Is the US a declining power?

By Ayaz Ahmed

According to Global Trends 2030, compiled by the National Intelligence Council, the US will lose its superpower status by 2030. A recent Pew Research Center’s public opinion survey has found that an increasing number of Americans fearfully view China as the next global superpower. And some analysts predict rising Russia as the next hegemonic power of the world.

The advocates of ‘declining America’ opine that both Russia and China are fast emerging to challenge the American economic and military dominance throughout the world. According to them, Russia has recently broken American military preponderance in Syria, while China has steadily outweighed Uncle Sam economically in Africa. Both these communist states are engaged in carving out special spheres of influence for their military and economic objectives from the disputed waters of Far East Asia to eastern Europe.

This has led some analysts of world affairs to raise the pertinent question: is America on the decline at the global level as a superpower?

The US has utterly failed to contain the simmering Syrian civil war and bring an end to the Russian strategic incursion of Ukraine. The outgoing Obama administration is grappling with some mounting economic and security challenges in eastern Europe, East Asia, South Asia and in the Middle East, and seems largely unable to resolve these threatening issues.

Is the US really a declining power on the world stage because of the rise of the rest, especially China and Russia? The US began its journey to become the world’s superpower at the dawn of the 19th century. After the 1898 Treaty of Paris, it became a colonial power with overseas territories, including Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the Island of Guam. At that point, some analysts of international relations viewed the US as a great power or emerging superpower.

When the two World Wars had weakened France, Germany, Japan and Great Britain, the US and the Soviet Union rose to power, thus creating a bipolar international system. America’s systematic military tactics during the cold war immensely helped it inflict a crushing defeat on the erstwhile USSR in Afghanistan, hence emerging as the world’s hegemonic power after the fateful disintegration of the USSR in the early 1990s.

American military policy on the Syrian civil war, the Russian invasion of Crimea and on China’s steady rise in Asia and Africa is based on the premise of ‘cautious intervention’. This is primarily calculated to avoid getting embroiled in direct and costly wars like those of Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, it cannot be considered as a portent of American weakness; rather a sign of more military prowess and economic power by saving trillions of dollars.

Impartial and meticulous research clearly show that the US still maintains enough military, political, economic, cultural and scientific superiority so as to exercise global dominance till 2050.

There is no doubt that China’s economy is growing at an impressive rate. But it’s not just the size of an economy that matters – it’s also the quality. Though China is forecast to grow at 6.7 percent as per the World Bank report, the American economy still remains the bedrock of the global financial system. More than 80 percent of all financial transactions worldwide are conducted in dollars, as are 87 percent of foreign currency market transactions.

On account of its growing population of retirees, prodigious environmental challenges and imminent cold war with India and the US in certain regions China will face considerable challenged in the future. Such increasing economic adversities will result in slowing down the level of the current economic boom.

The Americans have surpassed China in terms of per capita income. American per capita income was last recorded at $51,486 in 2015, while China had just $6,416.18 in the same year. According to Bloomberg, for the first time in almost a decade, China has lost ground in catching up with the US economy, when output is measured in dollars. American GDP increased $590 billion in 2015 from a year earlier. China’s economy, while reporting 6.9 percent growth for the year, added $439 billion. The yuan is projected to depreciate to 6.79 against the dollar, down more than seven percent from the average level in 2015.

On the military front, the US enjoys an unrivalled superiority in the world. According to SIPRI, the US remains by far the world’s largest military spender with a total expenditure of $596 billion – at nearly three times the level of China, which is ranked second. Moreover, American military exports account for nearly 33 percent of worldwide arms exports – by far the top arms exporter on the planet. Though China has upped its share of global arms exports by over 60 percent compared to the 2006-2010, it still lags behind the US in terms of exporting sophisticated arms to developing countries.

Apart from that, the US holds around 800 military bases in some 50 countries, spending about $156 billion annually on them. Its navy has 10 large nuclear-powered carriers, the largest carriers in the world. From the Atlantic Ocean to the South China Sea, American battleships can be seen prepared for any unfortunate incident against the burgeoning interests of either the US or its allies. Neither Russia nor China possesses such ubiquitous and sophisticated aircraft carriers to challenge American naval potency at least in the near future.

The most important yardstick of a potential superpower is its continuous and growing resourcefulness and innovation. Of the nine largest tech companies in the world, eight are based in the US. Today, American research universities and scientific institutions are the best, thus allowing the country to produce new products while leaving the world behind. “America has come back from the financial crisis with robust technology innovation leading the recovery, while China’s economy is heading down”, says Niu Jun, an international relations professor at Peking University.

At present, the US is spending about 30 percent of all research and development money to keep its comparative advantage intact. For decades Americans worried about energy dependency, yet today the US is the world’s number one producer of oil and natural gas largely due to its qualitative and unmatchable research in the field of energy. Both China and Russia need approximately 30 to 40 years and investment of billions of dollars to catch up with the Americans in the field of research and development.

Last but not the least, in today’s globalised world, democratic and liberal countries make far greater progress than undemocratic and illiberal states. Unlike China and Russia, the US has the best democratic institutions which have immensely helped it maintain and foster military strength and economic growth. Such a system has brought the best brains to the saddle in all government departments.

In a nutshell, due to its increasing economic, military, technological and democratic power, the US will continue to enjoy the position of the global superpower in the near future. China and Russia can be considered as major world powers in terms of military and economic strength. Therefore, it is imperative for Pakistan – for greater national interests – to cultivate amicable relations with all these three powers, particularly China and the US, in the days ahead.

The writer is editor of The Asia Watch.

Email: ayazahmed6666@gmail.com

Twitter: @ayazahmed66665

The article originally appeared in The News.

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