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Decline of the american empire

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Decline of the american empire

Decline of the American Empire

In any era there are different protagonists, playing the same game on a similar board. Like a game of Risk, there are nations competing to become the foremost leaders of their time. They amass great wealth, powerful armies, and political sway. When the influence and might of these countries transcends the confines of their boundaries, so that they become a presence throughout the world, they become empires. At times, it seems as though one of these empires wins the game, becoming the undisputed superpower in the world. Today, there is one such nation that has outlived all of its rivals in the great game, it is the United States of America.

This vast empire of political power, economic and military supremacy, exerts its influence over much of the world. It has risen from the obscurity of the New World, to a level of predominance unprecedented in history. America is more than the sum of its territories, it the sun around which the other powers revolve. Regardless of geographic location or technological development, American culture, economics and politics are concerns for the entire globe. In this age of instant communication and information, what preoccupies America, to some extent preoccupies the world.

America has become eponymous with the 20th century, we live in the American Century1 in a state of "American Peace". By the might of its armies and wealth of its economy America has created an imperial peace, ensuring that threats to world peace are put in check. The "American Peace" has also been a justification to impose American will on almost every part of the world, from Vietnam to Haiti. In order to exert such power, the United States has created a massive military apparatus, and has undertaken numerous foreign obligations. But as the American Empire grew more powerful, it also became more complicated, and eventually over-extended in its obligations; and hence, more difficult to sustain. It suffers from the ailments that inflict empires when they age: a loss of direction, fiscal excess, cultural degradation and a bloated military.

When a dominant empire declines, another empire emerges to replace it. It is a cycle that has held true throughout history. Rome replaced Carthage, Ottoman Turkey replaced Byzantium, Britain replaced France, America replaced Britain. Like past empires, America can neither sustain its power indefinitely, nor can it exist statically under the weight of its current difficulties. While unprecedented domestic disunity and a sense of economic decline rack America a resurgent Europe stands to eclipse the American Empire. The close of the American Century may well be the beginning of the final twilight of the American Empire.

The United States of America rose to its position of prominence in the 20th century by filling the vacuum left by the waning powers of Europe. The old empires of Europe had grown too vast; the British Empire alone covered one fifth of the globe. Their economies lost the vigour of youthful growth, while the cost of maintaining their armies grew immense. The great powers of Europe finally self-destructed within the span of two world wars. Following the Second World War, the colonial empires disintegrated with the rise of independence movements. Consequently, Europe lost its easy access to foreign markets and sources of raw materials, leaving it further weakened, creating the opportunity for the emergence of a new economic and military power.

Due to geographic chance, and thanks to the opportunity created by the implosion of Europe, only the United States emerged stronger after the war. It had not endured fighting on its soil and its industries and infrastructure were undamaged. America, rejuvenated and inspired by its heroic feats, took up the duty of nursing Europe back to health. While Europe was convalescing, the United States was substituting for Europe throughout the post-war world. Thus, the Eurocentric world gave way to the American hegemony.

The United States inherited the bi-polar world that emerged after the Second World War. Countries aligned themselves either to United States or to the Soviet Union in a tense Cold War. America actually benefited from the Cold War, as it was the undisputed leader of the alliance of Western countries. The Cold War era was an extension of the war period, with the new enemies being the Soviet Union and its communist satellites. With the looming threat of communism, the United States undertook the creation of a massive military, and assumed the role of protector of the Western alliance. This siege mentality, unified the American public in a single cause, namely the defeat of communism and the triumph of American democracy.

Still, this unity could not survive the end of the Cold War. Antagonism between the races, a growing rift between the haves and have-nots, resentment of immigrants, and a growing hatred of the federal government and its social programs pulled at the threads of America's unity. At the same time, Americans were forced to re-evaluate their culture and values. As they became less idealistic and more realistic, they also became more frightened. Fundamental ideals such as the mythical Melting Pot, supposedly intended to integrate all Americans into one culture, proved to be faulty. Events such as the Million Man March, the Los Angeles Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial point to a society that is fragmenting along ethnic lines.

Furthermore, the United States is in a fiscal crisis, created to a large extent by military overspending. So what is the justification for a massive military designed to win two wars simultaneously? It would seem that there is none. It is true that American interests are threatened by rogue nations like North Korea and Libya. And anti-American terrorists pose both a foreign and domestic threat to American security. But, America can no longer afford to keep an exaggerated military intended to defend not only the United States, but many of its allies. The military diverts more than $300 billion annually in resource capital, materials, skilled labour, engineers and scientists from non-military functions. America spends 65% of federal R&D funds on defence, while only 0.5% on environmental protection and 0.2% on industrial developments. This despite the fact that pollution and loss of productivity are more immediate threats than nuclear proliferation or annihilation. Unlike the United States, countries like Germany and Japan - who avoided large military expenditures - can continue to make large capital investments in their economies. Whereas, the United States tries to save itself from defaulting on its debts.

As well as economic decline, the United States is also in danger of losing its diplomatic ascendancy. Economic power is increasingly tied to diplomatic efforts, such as the opening of new markets and the maintenance of favourable trading practices. If the United States is to keep its current influential role in world affairs, it must ensure that it maintains its credibility as a superpower. However, a dangerous trend is returning to American politics. It is the all too familiar American practice of isolationism. It threatens to injure not only American credibility, but also American economic power. An empire can neither prosper or be influential in isolation.

Until the United States joined the Allied forces in World War I it was a virtual non-power in world affairs. Its sphere of influence did not extend far beyond its borders. America pursued a policy of isolationism, avoiding alliances, commitments and involvement beyond its borders. This practice, which returned again after the end of the Great War, was finally reversed with America's participation in the Second World War. Since the end of the last war, America has been the most influential country in the world because it took the proactive position of leader of the Western nations.

Fifty years after the end of the war, the policy of isolationism is creeping back into American politics. Now, however, it is be far more damaging than before. The world is embracing multilateralism- co-operation between countries in the framework of international organizations. The most important of these organizations is the United Nations. However, the Republican Party of the U.S. Congress seems intent on ignoring the United Nations. They promise to "prevent funds being diverted to UN peacekeeping, [and] prevent U.S. forces from being placed under any foreign, especially UN command." By pursing such a policy, America threatens to alienate its it allies and bring the wrath of all UN countries against it.

If America continues in this trend of non-participation, other countries will have no choice but to fill in for the absentee superpower. This could be the opportunity for a middle power, such as Europe, to exercise its own military muscle, and in the process garner international credibility. The United States has further proven its failure to embrace multilateralism, most recently when it chose not to ascend to the World Trade Organization (whose goal it is to liberalize trade). It has also receded from its previous intentions of bringing Chile into the North American Free Trade Association, as well as other international agreements. Not only do these moves deny American businesses new economic opportunities, they also threaten to sour relations between the United States and its allies.

With the disappearance of the bi-polar world, and the growth of multilateralism, the United States can ill afford to stay aloof from the world stage. By flirting with isolation the United States endangers its international credibility and influence. Although, it is still the only superpower, it cannot maintain its influence by the might of its military alone. In the post-Cold War era, economic power is replacing the value of military power. In the past America's military might translated to diplomatic power. The new reality is that arms have proven to be counterproductive, they become a major drain on ...

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