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The Declining Superpower?

Is American decline exaggerated? It’s a hot topic, again. We’ll hear the debate.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Jan. 23, 2012) The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise , bottom, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Porter, USS James E. Williams, USS McFaul, USS Cole and USS Nitze maneuver into formation during the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group. (U.S. Navy)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Jan. 23, 2012) The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise , bottom, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Porter, USS James E. Williams, USS McFaul, USS Cole and USS Nitze maneuver into formation during the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group. (U.S. Navy)

Is America in decline?  It’s become almost assumed in recent years.  China, India, Brazil, others – up.  America – down.  Humbled.  Less than it was.  Now comes the pushback.  “The Myth of American Decline,” goes one headline.

And the theme becomes political just as fast as you can breathe.  America in decline?  No way, said the president last week.  Not on his watch.

Well, which is it?  Are we up, down or sideways?  Is decline a myth?  Or is that idea just a kind of denial?  American dreaming?

This hour, On Point:  Truth or dare.  We’re debating American decline.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Michael Beckley, research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s international security program. His recent article in the journal International Security contends that America is not in decline and that both its international power and hegemony are increasing.

Christopher Layne, professor, and Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. His recent article in International Studies Quarterly argues that America is in decline.

Highlights

“The best way to sell books is to title it something like, When China Rules the World,” said Michael Beckley, research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “That sells a lot more than when you title it “When Things Are Pretty Much The Same As They Are Now.”

In reality, he says, looking at a broad set of indicators including wealth, innovation, and military power – the United States will remain atop the world for decades, in some areas even increasing its lead over the rest, said Beckley.

It all stems from the fact that people always know more about the failings and liabilities of their own countries and little about the failings and liabilities of foreign nations, Beckley said.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in current evens, the financial crisis, Iraq, and Afghanistan, when you look across the broad sweep of indicators, you see much more stability and strength in the United States,” Beckley said.

Sure, issues like wealth inequality are troubling. But in the U.S., they pale in comparison to other places. “If inequality is a sign of decline, then China is more in decline than the United States,” Beckley said.

So, why the rampant ‘declinism’ in the United States? “It’s great for fundraising to think that the United States is in decline. If you work in the Defense Department, the best way in increase your budget is to say ‘There’s this rising superpower on the horizon and we need more money,’” he said. “If you’re in Congress, it’s a lot easier to blame job losses in your district on Chinese currency manipulation than it is to blame it on your own policies or your constituents.”

Others point out that China’s growing GDP – it will soon surpass that of the U.S.—coupled with and more effective government means that China does pose a near-term threat to the current U.S. global dominance.

Indeed, said Christopher Layne, there are several indicators that show that the U.S. isn’t just in decline vis-à-vis China, but also in relative decline to where the country stood in the 1950s, Layne said.

What the decline of American power suggests, is that the post-WWII global order “is going to weaken and that the U.S. is going to have a lot less influence in those parts of the world that it cares about, especially in Asia,” Layne said.

From Tom’s Reading List

International Security “The United States is not in decline; in fact, it is now wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991. Moreover, globalization and hegemony do not erode U.S. power; they reinforce it. The United States derives competitive advantages from its hegemonic position, and globalization allows it to exploit these advantages, attracting economic activity and manipulating the international system to its benefit. The United States should therefore continue to prop up the global economy and maintain a robust diplomatic and military presence abroad.”

International Studies Quarterly “The Great Recession has had a two-fold impact. First, it highlighted the shift of global wealth—and power—from West to East, a trend illustrated by China’s breathtakingly rapid rise to great power status. Second, it has raised doubts about the robustness of US primacy’s economic and financial underpinnings. This article argues that the Aunipolar moment is over, and the Pax Americana—the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945—is fast winding down. ”

The New Republic “Is the United States in decline, as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power? A great deal depends on the answer to these questions. 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, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it.”

Foreign Policy “The issue isn’t whether the United States is about to fall the from the ranks of the great powers, or even be equaled (let alone surpassed) by a rising China. The world may be evolving toward a more multipolar structure, for example, but the United States is going to be one of those poles, and almost certainly the strongest of them, for many years to come. ”

 

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