Saturday, May 12, 2018

Where the Power Is

Critics of Trump say he is wrecking American influence and power in the world. Long range trends may reduce American influence and power, but for now America remains the most powerful and influential power.

I think blaming Trump is fairly stupid. As if going along with what other nations want us to do reflects our power and influence.

America rose to global dominance on the wreckage of enemies and decline of allies after World War II and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And after each unipolar moment,* the world recovered, reducing the massive edge America had gained.

But for now, a multipolar world is not here:

[The] U.S. is still the world’s pre-eminent power. This isn’t necessarily a permanent state of affairs. If, for example, GPF is wrong about China’s and Russia’s underlying weaknesses, a multipolar world might be closer than I’m suggesting. But that’s a pretty big if. In 2018, the world is still unipolar. The U.S. remains the global center of gravity, and the actions it takes are felt throughout the world. This should not necessarily come as a comfort. With great power comes great responsibility. But the job of an analyst is not to provide comfort; it is to point out where great power currently lies.

I disagree with their assessment that the Iraq War was a mistake, but just as they state that as an aside, I will make my rejection an aside too, rather than repeat my frequent posts on that issue.

On topic, relative decline is normal. In 2008 I looked ahead to a more multipolar world in 2040:

For fun, let me toss off a scenario of the future from our point of view off the top of my head with absolutely no research whatsoever to support it.

It is a recurring theme in our country to predict our imminent fall from dominance. Fascism, Soviet Communism, democratic Socialism, Japanese planned economy, European socialism (again), and now China are projected as supplanting America as the dominant power. Yet we keep adapting. The United States remains the dominant economic and military power on the planet.

I think this will remain even though our portion of the global pie will decline as China and India continue to grow. And as we near mid-century, we will remain the dominant power and--lacking nearby foes that compel us to devote major resources to homeland defense--will have the most free power to help allies and oppose enemies.

I took a tour of the world I expected. Whether or not the details pan out, I think the big picture I concluded is well founded:

So there you go. America will no longer be the single dominant player on the globe--a nice but fleeting relic of defeating Nazis and Soviets, leaving us the last man standing for a good while--but we will be the strongest player globally with regional allied powers to supplement our strength and who need our strength to bolster them.

We'll be doing just fine mid-century, thank you. Completely off the cuff, so take it for what it is worth.

Later, I expanded on the "free power" issue when looking at China as the most likely state to become a peer competitor:

Will China become a superpower and supplant us during this century?

China's power will surely increase--unless China breaks apart. But I sincerely doubt that China will replace us as the dominant power.

Even if China is one of many great powers, we will remain the dominant power. One reason is that we will still retain the bulk of the world's free military power

Strategypage has a useful site that provides a single numerical value for a nation's land power, including air power that can support ground forces. The numbers on this site demonstrate why I don't worry about China too much even should they match us in absolute power. In short, China can't escape the logic of our geographical advantage.

Sadly, the useful site I used is gone. Pity Strategypage hasn't updated that.

As for whether China will surpass America? I have my doubts if they can do it--or hold it if they do.

Here's a related post on the issue of what factors make a great power.

On the bright side to this whole American decline topic, it may be that our panic over natural trends is what motivates America to reverse the trends--or at least slow them down or make them less relevant.

And whatever the future may bring, for now nobody challenges America enough to dethrone us.

*And yeah, despite the Soviet Union and the Cold War, the end of World War II was a unipolar moment in terms of power. The USSR wasn't really a global power despite its global reach achieved by the end of the 1970s. The USSR was basically a regional power in Eurasia that had an objective within close reach (West Germany) that would have global implications if captured, by shattering NATO in Europe.