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If the eighteenth belonged to the French, and the nineteenth to the United Kingdom, then the twentieth century belonged to the United States. That arc of power traces a story of military might, economic prowess, and an adaptive political system capable of withstanding tectonic shifts in the global order.
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UNTIL recent times the security of the United States has not been a subject of general concern. There still lingers the impression of days when the vastness of our oceanic barriers, the distribution of power in Europe, and the relative weakness of our hemispheric neighbors combined to provide us with a larger measure of unplanned national security than any other great nation has ever enjoyed for a comparable period of time.
IT HAS now been seven years since the United States embarked upon a positive and active course of world leadership in time of peace with the object of preserving freedom and preventing another world war. The date that took place was March 12, 1947, when President Truman asked Congress to appropriate $400,000,000 for economic and military and advisory aid to Greece and Turkey and proclaimed what became known as the Truman Doctrine, namely that it is the policy of the United States to support free peoples who resist attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
THE United States emerged from the Second World War as the strongest power, militarily and politically, the largest exporter and importer of goods and services, and the most important source of public and private capital. After an all-too-optimistic period of one-sided disarmament, this country was obliged to face up to the realities of the cold war and to give a lead to the free world in building an unprecedented arsenal of nuclear deterrence.
There has been much discussion in the last few years about the decline of American power. While American military capabilities remain enormous thanks largely to persistent technological advance and while the American economy remains the most powerful in the world, many observers have noted the discrepancy between capabilities and achievements. As the fall of Indochina, the rise of OPEC and recent events in Angola attest, the United States has had difficulty shaping the movements and outcomes of world affairs.
Examines areas which have been cited by 'declinist' writers as causes of the US economic, and hence national, decline, in particular (1) deficits (2) declining shares (3) 'systemic' failures. Highly critical of the arguments propounded by Paul Kennedy, counters that the real source of any nation's decline -- 'internal stagnation' -- is something from which America is not suffering. Economic or military power are not the only determinants of national power, and so decline cannot be seen against a purely economic background. Concludes that although US predominance in world affairs is not so secure as it was, "the ultimate test of a great power is in its ability to renew its power". Director, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.
Only a few years ago pundits were sure that the United States was losing to Asia and Europe and had to emulate their more state- directed economies to remain competitive. Now the conventional wisdom is that America is number one and that the rest of the world should adopt its more laissez-faire approach. In fact, neither caricature is right. Asia was booming and now it is slumping, but it will be back. Europe's underlying ossification will persist. But most important, while the U.S. economy is in a period of robust growth, nothing fundamental has changed. Its long-run growth rate has not accelerated, productivity has not risen, and the structural unemployment rate has fallen by one percentage point at most. Come the next recession, all this triumphalism will seem silly.
If America's current global predominance does not constitute unipolarity, then nothing ever will. And despite what many have argued, no serious attempts by others to balance U.S. power are likely for the foreseeable future. The sources of American strength are so varied and so durable that the country now enjoys more freedom in its foreign policy choices than has any other power in modern history. But just because the United States can bully others does not mean it should. If it wants to be loved as well as feared, the policy answers are not difficult to find.
Despite some eerie parallels between the position of the United States today and that of the British Empire a century ago, there are key differences. Britain's decline was driven by bad economics. The United States, in contrast, has the strength and dynamism to continue shaping the world -- but only if it can overcome its political dysfunction and reorient U.S. policy for a world defined by the rise of other powers.
Since the United States first became a global superpower, it has been fashionable to speak of its decline. But in today's world, the United States' economic and military strength, along with the attractiveness of its ideals, will ensure its power for a long time to come.
It is currently fashionable to predict a decline in the United States' power. But the United States is not in absolute decline, and in relative terms, there is a reasonable probability that it will remain more powerful than any other state in the coming decades.