Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2010-03-23 00:00:00 Published on Mar 23, 2010
The decline has gone unnoticed because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War
The decline of America
America’s rich and ubiquitous CIA, through its National Intelligence Council, periodically collects some of the best brains in the US and after considerable debate they publish a detailed treatise predicting the future and the last one — Global Trends 2025 — came out in November 2008. The report’s most important assessment is that in 15 years there will be a gradual decline in the US’s pre-eminence along with the rise of new powerhouses China and India. The report says “although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor”, the country’s “relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and US leverage will become more constrained”.

In actual fact the decline has been far more rapid and has gone unnoticed because this was obscured by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. American predominance in the information technology sector of the global economy also covered the country’s decline as a manufacturing hub. Several other moves and events in recent years point to the direction of America’s decline.

At the Pittsburg global economic summit, the mantle of looking after the functioning of the economy passed on from G-8 to G-20, which includes China, India, Brazil, Turkey and other developing countries. It is not yet certain that this group can exercise any really effective control, but the move is significant in that it took place. The true significance, as Geoffrey Sachs put it, was not that the baton had passed to G-20 but that it had actually passed on from G-1 — the US which had really called al the economic shots in the past 30-odd years of the G-7 forum.

There are increasing reports that major countries who are America’s economic rivals have been discussing among themselves, sometimes in secret, to explore a diminished role for the US dollar in international trade where it is losing value. Saddam Hussein in 2002 tried to move away from the dollar to the Euro but that was more political than economic; the Iranians, too, have tried to establish oil bourses in Euros for the same reason.

But this one is different. Major trading countries China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and the Persian Gulf states are considering the Euro or a basket of currencies as an alternative to the US dollar. Obviously, if this is accepted it will adversely impact on American dominance in international economic matters. Link this to BRIC and we have a new international economic paradigm.

The international order has always been about control and dominance. The old Palmerston dictum about permanent interests and not permanent allies has changed. In the new international order there are permanent interests but no permanent enemies. Diplomatically and strategically, the US has had problems. American actions in West Asia, for instance, have given room for others to walk into the space provided by the US’s misadventure. The invasion of Iraq was as brainy as a World Wrestling Federation bout.

Russia and China have refused in recent months to accept the US’s proposal that Iran be placed under sanctions, even though President Barack Obama tried to assuage Moscow by cancelling plans to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in eastern Europe. The US can no longer press for sanctions on Iran while condoning similar action by Pakistan.

In fact, Iran, China and Russia seem to have worked out an energy-sharing /distribution map that largely excludes the US from it. These three countries have been the biggest gainers from America’s Quixotic adventure in Iraq which has ended making Iran the strongest power in the region.

The US will lose ground in the economic sphere as well. American GDP in 2005 at US $ 12.4 trillion exceeded that of Latin America and Asia. By 2020, the combined GDP of Asia and Latin America will 40 per cent greater than that of the US and growing. By then, the US will be deeply indebted to the more solvent nations. It will be dependent on them for funds needed to pay for budgetary deficits which have been there since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting the annual Pentagon budget, and so on. Nevertheless, the US will remain the world’s pre-eminent economic and technology power, but it will be a military power that will be unable to undertake significant military missions abroad of the Iraq and Afghanistan variety on its own.

The stalemate in Afghanistan is really a strategic defeat for a superpower. A superpower cannot be seen to have tried to find ways of getting out of a quagmire without a resounding victory. Support for the war is grudging both at home and abroad among allies. The US is in the unhappy situation where one of its prominent allies in the region — Pakistan — has been duplicitous, while another — Saudi Arabia — stands for creeds that are the very antithesis of all that America stands for, and the third — China — is simply waiting for the US to get sufficiently unpopular before it will move into the vacuum that will unavoidably occur once American troops leave.

The US could have had three friends and allies — Russia, Iran and India — who do not want Afghanistan to become a Talibanised Wahaabi state. But the Americans chose otherwise. What the Americans were slow to understand was that whatever be the merits of the case, and in Afghanistan defeat of terrorism was one, Washington can no longer say, “I am in Afghanistan to make America safe” and it does not matter if some Afghans die in the process.

Perhaps the last setback may be symbolic but it was powerful. The US could not win the race for the Summer Olympics for 2016; worse, it got eliminated in round one.

That said, the US is still the most powerful state in the world and will remain so for the foreseeable future with the strongest military force, the largest economy and the most highly developed technological capabilities. However, those days when it was possible to take unilateral action are over; there are limitations to power — military and economic — as well as influence, as other powerful players begin to assert themselves. The US predicament in Afghanistan is the most recent example of these new disabilities.

The writer, who specialises in strategic affairs, is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing

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Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

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Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

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