Everybody is asking if America is in decline. The new big question from the journal Foreign Affairs is whether the American era is over. Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek, answers with a book, his new release “The Post-American World,” in which he proposes a number of ideas and strategies for the US power to survive the “rise of the rest.”
Is America really in decline? And is it really because of the rise of the rest? If so, what is this “rest” doing to make a comeback? The tectonic changes in the international power system are creating major acts of disordering and shuffling in the global political structure. The end of the Cold War was coupled with a need to redefine the international order at a time when the effects of globalization began to be felt around the world. The first Gulf War was the first major military intervention after the Cold War and sought to increase and seal the presence of US power in the Middle East. While the “new world order” of the 1990s failed to project any order, the Sept. 11 attacks gave US policymakers another chance to reassert American power beyond the traditional borders of the Cold War era.
Maintaining power, however, is as much based on renewing it as it is on the acceptance of it by others. Sustaining power is proportionate to the capacity and willingness of other nations to tolerate a highly concentrated center of power. The US military and economic power had been tolerated during the Cold War as a balance to the communist bloc.
Today, the US is a hegemonic power, which points to an exclusive concentration of power with no room for balancing. The 2002 US National Security Strategy states that “our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” But the US cannot justify its power differential even to its closest allies. While the US is the only hegemonic power, it is challenged on a daily basis by the other superpower of the post-Cold War era: “world public opinion.” (Patrick Tyler, The New York Times, Feb. 17, 2003).
This explains to a large extent the diminishing effectiveness of US hard and soft power. While the US is the only superpower and acts as a hegemonic power, the increasingly higher cost of the exercise of its power is rather unprecedented. American hard power continues to fail in military interventions and invasions. American soft power is losing ground because of the legitimacy crisis of American power. Given “the rise of the rest” and the increasing attempts to counterbalance US hegemonic power, however, the use of even smart power, a new concept developed by Joseph Nye, is open to question. Yet, none of this suggests that US power will be replaced by another superpower such as Russia and China or that it will be seriously challenged by some regional alliance in the foreseeable future.
The decline in the belief of the uniqueness of American power goes hand in hand with a search for a new distribution of power, a new axis of global order and a new set of values to support and sustain such a system. Fukuyama’s prediction that man’s search for the best system has come to an end with the global spread and command of liberal, democratic capitalism (“The End of History” thesis) has been proven wrong by the dynamics of globalization on the one hand and the new realities of rising regions on the other. Those who advocate that “the world is flat” already argue against the sustainability and feasibility of any single super or hegemonic power. But this is an oversimplified analysis of how power and wealth are distributed globally. The widening gap between the rich and the poor suggests abundant evidence for the unevenness of the world. Paul Collier’s “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It” makes a convincing case for the skewed (not the flat) state of the world in which we live.
If America is in decline, what is on the rise?
Today’s Zaman – 30.05.2008