Learning to Not Be #1

2008 Sep 23

I work in an office with several folks who think it is in the best interests of the world if the United States is able to preserve its military and economic superiority over all other nations and thus preserve the Pax Americana that’s existed since the end of the Second World War. This is the basis of a large swath of American economic, military, and foreign policy for many decades (yes, even during the Clinton years), articulated by organizations such as the Project for the New American Century.

Personally, I think that the greatest challenge facing the United States (and possibly the world) in the next 50 years is figuring out how American can not be a superpower, since our predominance is impossible to maintain indefinitely. Unlike most other states, we don’t have much practice at playing second fiddle and are particularly bad at it. Additionally, the perpetual competition with all other nations in an attempt to preserve our superiority (in arms, in economics, in cultural dominance, spreading liberal democracy) keeps raising the stakes, making the possibility of America’s decline from the top spot more and more likely to be disruptive and violent, that we will either go down swinging or another state will feel required to muscle its way to the top.

In any political system, handling peaceful transfers of power between successive leaders, regimes, or political parties is critical for stability and preserving the legitimacy of the current system. The current global system of international relations between nation-states is such a political system. But I worry that the US is not prepared to peacefully transfer its superpower status to anyone, which will call the entire system into question, challenging it even more directly than it has already been in the past few decades.

One Response to “Learning to Not Be #1”

  1. Eric Says:

    “…our predominance is impossible to maintain indefinitely.”

    If the next age after “Pax Americana” is “Pax No-More-Humans-Are-Left-a,” do we count as the final winner?

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