by Ian Bremmer ≈Op-Ed≈The Mark News≈
The United States is facing something it never has before: waning global influence. In the end, however, the United States will remain the world’s most powerful nation.
The risk facing the United States is not a collapse like that of the Roman Empire, but rather a gradual, relative dilution of its influence abroad and a dampening of its spirit at home.
The greatest single challenge to its authority is the emergence of China as an economic and political colossus.
China is on track to become the world’s largest economy, having recently supplanted Japan for the No. 2 spot. It is already the leader in world trade. In 2006, the United States was the largest trading partner for 127 countries, while China was the largest trading partner for only 70. By last year, however, the figures had flipped: China was the largest trading partner for 124 countries, while the tally for the United States was 76. Countries that are now less dependent on the United States are also less likely to bend to its will.
The Obama administration’s much-vaunted “Pivot to Asia” strategy, according to which America is redirecting the focus of its foreign policy to build power in China’s immediate sphere of influence, seems to have disappeared from the agenda. I haven’t heard John Kerry mention the pivot once since he became Secretary of State. Instead, Washington’s attention has been drawn back to the Middle East – specifically to Syria, Egypt, and Israel/Palestine (with more on Iran soon to come as nuclear discussions heat up).
To counter China’s economic upsurge, the United States must build new alliances to foster free trade and economic liberalization. It needs to build a coalition of the economic willing.
Unfortunately, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s recent revelations that the United States spied on the United Nations, the European Union, and more than 80 embassies and consulates worldwide have seriously undermined the trust that would be required to coordinate such a coalition.
The Snowden leaks have also set back American efforts to exert any kind of moral pressure on China to stop its long-term practice of ignoring rules that govern international trade – rules that most industrial democracies follow.
The waning of U.S. power is a function of domestic issues, as well. Until recent years, the United States enjoyed an unprecedented period of prosperity. Now, given the extraordinary rise of the U.S. deficit, the growing gap between America’s rich and poor, and the erosion of some core U.S. ideals, such as support for free markets and human rights, many Americans believe that the world’s only superpower is becoming just another country.
Looking from the top down, from the perspective of Americans who are doing well, the United States does not appear to be in decline at all – in fact, it looks like it is probably a better place to live than it has ever been. Yet, from the perspective of the bottom half of American earners, the United States is going downhill. They don’t have the opportunities they once did, and they fear that their children won’t either.
While its challenges are real, the United States is still the world’s only true superpower.
Look at the U.S. energy revolution. By exploiting its shale oil reserves, the United States has pretty much guaranteed that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a net exporter of oil.
The United States is also still the most prolific innovator in the world. The things that have changed the global economy and broadened the horizons of science have been overwhelmingly developed in the United States.
If any country has the wherewithal to adapt to the changing context and defend its interests despite the dilution of its economic and political supremacy, it is the United States.
Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a global political risk research and consulting firm. He created Wall Street’s first global political risk index, and currently teaches at Columbia University.