The US National Intelligence Council, a US government intelligence body, has a blog entitled “global trends 2030” where they are discussing long-term global trends of interest to American policymakers. In their latest series of posts, they intend to analyze the question of “American decline”, which the writer defines as “a reduction in American power across several domains, including economic and military strength, and diplomatic and cultural influence”.
The writer, William Imboden, states that future posts would examine the assumptions underlying these views, and present arguments from a variety of writers challenging the view of “American decline”. From this side of the Pacific, the idea that American hegemony won’t decline over time is borderline delusional – you can only adopt modern technological capitalism a century before most of Asia, not have your infrastructure destroyed in World War II, and have Mao Zedong almost lead the the Chinese into national suicide once. At least in economic terms, the United States’ share of global GDP has to shrink over time. And where economies lead, military and diplomatic strength are likely to follow.
But what I find most fascinating in his piece is what appears to be the unstated assumption that “American decline” would be somehow a disaster for America.
To which I’d pose the simple question – “why”?
While Britain continues to slog its way through a recession prolonged in part through the mindless austerity policies of the Tories, overall, her majesty’s loyal subjects have coped rather well with the end of Empire. In fact, it’s hard to make the argument that they’ve been adversely affected in any substantial way at all. Britain is no longer a global maritime power. But it remains a middle-sized rich country with an enviable standard of living for most of its citizens, and there’s no reason to think it won’t remain so indefinitely.
And I’d also mention its Antipodean colony, which is doing rather well for itself at the moment despite never being a hegemonic power anywhere but PNG and a few Pacific microstates.
The implications for Australia are another matter entirely – perhaps rather more serious, as Hugh White has argued very longly and loudly (and again in the Fairfax press yesterday). But for the United States? Why not just accept that it can no longer be a globally dominant superpower and get on with being a large, rich nation? Perhaps even fix three of its most serious problems, two of which (healthcare and income inequality) have nothing much to do with foreign policy, and the third (climate change) can only be tackled cooperatively anyway?