxiety over the forces of globalisation’. Populism has risen and calls for protectionism and a return to a lesser intervening America have come to the fore of political discussion. Kagan recalls how this has a long history in America. In 1936 President Roosevelt emphatically stated ‘I hate war!’, reflecting a common opinion shared at the time. But as war came, opinion changed. If challenges to democracy rose anywhere in the world, the US might be the last to feel its effects, but when they came it would be far harder to suppress it. The former view came to prominence after the Cold War. Jean Kirkpatrick noted that there was now ‘no pressing need for heroism and sacrifice’. Donald Trump represents these feelings well, what Kagan calls ‘world-weariness’. He projects an unconvinced view of the power of the liberal project, proclaiming in the first presidential debate that ‘we cannot be the policemen of the world’. Niall Fergusson argues that the greatest barrier to America establishing itself as an imperialist power is its people. America is good, Empire is bad. They are too distinct to ever collude. This inherently restricts US power, especially at a time when the US needs to be more aggressive to prevent revisionist forces from establishing their own dominance. The rejection of TPP by both presidential candidates reflects this attitudinal change which if left to grow, might be America’s final death knell as perpetrator of the liberal world order.The American people would never have allowed their army to go to war in Crimea, it’s too far away and too unimportant. One could envisage an even more aggressive Putin if Trump were to win, NATO made entirely useless as Russia would grow to its former glory. This weariness and reluctance has perpetuated America’s decline and explains its weak responses in the global theatre in recent years.
However, as shown by Brexit, populist movements tend to wax and wane (it is unlikely UKIP will remain a formidable force in British politics ever again), and America itself has gone through periods of weariness and reluctance only to be thrust into it. If Trump was to be elected, would the isolationism of his rhetoric carry on into his future presidency? One could argue no, as the true stakes of giving away US power would become clear. Clinton has a hawkish view of the world and believes foreign affairs to be vitally important. One could argue that after being elected, she would overturn this view by suggesting it would be necessary to keep the US in its policeman role. Whatever the case, isolationism is unlikely to be as smooth or total as Trump suggests; the US is far too economically interdependent to just throw everything away. Trade links would lead to alliances, which might extend into the military realm. Trump may speak loudly, but it’s unlikely that this will translate into loud action. The US will have to maintain its role as leader of the liberal world order, and its people will have to get used to it.
Overall, a shift in power is inevitable and already in place. The spread of prosperity, itself a tenet of the world order, has caused competitors to rise to threaten the US. The US has a monopoly on culture, but this will not be the be-all end-all in deciding hegemonic dominance. What will decide whether America will decline is whether it will be willing to centralise and prioritise the liberal world order project it has put aside these last few years. A multipolar world is inevitable and emerging. The question is whether it will be weighed towards a more aggressive China or a reformed and newly empowered USA, with more aggressive protection of its rules. The answer to the question of American decline is too limiting. The US is declining simply due to the fact that other powers are rising to meet it; this is easy to see and undisputable. The real question is whether the US will fall into insignificance come the next few decades. This is far trickier to answer.
The sixth essay by Abdulfatah Yousfi has a strong focus on theory and contemporary events. It is evident that the Abdulfatah has researched beyond the textbook.
The continued power and relevance of the US has for centuries been a contested question that remains to this day more poignant than ever. With the recent surge in economic growth in the east and debateable erosion of america’s unipolar liberal order, has led some realists to describe the geographical shift in power away from the west. Although attempting to justify decline without considering the wider american foreign policy ambition for the last century would be misleading. With more democracies than ever before and an ever growing reality of interdependence some theorists would argue that yes, indeed, we may be seeing the decline of america but paradoxically the rise of the liberal american-composed order.
One of the most recognisable arguments illustrating america’s decline is the shift in power from the west to the east leading to an erosion of the brief unipolar order set by america. By power we are referring to economic,diplomatic and military capacity. Countries throughout asia have demonstrated a growing willingness to increase their military spending, with china last year leading an 8% increase. This has led some realists to draw unavoidable comparisons to the 19th arms race with states attempting create a balance of power to ensure their own security. Realists like Mearsheimer fear that such transition of power to the east will create instability and fear in america which could allow for trivial miscalculations to implode into a full scale nuclear war. Meanwhile although china currently only has one formal alliance with north korea, in comparisons to americas near global alliance. It is likely that in coming years, numerous countries will defect from under the american banner and become established with china. This fear may seem as irrational to some with america’s military capacity being almost half of that of the world combined, however chinese potential can not be denied and only recently the philippine president Duterte communicated his “separation” from american in favour of china.
Alternatively some would criticise this realist view that the newly forming multipolar world constitutes a decline of america. They would argue that the so-called rising powers are able to do so only due to american foreign policy and the fact that they are thriving in an american capitalist liberal system. In effect realists like Walter russell mead believe that such multipolar system favours american interest in which they could ensure that all great powers could only rise through the american constructed system. Therefore by integrating such rising powers in a capitalist liberal system they begin to adopt western values and share a common goal in which all countries can rise as one unit and no longer threaten american survival. This argument goes on to suggest that great power war with such rising countries becomes in effect impossible. Their interdependence and thriving economy would make prospects of war unappealing and self-defeating, as china relies heavily on on foreign imports to account for 23% of its gdp and also on russian exports of fuel. Such trade routes would be severed during wartime resulting in an unsustainable chinese economy.
Moreover another strong argument affirming the decline of american is its depreciating economic might. Such fears and criticisms aligning with this argument are deeply rooted in the american people themselves and politicians such a donald trumps rhetoric. The 1945 post-war moment is seen by many as the peak of american power. With 50% of global gdp, controlling large quantities of the global oil industry, booming wages and world at their feet some americans cannot help but feel pessimistic about the future. The growth of the unregulated capitalist system led to large american corporations transferring their businesses production sites to asia at the expense of the working class american public. As a results america’s gdp substantially decreased whilst that of rivals rose and unemployment ,inequality became commonplace in american and to this day remains. China in just the period of a decade was able to completely reverse america’s role as the world’s largest trader for countries. With china now being the largest trader for over 120 countries while america struggles to balance this tilt in influence with only 70 countries. This marks an unprecedented dilemma in which the americans may find themselves limited to military capacity as their economic monopoly of the global markets have diminished meaning strategies such as economic sanctions may become obsolete.
However if it is of any cancellation to the americans, many historians would argue that previous wars have demonstrated that not always the country with the strongest economy comes out victorious. In the 19th century when britain waged on a war with the the french, it was recorded that the french economy was 20x that of the britain and yet the latter was defeated. Today we are not even close to such disparity in economy between the US and China and we are unlikely to ever reach it. Many would argue china faces fundamental domestic issues stimulated by its rapid growth and radical policies. A slowing down of china’s economic growth is likely to be concentrated through an ageing population,climate change restrictions and an over-consumption dilemma. This will decrease the country’s productivity and influence making it bound by domestic issues unable to “roam” into other global affairs or ambitions making it remain static.
Meanwhile a weaker more recently emerging argument is that america is declining due to it no longer being recognised as a “ peacemaker” by other general public of countries be it allies of others. The decades long emphasis on the use of hard power through military and economic means, most pronounced after the 1990 post cold war era, has scarred american global image. Illegitimate conflicts such as the 1999 serbian war, or the 2003 iraq invasion built on false assumptions of future intentions be of genocide or nuclear intentions have contradicted the liberal, peace making utopian ideology. In addition the means by which these conflicts took place, surpassing international law has led to flawed demonstration of american democratic ideals. As a results upcoming powers such as russia and china refuse to accept this american double standard and aswell have launched a campaign disregarding america order setting by dismissing international law without suffering consequences. The level of turmoil and distrust in the international system also meant that despite president obama setting out clear lines that not to be crossed without fear of american intervention in the syrian conflict. President assad was still able to use chemical weapons with no retribution faced. Therefore the past 5 years have marked a clear erosion of american order setting through the international institutions like the UN and a loss of respect for american power due to their hypocrisy.
However it could be argued that america has long planned for the rise in power of states such as russia and has adopted a carefully structured containment strategy through the nato alliance expansion. Leading some to believe the russian invasion of crimea was out of weakness rather than power, fearing ukraine’s addition to the nato pact which would pose a threat to russia’s national security. Meanwhile china’s containments involves an environment where it is surrounded by simultaneously rising powers which would mean any war could dramatically destabilise the region with china as well. Moreover despite america’s recent unfavourable conflicts with the general public. Idealists like joseph nye have suggested a new approach to power in which soft power is the leading method of influence. Such strategies are already substantially exercised by american industries such as hollywood or effects of globalisation in introduced brands such a Mcdonald’s. However also more direct methods like rebuilding some of these countries economies like previously done in germany and japan which instantly regain americans the support of the the global community and return its peacemaking title to its original status.
Ultimately it is clear that US is declining through its reducing gdp and global influence though this is much slower than is feared by the american public, however what it more significant to this question is that yes america is declining but at their own will and as iKenberry would say to create an “all-gaining world”. Therefore although american power itself will decline its role for establishing the future more greatly integrated order will maintain its hegemonic influence.
The seventh essay, written by Cora Morris, starts with a brilliant introduction and she writes her essay with verve. One of her points covers the problems of US domestic policymaking and the ‘Trump’ phenomenon and links these to perceptions of America abroad. Note the way by which Cora concludes the essay.
American power, seen until very recently as paramount globally, is beginning to steadily decline, in favour of new powers with wholly different ideals. The economic success of China in recent decades has allowed them to expand their power and influence both on a regional and intercontinental level, as well as developing their military to directly rival America’s. America is also suffering at the hands of problems domestically which have served to shift global perceptions of their power and has put into question their scope to influence other states as a ‘modernising power’. Its military failures faced in the Middle East have had a similar effect, both with regard to perceptions of American imperialistic power – as exploitative – and the extent to which they now feel able to exercise power globally.
The rise of China as a rival economic and military power arguably puts the USA’s status as the sole global superpower in peril. Theorists such as Mearsheimer and Ferguson have argued for China’s growth posing a real threat to American power, the latter writing of a ‘reorientation of the world towards the East’ amidst the ‘descent of the West’. The country’s annual economic growth of 8% GDP when pitted against America’s 2.5% clearly shows a power developing rapidly, especially when seen in the context of the nation’s rapidly changing trade relations: whilst in 2006, the US was a larger trade partner for 127 countries, and China for only 70, 10 years on, this can be seen to have completely reversed. Similarly, China’s mass foreign exchange reserves – at $3.7 trillion – Clearly, China is beginning to dominate global economic spheres once firmly in America’s grasp. Whilst America maintains dominance in terms of military capacity – spending approximately 3.3% GDP on defence, China appears determined to make up the difference here, its spending up by 7-8% in 2016, implying a deliberate expansion that hints at a consciousness of a degree of competition between the two powers. This consciousness is evidently spreading to the people, too – the Pew Research Center has determined that in 23 of the 29 countries polled, a majority of civilians feel China has or will eventually replace the US as the greatest power worldwide. As a result, China’s very visible rise can be said to be playing out to the detriment of American power.
Whilst China’s rise clearly poses a threat to America in economic terms, regarding a shift in economic dominance, it is arguable that America’s now long-established Liberal World Order – paired with its use of far-reaching ‘soft power’ strategies – stands in the way of China ever playing a role comparable to the USA’s on the global stage. As Ikenberry argues, America is the owner and operator of a liberal hegemonic order that manages the majority of the world through organisations/institutions such as the UN and the World Bank which serve to promote its ideals of liberal democratic capitalism. It encourages this further by a more general liberal cultural influence the world over, through means such as the Hollywood film industry and distinctly western corporations – Apple, or McDonalds, for example – whose prevalence internationally signals a palatability of American ideals. This American presence is so extreme it seems unlikely that a power of China’s kind could ever destroy it – whilst China has managed to obtain vast influence without subscribing to American liberal democratic ideas, this does not ultimately detract from the fact that America’s power has created a world dominated by liberal democracies whose interests are not to ‘regress’ to China’s state-aided capitalism.
However, it is a real possibility that China too is learning to play America’s game of international presence via institutions, even if these are regional rather than global in nature. Beijing’s establishment of the AIIB – labelled ‘the Marshall Plan for Asia’ by Bangkok Bank executives – displays an appetite to create economic dependency upon China amongst other Asian countries, alluding to a goal to influence – perhaps ideologically, in the same manner as the IMF/World Bank. Paired with its growing investments in Africa – up 19 billion from 2008 in 2013 – it looks to be acting in an economically imperial manner in a way very much reminiscent of American strategy. Perhaps, if this continued, it could pose a threat to an American global order.
Domestic issues in the United States, and the visibility of these worldwide, create a sense that the ‘greatness’ of America that once allowed them to establish global dominance is waning. The rise of Donald Trump signals a huge demographic in America disillusioned by liberal politics and efforts to modernise. Their willing engagement in blatantly xenophobic/ultra- conservative campaign rhetoric signifies political regression as opposed to the progressive, liberalising, democratising power America has long presented itself as.This is only exacerbated by prevalent accusations of sexual abuse, extensive corruption, and overt racism. It also goes some way to display the failure of a globalised America to care for vast swathes of working-class communities in the country, their dissatisfaction now manifesting in support for a far-right candidate.
At a time of huge civil rights-based tensions – as a result of an epidemic of police brutality against people of colour in the country and justified protest in response – Trump seems to represent something of a time of political crisis in America. The visibility of this worldwide – largely owed to widespread social media use – has created a sense of American desperation otherwise unrivalled throughout history, this having a huge impact upon global perceptions of American power and domestic stability.
Further, Trump’s presidential campaign promises a relatively isolationist approach to foreign policy which would suggest a decline in the kind of interventionist power America has tried to exercise in regions such as the Middle East in recent years. His popularity entails an assumption that large numbers of Americans support a decrease in such imperial interventionist measures, and thus a sacrifice of international presence implying waning power.
So – domestic matters faced by the United States are having a wide-reaching impact in terms of perceptions of their global power status.
Though the rise of Trump and matters concerning civil rights are certainly concerning, it is perhaps important to take into account the fact that such issues are not new. America has long had a very strong pro-Conservative presence, especially in its southern, more religious states, and Trump is arguably just the first candidate to aptly represent the views of such groups. By the same token, America’s struggles with race relations are perhaps not particularly profound – the relics of slavery and segregation in the country have carried through culturally, never completely fading – 2015/16 simply marks a resurgence of such problems. This has never led to America suffering a loss of power in the past – there is arguably little reason why they would now. However, such an assertion could be easily accused of undermining the seriousness of the state of affairs in America at present, as well as the sheer prominence in visibility of them across media platforms. With American law enforcement having killed over 100 unarmed black people in 2015, and concern regarding such reaching the UN for comprehensive investigation, it is clear that in 2016, such outrageous events are simply not acceptable within a supposedly liberal, democratic power, and that swift action should be demanded if America hopes to stay in good standing amongst liberal powers.
In terms of global power, America is certainly paying the price for its huge imperialist failures in the Middle East, in its invasions of Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003. Aside from the state of disrepair US forces left Iraq in, and their lacking basis for invasion initially, Iraq saw US forces losing 4500 soldiers and 30,000 being wounded. Whilst such invasions were pursued under the guise of defeating terrorist groups/’liberating’ Afghanistan, they are now widely acknowledged to be examples of thoroughly resented US imperialism and attempts to impose the aforementioned liberal world order unto states far from keen to accept it. This universal understanding of such interventions as failures has considerably limited America’s capacity to stage similar interventions in recent years, and has revealed a sense of American weakness. This has only been exacerbated by a general understanding that Daesh – a terrorist organisation threatening order internationally – came about as a direct result of such American actions in the region, or more precisely, the state they left countries such as Iraq in. As a result, America will henceforth struggle to be a power in the same way it once was in terms of its capacity to involve itself in foreign conflicts/ matters that contest their foreign interests. This perhaps signifies a power decline, but certainly signifies a decline in potential to wield power.
Although American foreign policy has witnessed some grand failures in the past few decades, and its imperialism has been revealed for what it truly is, the case can be made that America can sustain its role as a global superpower regardless. If one (hypothetically) disregards China’s rise, there is little reason to suggest America wouldn’t be able to maintain global economic and ideological dominance without the use of military means/imperialism. Theoretically, the country could dispose of their ‘global policeman’ role and still hold a huge amount of power – indeed, creating a role as a friendlier, non-interventionist power would probably serve their global status/influence well. However, this perspective is a very idealistic one and would force America to give up a great deal of that which has been integral to its role in the world for the last hundred years or so. It seems very unlikely they would do this unless forced to – theories such as Thucydides’ Trap suggesting that conflict between China and the USA is inevitable, perhaps a successful China could force the USA to give up its love of imperial intervention and become a more benign, passive power.
It is undeniable that to some degree, American power is in decline. Whilst this may not yet necessitate them losing their role as global hegemon, as rivals like China rise, it is clear the nation will be forced to give up certain powers in order to keep the peace. Whether they will succumb to such pressures is yet to be seen. Meanwhile, the country will be forced to confront a number of pressing political issues domestically should they wish to retain status as a liberal power, but the inaction in these areas thus far means that presently, perceptions of American power appear to be waning. A Clinton presidency may answer some of these calls for action – but it is impossible to know the extent to which the ship on American power has already sailed. It seems clear that the rise of China is beyond US control at this stage however – this is one area in which no action can alter some level of fate.