We’re Number One

Walter Russell Mead surveys America’s great power competitors and finds them wanting.

Cataloguing the early losses from the financial crisis, it’s hard not to conclude that the central capitalist nations will weather the storm far better than those not so central. Emerging markets have been hit harder by the financial crisis than developed ones as investors around the world seek the safe haven provided by U.S. Treasury bills, and commodity-producing economies have suffered extraordinary shocks as commodity prices crashed from their record, boom-time highs. Countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, which hoped to use oil revenue to mount a serious political challenge to American power and the existing world order, face serious new constraints. Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must now spend less time planning big international moves and think a little bit harder about domestic stability. Far from being the last nail in America’s coffin, the financial crisis may actually resuscitate U.S. power relative to its rivals.

While I think his analysis is basically correct, it’s important to distinguish between criticisms of US hegemony that emphasize our unsustainable position vis-à-vis rising peer competitors and criticisms of US hegemony that emphasize the fundamental limitation of US power. After our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d venture that most critics of the status quo fall into the latter category. It’s quite possible that US hegemony persists well into the latter half of the 21st century. The question then becomes whether this unipolar arrangement is actually desirable.

UPDATE: Some people are more concerned with rising peer competitors than others. Shadow Government’s Dan Twining, for example, casually reminds us that “China [is] preparing for war.” By way of rejoinder, I’ll direct you to this convenient pie chart from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

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