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America’s Dominance declining?

Publishing Date : 02 February, 2016


I am not a declinist; I don’t believe United States of America is in decline. 80% of the world's financial transactions use the U.S dollar. The Chinese want to buy American property and they want to send their kids to American universities. These are not aspects of a country that is in decline. However, for an America that is not in decline, we nonetheless have a geopolitical environment that shows people aren't really listening to the United States. American allies are acting in an unpredictable way.

The U.S really needs a foreign policy strategy, not because of the unpredictable geopolitical environment, but because there's a country that has a strategy, and that is China.

The Chinese have a Marshall plan (the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the silk road, the BRICS Bank, the China Development Bank), and they're going to spend money on it. But unlike the Marshall plan, they're not spending money to align countries to become democratic or free market in orientation, but to get them to buy Chinese products (fiber, internet, the Chinese RMB). This is a fundamental challenge to the US. I don’t know what the economists told America, but from a Political Science perspective, if the Chinese are developing a strategy to challenge you, (in terms of global and economic aspects), you need a counter-strategy.

A superpower is a country that has the ability to project power globally, be it economically, politically, diplomatic, technologically, or through its soft power (cultural power). In that regard, there’s really only one country in the world that has been a superpower today and no one else is remotely close, and that’s the United States.

We have known this historically. When the Soviet Union collapsed we knew clearly what role the US should play. They were making the world safe for democracy, they were in charge of the global economic order, they led the process of globalization, created a global internet, and they set global standards around governance.

They created global institutions like the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the United Nations and all of that. After World War 2, that was the role that America played as a superpower. All that really lasted for about half a century of a geopolitical order that was quiet dangerous but quiet stable. When the Soviet Union collapsed, we experienced about 25 years of a geopolitical environment that was much more unstable but not particularly dangerous. Over the course of that period, America’s role has become more uncertain. U.S. foreign policy has become more reactive and more risk averse, and we haven’t talked a lot about doctrine, and certainly not very much about strategy.

Here we are in 2016; the geopolitical environment is getting both unstable and getting very dangerous. We have failed states across the Middle-East, we have the most powerful terrorist organisation the world has ever seen, we have more refugees at any point since the Second World War, we have the Russians invading a sovereign state and telling us that they don’t care what the consequences will be.

We have the Chinese increasingly asserting themselves economically all over the world; the challenge to a U.S. led order, and yet the United States does not know what it stands for. Americans do not really know either. They know that they’re a superpower, but they don’t know what it means. They have an existential crisis, and perhaps more worryingly, American allies have the same thought. Canada, Singapore, Britain are all hedging alternative relationships.

In 2016, the United States of America is clearly not in decline and yet their foreign policy influence is absolutely in free fall and that’s abundantly clear. American foreign policy is in the acritical state that it is in for several reasons. It is in part because Americans have become less interested in playing the role that they have historically played.

It all goes back to about $3 trillion in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they have seen to be badly mismanaged. Part of it is an energy revolution and a food revolution that has meant that the U.S. doesn’t really depend economically on other parts of the world for oil and food imports.

The second reason speaks to a United States that has acquired mechanisms and tools of power like cyber-surveillance, drones and a resort to what we call the “weaponisation of finance”-- using the dollar as a carrot stick to compel other countries to do what they want.  

The world order has shifted into a state where an awful lot of issues don’t need much coordination and alliances, leaving the U.S. in a state where it can act alone. I mean, ask Angela Merkel if the US needs her for cyber surveillance, right? They don’t! It has become a lot more about what’s happening in Washington and what they feel like doing.

But it’s also not entirely about the U.S. America’s foreign policy decline can be largely attributed to allies that are less capable and less willing to engage in global affairs. We’ve seen a lot of that in Europe and in the middle-east. It’s also about a Russia in decline and a Russian leader who really wants to subvert a U.S. order. It’s about a China that’s absolutely not in decline; looking to soon be the largest economy and they’re getting much more assertive about their willingness to challenge America economically and their ideas in principle, economically. It is definitely becoming a top agenda issue that US foreign policy is in decline.

But it is also no secret, that globally,especially under the Obama administration, America as a country has been drawing itself back and limiting its engagement in global affairs. Conversations around America's place in the world are definitely shifting and being redefined, with debates flying around the current presidential debates.