ils pointed me to a really interesting article by Parag Khanna in the New York Times on the disappearance of American hegemony:

In brief: the American century is over.  This was always easy enough to predict– our predominance in the 1950s was largely due to the fact that the established powers had all ground each other into dust. 

The subtler point is that the habit of mind of the American Century– bipolar thinking, dividing the world into us vs. them— is just as outdated.  It’s not going to be the Islamic century, nor the Chinese, nor the European.  Nor is American power going to disappear.  Rather, we’re going to have a multipolar world for a long time.

Bush’s unilateralism and military overreach is only part of the problem; a Democratic administration may win back some friends, but it’s not going to restore American hegemony.  For that matter, the most badass nuke-happy Republican can’t do it either.  We might be able to destroy a few Third World countries; we have no leverage against the other major power centers, China and Europe.

Some telling facts:

  • Europe is increasingly the world center for finance, R&D, and development aid; the euro is starting to take over as the world’s currency
  • Twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the US
  • Europe is poised to economically dominate Russia, while access to gas from North Africa and oil from Azerbaijan reduces Russia’s diplomatic leverage
  • The ‘rogue states’ from the US point of view all have strong Chinese support
  • Trade within the India-Japan-Australia triangle now exceeds trans-Pacific trade
  • Brazil is reviving projects to build a superhighway to the Pacific to facilitate trade with China

Khanna focusses on a redefined Second World– rising powers with real economic power, all cannily playing all three superpowers against each other: India, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, etc.   Though not unified, these powers are adept at not falling under any one superpower’s influence.

Many Americans worry that the rest of the world hates us.  Some people do, and a less arrogant foreign policy would help with that.  But this is increasingly the wrong way to look at the world.  The real issue is that we are less relevant.  In all too many areas we need to stop pretending to be the leader, and rush to catch up.   In others, there’s nothing we can do except get used to competing with some increasingly competent rivals.

For what it’s worth, I think Khanna pays a little too much heed to theories of geopolitics and clashing civilizations… e.g. the significance of Europe and China being on opposite side of the Eurasian land mass is approximately zero.  The importance of ‘civilizations’ on the three superpowers is not much higher; Europe and the US are the same civilization in any real sense, and China’s rise has little to do with either ideology or its own culture.