Decline of US power only relative

Updated: 2012-03-10 07:57

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Decline of US power only relative

A growing number of Americans are displaying anxiety and pessimism about the perception that the United States is in decline on the world stage.

The media are constantly raising the alarm that the US' privilege and prestige are slipping away, and the great minds of the nation are earnestly debating what that means and what can be done.

All this is understandable in the wake of the global financial crisis, which has placed capitalism under scrutiny, and the US' high unemployment, huge national debt, and ballooning budget deficit.

While spending trillions of dollars on the war on terror in the past decade, the US has failed to address such necessary tasks as upgrading its infrastructure and fixing its education system.

This is in stark contrast to the phenomenal growth achieved in the past decade by emerging countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, whose combined GDP is expected to surpass that of the US by 2015.

There is no doubt that these developing nations have become increasingly active on the world stage. They are also demanding a bigger say in global governance.

The strong call for a candidate from a developing nation to replace Robert Zoellic, the World Bank president who will step down in June, is just the most recent example. Traditionally, the head of the international organization charged with reducing poverty and supporting development has been an American, and as such the body has often seemed to be an instrument of US policy.

But the world is different now.

In his new book No One's World: The West, The Rising Rest and the Coming Global Turn, Georgetown University Professor Charles Kupchan argues that the future of the world will not be dominated by the US, China, India, or anyone else.

For the first time in history, the world will be interdependent and not dominated by one or two powers.

Kupchan believes the world is becoming more politically and ideologically diverse. The emerging nations are following their own path to modernity and embracing their own conceptions of domestic and international order.

However, Robert Kagen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues in his latest book, The World America Made, that if the US were to commit "pre-emptive superpower suicide", there would be war among rising nations as they fought for power, the retreat of democracy around the world and the weakening of the global free-market economy, which the US created and has supported for more than 60 years.

It is true that the US has been the world superpower for decades and in many ways played a positive role. But that does not mean such power is not abused from time to time, such as in the case of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the continuation of the half-a-century embargo on Cuba.

And in this sense, the rise of other nations would help check the excessive influence wielded by the only superpower.

The US will remain as a major power in this multi-polar world. Its decline is likely to be relative.

Yet, the rise of developing nations means that hundreds of millions of people from Asia, Africa and Latin America are being lifted out of poverty - a great achievement for humanity - and have a greater voice in international affairs. And in this context, the relative decline of the US helps build a more balanced and perhaps more harmonious world, worth celebrating even by Americans.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. E-mail:

(China Daily 03/10/2012 page5)