Skip to main content
a2b7d20346f86fa005528400_pa1533c.jpg Paul Lachine

American Power in the Twenty-First Century

The problem of American power in the twenty-first century is not one of decline, but of recognizing that even the most powerful country cannot achieve its aims without the help of others. In this sense, power becomes a positive sum game.

CAMBRIDGE – The United States government’s National Intelligence Council projects that American dominance will be “much diminished” by 2025, and that the one key area of continued American superiority – military power – will be less significant in the increasingly competitive world of the future. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has called the 2008 financial crisis a sign that America’s global leadership is coming to an end. The leader of Canada’s opposition Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, suggests that US power has passed its mid-day. How can we know if these predictions are correct?

One should beware of misleading metaphors of organic decline. Countries are not like humans with predictable life spans. For example, after Britain lost its American colonies at the end of the eighteenth century, Horace Walpole lamented Britain’s reduction to “as insignificant a country as Denmark or Sardinia.” He failed to foresee that the industrial revolution would give Britain a second century of even greater ascendency.

Rome remained dominant for more than three centuries after the apogee of Roman power. Even then, Rome did not succumb to another state, but suffered a death of a thousand cuts inflicted by various barbarian tribes. Indeed, for all the fashionable predictions of China, India, or Brazil surpassing the US in the coming decades, the classical transition of power among great states may be less of a problem than the rise of modern barbarians – non-state actors. In an information-based world of cyber-insecurity, power diffusion may be a greater threat than power transition.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/kwtb7E1;
  1. haass103_GettyImages_redeastasiamapdotslines Getty Images

    Asia’s Scary Movie

    Richard N. Haass

    A snapshot of Asia would show a region at peace, with stable societies, growing economies, and robust alliances. But, if we view history as a moving picture, we may well come to look back on this moment as the time in which the most economically successful part of the world began to come apart.

  2. roubini130_GettyImages_iphonehandstealingpiggybank Getty Images

    The Great Crypto Heist

    Nouriel Roubini

    Cryptocurrencies have given rise to an entire new criminal industry, comprising unregulated offshore exchanges, paid propagandists, and an army of scammers looking to fleece retail investors. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of rampant fraud and abuse, financial regulators and law-enforcement agencies remain asleep at the wheel.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.