Rumours over the fall of US
When I come to study what has been, at different times and epochs of history among different peoples, the effective reason why ruling classes have been ruined, I note the various events and men and accidental and superficial causes, but believe me, the real cause, the effective one, that makes men lose power is that they have become unworthy to exercise it.
-Alexis de Tocqueville.
(A french historian, 1805-1859)
Since the last decade there had been a buzz regarding the fall of the US. The buzz got momentum especially after the Twine Tower had crushed down by some outsiders, evading (or ignoring) world's most smart national security system. And during last global economic crisis which was mainly American by origin, the buzz was getting louder. President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia called the 2008 financial crisis a sign that the United States' global leadership is coming to an end. And thus since then Fukyama's future is becoming bleak to bleaker regarding his thesis on 'end of history' declaring the unprecedented triumphal march of capitalism or American capitalism while Paul Kennedy, a British historian on International Relations, becoming bright to brighter regarding his thesis on 'rise and fall of great powers' (of course with some reservations).
For last a few days I have been going through some world's leading dailies and monthlies including journals on security and foreign policy and what I have found is an ambidexterer Joseph S. Nye, writing restlessly about future of American power or rise of China along with some skeptics or optimistics including Thomas M. Nichols and others. All these developments certainly placed me in a situation where I couldn't but write on this topic- location of the US in global power politics; whether the US is on the verge of fall from a apex position of hierarchical international system. To explain I shall try to use a framework by using the concepts given by Paul Kennedy in his book 'The Rise and Fall Of Great Powers'.
Paul Kennedy and great powers
'The Rise and Fall Of Great Powers' by Paul Kennedy, first published in 1987, with analyses on economic changes and military conflicts from 1500 to 2000, explores the politics and economics of the great powers from 1500 to 1980 and the reason for their decline. Kennedy then forecasted the positions of China, Japan, the European Economic Community (EEC) (present EU), the Soviet Union and the United States through the end of the 20th century. Kennedy measures strength of great powers in the 20th century using population size, urbanization rates, per capita levels of industrialization, iron and steel production, energy consumption and total industrial output as standard.
He compares the Great Powers at the close of the 20th century and predicts the decline of the Soviet Union (sudden Soviet collapse in 1990s was not predicted by Kennedy), the rise of China and Japan, the struggles and potential for the EEC, and the relative decline of the United States. He highlights the precedence of the "four modernizations" in Deng Xiaoping's plans for China-agriculture, industry, science and military-deemphasizing military while the United States and the Soviet Union were emphasizing it. He predicts that continued deficit spending, especially on military build-up, will be the single most important reason for decline of any Great Power. Paul Kennedy made a good chronological description with historical evidences to explain the international system and changes of global order in consequence of rise and fall great powers.
Explaining US with Paul Kennedy
Kennedy is supposed to be a realist thinker. His analyses are mainly state and its traditional power (political/military) centric. Thus Kennedy's measuring standards are economic and military by virtue when he categorizes states. Present US is still the number one economy in the world with far better military capability-quality-applicability and thus positioned at the acme of international system. The US do not spend deficit budget for military purpose- which is an important criterion to keep the power position intact, according to Kennedy. But the problem can be traced in the trends of the economy- it is now more downwording, problem is with unemployment rate (9.5% (2010)), less industrial production (-1.5% (2009), -9.5% (2008)), less GDP rate (2.6% (2010)). If it continues to maintain present military spending without upwarding economic wheel then certainly the US will face the fall. Last year the US senate cut the defense budget to reduce the burden from its economy.
All these information do not prove that the fall of US is nearing. Infact, Kennedy had been criticized since just after the end of twentieth century regarding his miscalculation on predictions. Among them Nau's criticism is mention-worthy. Kennedy did not consider the normative power of a state while analyzing the causes behind the fall of great powers. Moreover, now in this twenty first century soft powers are not less powerful then hard powers. On the other hand, already there is a debate over the effectivity of military power ("Is Military Power Becoming Obsolete?" The Korea Times, Joseph S. Nye). And now no more the world is greatpower centered, like it was in Kennedy's time; now we live in the era of Super Power; the US centric unipolar world where the US is sometimes termed as 'hyperpower'. So all these new developments may make the Kennedy's theory obsolete. But still it is the best theory to analyze the fall of powerful states and in consequence the changes of global orders.
Future of US power
According to Kennedy usually a great power's life span consists three phases - hegemony, challenge and decline. With two different but complementary sceneries, downwarding trend of US economy and rise of China as a global power, we may deem the US as running through its last phase. Now the US is facing challenges from both sides- home and abroad. Its military spending in 761 US military bases across the planet (156 Countries with US bases) becoming a burden over its wounded economy. Within the territory the popular support upon the government is reducing over issues like Afghan and Iraq. So the normative power of US is also at risk. The more risks are at the rise of China. The more US getting weaker, the more China getting stronger. That's why people are speculating the fall of the US. The fear is more speculated in terms of China's rise not in terms of the downward trend of the US. That's the problem in our understanding. We should know that the US is still number one economy and still can excel anyone with its military superiority. Only by 2027 China will reach the same height of US economy. So it is too early to predict the fall of the US now. But we can say that the traits of weakness are apparent- as per as Kennedy's theory is concerned.
The writer is a Masters in International relations, du, and freelance writer at- fairbd.net.