Unipolar Moment

These are my notes that I used to prepare for a global politics graduate class at the London School of Economics. They largely discuss reasons for and against American exceptionalism. I don’t recommend reading them as you would read an essay, but they have useful quotations and pro/con arguments that you may want to use if you have to prepare or write an essay on the topic. May it help you in whatever way you deem necessary. It’s not complete, but it’s quite extensive.

It covers in what sense the US is an exceptional power, possibilities of decline, the historical debate, how China plays into US power, and lessons of empires in history.

“Critiques Of” includes thinkers or ideas that challenge the topic. “Importance Of” explains the most important points on the topic from the thinker’s point of view. And “Excerpts Of”, as the name suggests, offers a few quotes by the thinkers.


In what sense is the United States an exceptional great power?

Is “Empire” a useful or useless way of thinking of American power in the international system?


Are we witnessing the end of the unipolar moment and the demise of American primacy?

What do you understand by the term “unipolar moment”?



Does China’s rise signify the end of the American era?


How useful are concepts derived from pre-twentieth century empires to the analysis of contemporary American power?

How useful is a knowledge of ancient and pre-modern empires to understanding the foreign policy of the USA today?

Can the analysis of pre-twentieth century empires help one understand the current relationship between the United States and the rest of the world?


“The world would be a more dangerous and unstable place without American involvement in international affairs.” Discuss.


· In what sense is the United States an exceptional great power?

· What do you understand by the term “the unipolar moment”?

· Is “Empire” a useful or useless way of thinking of American power in the international system?

· Does China’s rise signify the end of the American era?


Normal State

  • Any kind of state subject to same laws of the international system and behaves in a normal way
  • The US is just like any other great power in that instance and behaves like powers have behaved in the past

Abnormal State

  • There will be something different, exceptional about certain types of power
  • Thinking about the US in the world, you got to forget comparison with other powers but rather look at it in its unique dimensions.
  • If one goes back to the notion to the history of great powers, what has been normal in their ascendancy?
  • Historically a great power every power has risen and fallen
  • It is quite reasonable to believe that Britain did go into the world war to maintain its system of colonies

Three Reasons of Rise and Decline

  • Imperial Overstretch
  • Ottoman Empire of WWI might have lasted a lot longer, but the very fact that their interest was tied to Imperial Germany, which lost, helped bring down that empire
  • The cost of running an empire increases when a government becomes more socially responsible to its people
  • The other reason is that empires fall is because other empires are rising

The Case for the US

  • Founding Fathers had a vision of liberty, but it was also their manifest destiny to conquer other lands
  • Formidable exercise of expansionary power
  • America’s geographical position is crucial
  • “By the end of WWI financial power had moved from London to New York.”
  • It doubled in size during WWII. A “Roman Moment” right after the end of that war
  • For 25 years after WWII we had Pax-Americana
  • America is an empire by invitation
  • Internal ideological crisis during the 1960s
  • Reagan was quite clear: he was going to rebuild American power ‘I will reverse American decline’
  • Reagan won the war by aggressively confronting the Soviet Union
  • In essence what Kennedy argues is the imperial overstretch argument
  • Japan the up anc coming went through a massive collapse
  • 1991 the USSR imploded ‘The Unipolar Moment’
  • By the end of the century, rather than talking about decline everyone is talking about the opposite
  • Iraq war was an extraordinary expression of power
  • What many people are now arguing is that whereas we talked earlier about US decline, in essence what people argue is that in the 1970s people were too early, and now is the moment
  • Don’t underestimate the United States!
  • China saved world capitalism
  • On the hard power they are not cutting back significantly
  • States that become No. 1 want to stay No. 1
  • Things are never inevitable
  • Finally the US sits at the heart of the financial system

So what?

  • It matters for the United States. How it sees self. It still sees itself as No.1
  • It has been a highly successful superpower
  • The US has been one of the great drivers of globalization
  • If United States fails, globalization fails
  • It does matter in terms of global order. Ultimately some sort of international order we have associated with a hegemon. But it is not necessarily always causing order.



  • Ikenberry: ‘The liberal order’s ‘easy to join, hard to overturn’ quality makes the absorption of newcomers more likely than not; others are less sure that rising nations with their own preferences can be integrated so easily (Quinn, 2011, 8)
  • Nye: ‘Power not only measured in military and economic terms’ If we define ‘power’ as a relation wherein one actor seeks to influence others’ behaviour towards preferred outcomes, then measuring states’ raw economic and military resources can give us only limited insight into its distribution. (Quinn, 2011, 9)
  • Thomas Friedman: The defining feature of world affairs was “globalization” and that if “you had to design a country best suited to compete in such a world, [it would be] today’s America.” He concluded on a triumphant note: “Globalization is us.” (Joffe, 1)


  • Globalized world where there is no other game in town other than the market, where liberal democracy has become the new political gold standard of the age, and where few but the most optimistic can see a way beyond the present set of economic arrangements, then we have to accept that US hegemony has never been more secure. (Cox, 2002, 333)
  • The danger of extrapolating unthinkingly from present trends: any prospective alternative leading power, for example China, still has a daunting mountain to climb in terms of financial clout, political will and international legitimacy before it could rival America.
  • Even as the United States loses its advantage in raw coercive ability, it could continue to reap advantage from the embedded institutional and normative order established during its hegemony.
  • America’s problems stem not from an objective lack of economic capacity, but rather from dysfunctional domestic politics blocking the sound decisions needed to curtail spending in some domestic areas and invest in national security priorities.
  • There are those who argue that ‘power’ must be reconceptualized to take account not only of material resources but of its ideational and relational aspects. (Quinn, 2011, 5)
  • Even as its relative superiority in resources declines, the United States might still elicit some desired outcomes from its international dealings by means of persuasive influence, and may even find that there are some advantages to decline in that regard (Quinn, 2011, 9)
  • Reflecting on the eve of the new millennium, he could but wonder at it all, and how it was that so many words about the end of the American century, much of it ‘nonsense’ in his view, could be written by so many apparently intelligent people about a future which turned out to be almost the opposite of what had been predicted. It was to him something of a mystery (Cox, 2002, 327)
  • ‘Attracting Immigrants’ Education and R & D are critical because they condition future performance. True, an increasing number of U.S. graduates in the hard sciences are foreign born or first-generation immigrants. But far from betraying a failure on the United States’ part, this trend actually dramatizes a unique advantage: no other country draws so many of the world’s best and brightest to its labs and universities, especially from China and India. (Joffe, 6)
  • ‘Difference in role’ What distinguishes the United States from the rest is its choice of role and mission in the world. This self-definition is best illuminated by a comparison with Russia, which wants back what it lost, and China, which wants more than it has. Both countries want more, but for themselves, not for all. Driven by selfish purposes, powers such as Russia and China cannot be what the United States was at its best in the twentieth century: a state that pursued its own interests by also serving those of others and thus created global demand for the benefits it provided. It is neither altruism nor egotism but enlightened self-interest that breeds influence. (Joffe, 7)
  • It is difficult to imagine China, India, Japan, Russia, or the EU as guardians of the larger common interest. The EU comes close, but it has neither the means nor the will to act strategically. Japan, although rich enough to marshal the means, will continue to huddle under the United States’ strategic umbrella as long as it is extended. India has the size and the population, but apart from being the poorest of them all, it is trapped in a permanent conflict with Pakistan (and a latent one with China), which monopolizes its resources and attention. China and Russia are revisionist powers in business only for themselves. They also lack the right polity. The United Kingdom and the United States are history’s only liberal empires. (Joffe, 7)


  • ‘The Cautionary President’ Obama is a president who, within the confines of the mainstream, embraces caution and restraint to the greatest extent that one could hope for without an epochal paradigm shift in the intellectual framework of American foreign policy-making (Quinn, 2011, 21)
  • ‘Perception of Obama’ Specifically in the realm of foreign policy, consensus on the Obama essence has proved little easier to find. At one point or other the President has variously been characterized as a realist, a liberal internationalist, an isolationist, a neo-conservative and an imperialist. Depending on which critic one opted to ask, and at what time over the course of his presidency, one could have been told that Barack Obama was a ‘cold-blooded’ pursuer of the narrow national interest averse to intervention, a misguided idealist in pursuit of the mirage of global harmony, a leftist fuelled by anti-colonial ‘rage’, an appeaser lacking the steel to confront America’s enemies abroad, the latest American president to disappoint realists by proving ‘addicted to war’, the latest to disappoint the progressive left by proving ‘nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike’, a risk-averse president trying to duck the responsibilities of international leadership, or simply a beleaguered pragmatist seeking the commonsense path.57 Sometimes even a single analyst has changed the label within a matter of weeks.58 Some have perceived a developmental arc over the course of his time in office.59 Others have queried—not for the first time—the usefulness of an inflexible diagnostic dichotomy between realism and idealism. Still, the relentless effort goes on to articulate some core principles worthy of the name ‘the Obama Doctrine’. (Quinn, 2011, 12)
  • For although the collective adrenaline rush surrounding the bin Laden operation infused the President temporarily with the glow of the successful adventurer, and though he offered rhetorical support in London for the ideal of defending individual rights against repression, the more fundamental character of his foreign policy has been defined by caution, self-restraint and consciousness of limits. With all due acknowledgement of the significance of recent events and pronouncements, this remains the case. (Quinn, 2011, 13)
  • But this president has appeared to operate on the principle that expanding Chinese power and influence is something to be managed, not confronted, and that that process is best handled with a soft diplomatic touch. (Quinn, 2011, 14)
  • One focuses on the presidency of Barack Obama, and consists of efforts to locate his approach within the intellectual historical context of US policy-making and evaluate its wisdom. The other concerns the status of the United States within the international order, and consists of debate over the sustainability of US primacy (Quinn, 2011, 1)
  • As the twenty-first century unfolds, the United States will be younger and more dynamic than its competitors. And as a liberal empire, it can work the international system with fewer costs than yesterday’s behemoths, which depended on territorial possessions and had to conduct endless wars against natives and rivals. A Tyrannosaurus rex faces costlier resistance than the bumbling bull that is the United States. A final point to ponder: Who would actually want to live in a world dominated by China, India, Japan, Russia, or even Europe, which for all its enormous appeal cannot take care of its own backyard? Not even those who have been trading in glee and gloom decade after decade would prefer any of them to take over as housekeeper of the world. (Joffe, 10)



  • Cox (2002): The future of US hegemony is invariably posed in terms of a simple realist question: namely, who or what will emerge to challenge, balance, or even overthrow the current status quo? (Cox, 2002, 333)
  • Altman and Haass: ‘Fiscal Outlook Dire’ They note that the US fiscal outlook consists of three pieces of bad news, each worse than the last. In the short term, the situation is poor, with deficits of US$1.6 trillion and US$1.3 trillion in 2009 and 2010 respectively. In the medium term, it looks grimmer still, with CBO estimates suggesting that the accumulated total debt of US$9 trillion (62 per cent of GDP) in 2010 will have risen to 90 per cent of GDP by 2020, taking to US$5 trillion the annual cost to the Treasury simply of financing the deficit and refinancing mature debt (presumably through new borrowing). Worse, this takes no account of the approximately US$3 trillion in liabilities owed by state and local governments. And as for the long-term scenario, that is, after 2020, when the costs of rising public health-care commitments, social security liabilities and increased borrowing costs are taken into account, at that point the fiscal outlook becomes ‘downright apocalyptic. (Quinn, 2011, 4)
  • Kishore Mahbubani: “Sadly, . . . Western intellectual life continues to be dominated by those who continue to celebrate the supremacy of the West.” So the West, in this case the United States, is losing its grip not only on power but also on reality—going from Chapter 11 straight to the psychiatrist’s couch. In contrast, “the rest of the world has moved on. A steady delegitimization of Western power is underway.” And who shall inherit the earth? Mahbubani suggests China, which “should eventually take over the mantle of global leadership from America.” This is a subtly contemptuous version of America perdita—wishful thinking posing as sober analysis. (Joffe, 2)
  • Dimitry Orlov: “At some point during the coming years,” he wrote in his 2008 book, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, “the economic system of the United States will teeter and fall. . . . America’s economy will evaporate like the morning mist.” He calls both the Soviet Union and the United States “evil empires.” (Joffe, 2)


  • ‘Shift to the East’ There are two processes, not mutually exclusive, by means of which the US may decline in power relative to other nations: its own capacities degrade, and/or those of others expand. In the present debate, Mahbubani has made perhaps the most vehement case that power is moving to the global East not only as a result of the West’s weaknesses but because of the increasing competence of Asian nations. With somewhat more circumspection, Zakaria concludes similarly that the era of American dominance is drawing to a close because ‘the rest’ are getting better at doing the things necessary to carry weight in the world: order their own societies, generate wealth, and harness it for strategic purposes (Quinn, 2011, 4)
  • ‘Will the US lose its confidence?’ A serious erosion in economic confidence in the United States, in the context of further critical questions being asked about the distribution of economic benefits in a globalisedworld now led by a country that to some at least looks increasingly like a selfish, rather than a cooperative, hegemon, could easily generate a new round of soul searching. While this is unlikely to lead to yet another protracted debate about American power, it could—if the economic situation deteriorates far enough and for long enough—undermine the new American self-confidence and set off a new, and equally potent, discussion about promises made and promises broken so early in the new American century. (Cox, 2002, 325)
  • ‘Economic decline will trigger military weakness’ This profound undermining of the US government’s solvency is a bad thing in itself for the nation, but also has implications for the sustainability of its advantage in that sphere in which it is universally recognized as the present world leader: military capability. In order to retain its present status of military primacy, the United States needs funds with which not only to sustain its existing troops and equipment, but also to fund the research, development and procurement of future generations of weaponry. Military technology can move forward in bursts rather than at a steady, gradual pace, and without continued significant investment in the discovery and harnessing of the technologies of the future, the unparalleled advantage at present enjoyed by the US through its mixture of air power, aircraft carriers and communications technology may ‘waste’ sooner than is often imagined. Taking all these considerations into account, it should not be surprising that even the United States’ own intelligence assessment predicts that by 2025 the nation will be ‘less dominant’ and that ‘shrinking economic and military capabilities may force the US into a difficult set of tradeoffs between domestic versus foreign policy priorities’. In short, US primacy shows all the signs of being unsustainable, and, to paraphrase Herbert Stein’s dictum, that which is unsustainable will not be sustained. (Quinn, 2011, 5)
  • The establishment of material power and the extension of political and ideological reach are inextricably intertwined processes. The United States did not first sweep the world gathering recognition for its hegemonic legitimacy and then build material preponderance on the basis of it. In fact, it did something resembling the reverse: first establishing substantial national wealth while relatively disengaged from global politics, then becoming militarily entangled abroad, and then seeking to establish a framework for ideological hegemony last of all. (Quinn, 2011, 8)
  • ‘No Single Power’: In any case, predicting America’s relative decline and predicting the establishment of a comparable new hegemony with a single state at its apex are quite different things. More likely, in the absence of some unforeseen implosion on the part of the United States, is the creation of a world where no single power exercises the level of influence previously enjoyed by the US (Quinn, 2011, 8)
  • ‘Give in to the dying of the light’. Facing this incipient period of decline, America’s leaders may walk one of two paths. Either the nation can come to terms with the reality of the process that is under way and seek to finesse it in the smoothest way possible. Or it can ‘rage against the dying of the light’, refusing to accept the waning of its primacy. President Obama’s approach, defined by restraint and awareness of limits, makes him ideologically and temperamentally well suited to the former course in a way that, to cite one example, his predecessor was not. He is, in short, a good president to inaugurate an era of managed decline. Those who vocally demand that the President act more boldly are not merely criticizing him; in suggesting that he is ‘weak’ and that a ‘tougher’ policy is needed, they implicitly suppose that the resources will be available to support such a course. In doing so they set their faces against the reality of the coming American decline. (Quinn, 2011, 20)
  • American power, and the world that power helped to create, has not just been preserved, but in many important ways is now more complete than it was back in 1941 or even 1945. After all, in the period since Luce authored his much-quoted article, two potent enemies in the shape of Germany and Japan have been defeated, large parts of the world have been remade in the image of America, the ideological alternative in the shape of communism has been seen off, the Third World challenge has come and gone, the other superpower has collapsed, US-influenced multilateral institutions have been set up and continue to fourish, and everywhere it seems people are more infuenced by American ideas, American idioms, American culture and even by the idea of America itself. (Cox, 2002, 332)
  • Naturally, all these various indicators have to be set in a broader context which recognizes that the United States still retains a great deal of hard power; furthermore, that it will for some time to come, remain the most signifi cant international actor to which others will tend to turn when in trouble. (Cox, 2007, 652)
  • Today, there is only one challenge to the dominance of the U.S. economy: the European Union’s aggregate GDP of $18 trillion. But the more appropriate comparison may be with the 16-member eurozone, which has a common monetary policy and a rudimentary common fiscal policy—and a collective GDP of $13.5 trillion, less than that of the United States. But an unwieldy conglomeration of 27, or even 16, states cannot be a strategic player. (Joffe, 3)



  • Cox (2002): Most IR theorists have not foreseen the the of the Cold War in Eastern Europe, nor the collapse of the Soviet Union, no the East sian Crisis, nor Japan’s swift transformation in the 1990s (312)
  • Cox (2002): The only thing that could be said with certainty after the Cold War was that there was no certainty at all. (312)
  • Cox (2002): According to critics, realism was simply not up to the job of understanding the new world order as the global economic change was fast undermining the notion of sovereignty and non-state forces
  • Henry Luce (1941): He was the first scholar, who coined the term ‘American Century’
  • Henry Luce (1941): The US undoubtedly had major and scientific advantages
  • Cox (2002): All this much is obvious from the historical record. Yet those who dispute the idea that the United States was not essential to restoring some form of new equilibrium after 1945 either miss the main point, or have such a restricted notion of what a hegemon is, that no power in history—including the USA after the war—could ever be defined as one.
  • John Ikenberry: 50 years after it emerged hegemonic, the United States is still the dominant world power at the centre of a relatively stable and expanding democratic capitalist order’ (Cox, 2002, 332)
  • Post Cold War: Jimmy Carter, this ‘accountant of decline’ and ‘manager of retreat’ as he was once described, was even less upbeat. The international system, he believed, had become a more complex place in which power was no longer in the hands of the United States alone. (Cox, 2002, 320)
  • Kennedy: Decline was relative, more in terms of a prediction, rather than a description of the United States as it then was; for the present from a serious examination of the past: and what the past taught, he believed, was that all great powers, including the USA, followed a similar if not identical trajectory. (Cox, 2002, 323)
  • Joseph Nye: Finally, the declinists in his view failed to provide a complete picture of the balance of power. Again, things were not as bad as the pessimists assumed. Japan was a one-dimensional great power with little military clout and even less ideological appeal; Europe still remained a series of states with no collective strength in the larger international system; and the USSR was reeling from its own contradictions. There was no reason to be downcast. The USA had both the capacity and the desire to lead. Indeed, as the title of his book made clear, it was bound to do so (Cox, 2002, 326)
  • Huntington’s forceful celebration of American exceptionalism was matched in turn by an equally fierce repudiation of the main declinist claims. Many of the so-called symptoms of decline were in fact plain invention, he insisted, and he proceeded to swot them down, one by one. First, the budget deficit: this was not insignificant he accepted, but was in the process of being reduced through careful scal management. Next came the USA’s declining share of the world product. This he maintained had remained remarkably stable between 1970 and 1990. Finally, he turned to US power more generally. Once again, there was far less to be worried about than the declinists believed. As Huntington put it, the USA was a ‘peculiarly multi-dimensional’ power whose position within the larger international system remained central. Wherein therefore lay the danger? The answer basically was from within, from those who had little understanding of international realities. (Cox, 2002, 326)
  • Richard Haass ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’: The problem with Kennedy, he believed, was not that he dabbled in history, but that he pontificated about the present and future. No doubt his reflections about the past were interesting enough, but this was not the issue. It was the way that Kennedy then employed history that worried Haass. For if enough people were convinced that his general thesis was right, and that retrenchment was necessary in order to prevent US decline, then this could easily lead to a dangerous ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ that would encourage indiscriminate defence cuts and weaken US credibility abroad. (Cox, 2002, 326)
  • Therein, amid a richly evidenced argument regarding the reasons for the decline of previous dominant powers, Kennedy made the case that an analogy might be drawn with the prospects of the United States: as its foreign commitments extended, ultimately exceeding the limits of the economic base from which it must sustain them, so decline would set in. Subsequently, the collapse of the Soviet Union and an American economic boom made Kennedy’s arguments seem less plausible, at least to most. (Quinn, 2011, 2)
  • Niall Ferguson has gone halfway, warning that although “the balance of global power is bound to shift,” “commentators should always hesitate before they prophesy the decline and fall of the United States.”


  • ‘WWI Shift’ First World War massive shift in balance of political and economic power between the United States and Europe (Cox, 2002, 314)
  • The US reached only its true superpower status after WWII. After the war, it controlled half of the world’s economic product, 70 percent of the world’s merchant marine, three quarters of all agricultural surpluses, the same proportion of all the world’s planes, 90 percent of the world’s natural gas and the bulk of all the world’s planes (Cox, 2002, 314)
  • After the war the US economy had roughly doubled in size, there were jobs for all, living standards were at an all-time high, US industries were working at full capacity, and most of these were world leaders and would remain so for the next two decades at least.
  • Post-Cold War: According to some, the United States was no longer capable of underwriting global stability. A number of writers even talked of a critical transition from one era of US hegemony to another of mere preponderance, and assumed that this was bound to have grave implications for the international economic order. (Cox, 2002, 320)
  • Reagan Era: They saw problems; he saw solutions. Their pessimism about the future placed them very much outside the country’s mainstream. Reagan stood very much within it and took it for granted that the United States was not only exceptional, but was so precisely because there was no obstacle it could not in the end overcome. Thus to think that decline was the USA’s fate was almost un-American in his view. The world was there to be refashioned, and his administration would do it through a combination of bold measures that would roll back the frontiers of government at home and in this way revive the US economy from below, re-establish the international moral high-ground and in the process ditch the Vietnam syndrome, and confront the source of most of the USA’s ills—the Soviet Union—and force it on to the defensive for the first time in a decade.
  • Indeed, in one very critical sense, the collapse of the ‘Second’ communist world, with its inevitable knock-on effects in the ‘Third World’, only accelerated those pre-existing tendencies that were leading to that most important of modern economic phenomenon with which the United States in particular has been identifed—globalisation. (Cox, 2002, 329)
  • In many ways, at the heart of the great debate about the future of US foreign policy after 1968 was not just a single argument about the USSR and how best to contain it, but an even more significant narrative about the condition of US power and how it might best be restored. To many, in fact, it was the defeaning problem around which all others revolved. Such an obsession might look faintly odd from the perspective of the new century. Two or three decades earlier it looked anything but, and we need to remember that fact lest we end up deleting one of the more significant debates from postwar US history (Cox, 2002, 332)
  • The observation that history is as much a construction as a set of given facts is hardly an original one, of course. No less a Victorian than Carr made much the same point many years ago. Still, it is a good a way as any of reminding ourselves how easily perspective can change with the passage of time.
  • ‘US by 21st century had all the features of a modern empire’ Equally, there were an increasing number who now began to argue that even though many Americans might deny the fact (indeed, felt ill at ease with the notion), in reality the United States by the beginning of the twenty-fi rst century had all the features of a modern empire, including, among other things, a massive military lead over its nearest competitors and friends, an extensive system of global alliances ranging from Asia to Europe, a massive intelligence-gathering apparatus, and a global culture and economy that were the envy of the world. Call it a hegemon, even a ‘hyperpower’; call it what you want, this was an empire in all but name. As one wit noted in the midst of the new empire debate, if it walked like a duck, quacked like a duck, and swam like a duck then by God it was a duck, and a mighty big duck at that. (Cox, 2007, 649)
  • ‘The Analogy to Athens’ Indeed, the ancient Greeks more generally have recently become an almost indispensable accompaniment to any serious discussion about what happens to empires that go too far. The Sicilian expedition in particular has become popular of late. That expedition, we are invited to recall, was originally going to be a most modest affair but soon turned into a major operation. At fi rst things seemed to go well (much as they did for the Americans in Iraq). Later, though, the whole operation went very badly wrong—so wrong, in fact, that it contributed signifi cantly to the final demise of Athenian power. It also changed the very nature of Athens itself and the way Athenian power was regarded by its neighbours and allies. Before the war, of course, Athens had been able to hold a wide alliance in place by demonstrating restraint and care. After its Sicilian adventure, this proved to be increasingly difficult. Indeed, it found itself—much like the United States today—in a much weakened international position, with fewer genuine friends surrounding it, former allies distancing themselves from it, and a seething tide of resentment being directed against it by emboldened enemies (Cox, 2007, 650)
  • ‘Empires with finite lifespan’ One was the more general theoretical notion, largely realist in origin, which argued that there were certain basic laws governing the operation of the international system, the most important of which was that all empires had a finite lifespan. The other was the self-evident fact (self-evident at least to those living at the time) that the American century was fast coming to an end after a mere 25 years. Nobody articulated this daring and, for some, potentially damaging thesis more consistently than Henry Kissinger. Americans, he warned in a most un-American fashion, had to get used to the fact that the world by the late 1960s was in a state of transition that could only work to America’s long-term disadvantage. (Cox, 2007, 645)
  • The one thing it is unable to do, though, is avoid the single most important law of international history: the one which insists that, however singular and exceptional a powerful nation’s qualities might be, it cannot, for ever, expect to determine the way in which the international system operates. (Cox, 2007, 653)
  • Certainly, in a world without a clear threat uniting dependent states around the USA’s protective mantle, where the other major actors (with the exception of the USSR) have more capabilities than they had in the first 25 years of the postwar period, and in which the rapid movement of money and capital outside the control of governments have made things far more dif. cult to manage, US power cannot be deployed as it once could in an age when the USA confronted a well-defined enemy and controlled well over half of the world’s economic resources, and when most economic activity tended to coincide with that entity we call the nation-state . All this much is self-evident. (Cox, 2002, 332)
  • One does not have to be an alarmist (and there are many around on the American side) to conclude that such a China cannot but limit US options, US choices and the range of things America can and cannot now do in the world (Cox, 2007, 651)
  • But by the end of the Bush administration, declinism had returned with a vengeance. This year, inspired by the global financial crisis, Paul Kennedy revisited the arguments he had laid out in his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers over 20 years ago. “The biggest loser is understood to be Uncle Sam,” he wrote. Chronic fiscal deficits and military overstretch—the twin scourge of his 1987 book—were finally doing in the United States, he argued, and the “global tectonic power shift, toward Asia and away from the West, seems hard to reverse.”



  • The “Rise of China” has been the most read-about news story of the twenty-first century, surpassing the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq War, the election of Barack Obama, and the British royal wedding.
  • This divergence in fortunes has produced two pieces of conventional wisdom in U.S. and Chinese foreign policy debates. First, the United States is in decline relative to China. Second, much of this decline is the result of globalization—the integration of national economies and resultant diffusion of technology from developed to developing countries—and the hegemonic burdens the United States bears to sustain globalization.
  • An alternative, though less prevalent, perspective rejects both of these assumptions. In this view, U.S. power is durable, and globalization and America’s hegemonic role are the main reasons why. The United States derives competitive advantages from its preponderant position, and globalization allows it to exploit these advantages, attracting economic activity and manipulating the international system to its benefit.
  • With few exceptions, however, existing studies on the decline of the United States and the rise of China suffer from at least one of the following shortcomings. First, most studies do not look at a comprehensive set of indicators. Instead they paint impressionistic pictures of the balance of power, presenting tid bits of information on a handful of metrics.
  • The United States and China, however, are each declining by some measures while rising in terms of others. To distinguish between ascendance and decline writ large, therefore, requires analyzing many indicators and determining how much each one matters in relation to others
  • At its core, the debate about U.S. decline is a debate about the relevance of history. Declinists contend that history tends to repeat itself and that the history of world politics can be characterized as a “succession of hegemonies,” as the recurrent “rise and fall of the great powers,” as an “observable pattern of great power emergence,” or as a series of “long cycles.” The Habsburg, French, and British Empires were defeated and surpassed by rising challengers. It is therefore natural for America’s “unipolar moment” to be similarly consigned to the ash-heap of history.
  • Several established academic theories underpin this cyclical view of history. First, declinists fuse hegemonic stability theory with traditional balance of power theory. In this view, the United States, like Great Britain in the nineteenth century, supplies the world with public goods. Weaker states not only free ride on these services, but also engage in sabotage, erecting diplomatic and economic obstacles to U.S. initiatives and forming anti-American alliances.
  • Second is the theory of convergence and its claim that, in an open global economy, poor countries tend to grow faster than rich countries. China, like Germany, Japan, and South Korea before it, can reap the “advantages of backwardness,” adopting modern technologies and methods while skipping the long, arduous process of inventing them. Meanwhile U.S. investment in foreign countries “tends to abort the reinvigoration of the American domestic economy and its technical infrastructure.” Globalization thus stimulates growth abroad while undercutting it at home, diffusing not just technology but also technological and military capabilities.
  • By contrast, the basic argument of the alternative perspective is that the laws of history do not apply to contemporary world politics. The United States is not like Britain; rather, its “combination of quantitative and qualitative material advantages is unprecedented, and it translates into a unique geopolitical position.” Moreover, China is not like past rising challengers; “its emergence is occurring in the context of a transformation in the manner in which production is organized, a shift that makes China’s rise categorically different from that of predecessors such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea.”
  • In sum, the declinist perspective emphasizes how U.S. hegemony and the current global economy resemble those of past eras, whereas the alternative perspective em phasizes how they are unique
  • According to declinists, the United States is suffering from a classic case of the “hegemon’s dilemma.” To maximize its absolute economic gains, the United States must provide and police a regime of free commerce regardless of what other countries do. This policy, however, “insures that it will experience a relative economic decline and in time, therefore, a decline in its hegemonic position.” In this view, the United States is either benevolent or impotent, unwilling or unable to force others to help maintain the international order. Declinists do not agree on why the hegemon sacriªces its resources and energy to support the system—for some, the hegemon acts out of self-interest; for others, the hegemon is motivated by “conscience, duty, obligation, or such oldfashioned notions as noblesse oblige”—but they do agree that the public goods the United States provides “are not productive investments, they constitute an economic drain on the economy of the dominant state.”
  • On one hand, there is what Albert Hirschman called the “polarization effect” by which wealth and power concentrate in areas that are already wealthy and powerful. On the other hand, there is an opposing “diffusive effect”; the tendency for ideas and technology to trickle down from established centers to peripheral areas and, as a result, for economic activity to spread to new locations.
  • In short, economic indicators are, to a significant degree, measures of military capability. Focusing on the former, therefore, does not imply ignoring the latter.
  • In 2000, the RAND Corporation conducted a comprehensive review of studies on national power and concluded that three interrelated sets of resources are most vital in international politics: wealth, innovation, and conventional military capabilities.


  • According to Goldman Sachs, by 2050 the Chinese economy will long have overtaken the U.S. economy, with a GDP of $45 trillion, compared with the United States’ $35 trillion (Joffe, 5)
  • Over the last two decades, globalization and U.S. hegemonic burdens have expanded significantly, yet the United States has not declined; in fact it is now wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991. As a result, others rise while the United States suffers from “imperial overstretch.”
  • On one hand, there is what Albert Hirschman called the “polarization effect” by which wealth and power concentrate in areas that are already wealthy and powerful. On the other hand, there is an opposing “diffusive effect”; the tendency for ideas and technology to trickle down from established centers to peripheral areas and, as a result, for economic activity to spread to new locations.
  • Declinists associate globalization with diffusion. Robert Pape, for example, calculates that “just over half” of the United States’ relative decline from 2000 to 2008, which he calls “one of the largest relative declines in modern history,” resulted from “the spread of technology to the rest of the world.” Similarly, Fareed Zakaria writes, “The unipolar order of the last two decades is waning not because of Iraq but because of the broader diffusion of power across the world.”
  • The second assumption is that economic backwardness is not a handicap, but rather a source of competitive advantage. Low living standards allow developing countries to engage in “cost innovation”—the production of hightechnology products at a fraction of the cost of technological leaders. To remain competitive, firms from rich nations may have little choice but to outsource parts of their business to the developing world, a strategy that further increases developing countries’ access to advanced technology. Over time, “with lower costs and equivalent technology backward societies frequently can outcompete the more affluent advanced society economically and militarily.”
  • Third, some scholars assume that exposure to global competition provides benficial discipline for developing economies. Unemployment may rise as inefficiences arms are weeded out of the market, but those that survive will become more effcient and gain access to wealthy, foreign consumers, thereby enabling a strategy of export-oriented growth. Japan, Korea, and Taiwan all became rich by selling their wares in foreign markets. Declinists expect China to follow suit.
  • Globalization has increased developing countries’ access to advanced technology, but it has also spawned a new mode of production— globally networked production—that may undercut their long-term technological development.
  • “The country creating a major cluster of innovations often finds immediate military applications and both propels itself to hegemonic status and maintains that status by that mechanism.”
  • “Even though nuclear weapons have become the ultima ratio regum in international politics, their relative inefficacy in most situations other than those involving national survival implies that their utility will continue to be significant but highly restricted. The ability to conduct different and sophisticated forms of conventional warfare will, therefore, remain the critical index of national power because of its undiminished utility, ºexibility, responsiveness and credibility.”
  • Multivariate regressions suggest that military effectiveness is determined by a country’s level of economic development, as measured by per capita income, even after controlling for numerous material, social, and political factors
  • Ferguson: 18 of the last 20 centuries saw China as the largest economy in the world
  • Ferguson: China more like a continent, 1/5 world population, 40x Canada, 11 cities with more than 6m people, past 30 years growth factor 10.
  • Ferguson: China taking over Germany as new patents granted
  • Ferguson: ‘Kissinger quote’ China’s quest for equal partnership with the US is no longer the outsized claim of a vulnerable country; it is increasingly the reality backed by financial and economic capacities.”
  • Zakaria: “China is a country whose scale dwarfs the United States. China is hungry for success.”
  • Ferguson: The 21st century will be China’s because an overweight, over-leveraged, over-sexed America, not to mention a dysfunctional Europe, are on the side.”
  • Ferguson: Nixon quote: Well you can just stop and think of what would happen if anybody with a decent system of government got control of that mainland. Good god, there’d be no power in the world that could even… I mean, you put 800 million Chinese to work under a decent system and they will be the leaders of the world.”
  • Li: Keyword Energy: The changes you have witnessed in the past decades in China at most are only halfway done. The changes came from a spectacular clash of civilizations between China and the West as recently as 170 years ago. The clash was a total failure for the Chinese. It came as a big humiliation to us, lasting from generation to generation. Even today our young kids are also taking in these lessons.
  • Li: The Reform and Opening Up finally changed China. Reform implies gradual and non-continuous improvements in our institutions, whether they are political or economic. Opening Up means learning whatever is best in the West. Deng Xiaoping would not be a fan of the Munk Debates. He would be a fan perhaps of Nike.
  • Li: Young people are not satisfied with the progress we have made.
  • Li: Keyword Revival of a peaceful, self-confident, open-minded civilization such as the Tang Dynasty.
  • Li: Keyword Influence: a) China’s emergence has given hopes to the poor in the world. b) China’s emergence gives us an alternative model of social and economic institutions. In this model more weight is given to social welfare, to social well being, to social stability, rather than pure, individual liberty. C) China in IR is looking for peace, looking for collaboration.
  • Ferguson: If China will repeat Japan’s economic history, then surely it will own the 21st century.


  • If China does shift resources into social services and support, exports and export-led growth will necessarily fall. Germany is an instructive case: it has about the same export ratio as China, but it also supports a welfare statethat eats up one-third of its GDP, which has resulted in an average annual growth rate of 1.5 percent over the last decade. (Joffe, 5)
  • Essentially, China will grow old before becoming rich, as Mark Haas, a professor of political science at Duquesne University, has noted. (Joffe, 5)
  • Perhaps it is time to play a different round of the compound-interest game so beloved by the declinists. Assuming Chinas economy grows at seven percent—twice the historical rate of the United States’—China’s GDP will double between 2007 and 2015, from $3.3 trillion to $6.6 trillion, and then double again by 2025, to $13.2 trillion. By that time, assuming 3.5 percent annual growth for the United States (the historical average), U.S. GDP will have grown to $28 trillion. Given the myriad challenges China faces, this scenario is more realistic than projections based on China’s recent growth rates. China, it seems, still has a way to go before it can dethrone the United States. (Joffe, 6)
  • China has narrowed the gap in terms of GDP and now exports a greater volume of high-technology products and employs more scientists than any country in the world. However, GDP correlates poorly with national power; more than 90 percent of China’s high-tech exports are produced by foreign firms and consist of low-tech components; and China’s quantitative advantage in scientists has not yet translated into qualitative advantages in innovation. The United States suffers from a huge debt problem that its political system appears ill suited to solve. China, however, faces its own fiscal mess, which may be more intractable than America’s.
  • The United States now formally guarantees the security of more than ªfty countries, has fought twice as many wars after the Cold War as during it, and spends 25 percent more (in real on defense today than it did in 1968 at the height of combat in Vietnam.
  • Second, because the United States allows the dollar to function as a global reserve and exchange unit, it must run persistent balance-of-payments deficits to supply the world with liquidity. Doing so, however, undermines not only the competitiveness of U.S. exports but also the confidence of markets and central banks in the dollar, thereby increasing the risk of a dollar collapse. Even if foreigners hold on to their dollar-denominated assets, the United States’ rising deficits trigger higher interest rates and, as a consequence, slower rates of economic growth. In addition, foreign creditors can wield their dollars as weapons, manipulating U.S. policy by threatening to sell their reserves. China’s holdings, at $1.5 trillion and climbing, loom especially large in this respect.
  • Third, because its economy accounts for a large portion of the world economy, the United States must maintain an open market, even in the face of foreign protectionism, to prevent the collapse of the global free trade regime.
  • As Arthur Stein writes, “Hegemons do not impose openness, they bear its costs.” Declinists tout Britain’s unilateral repeal of the Corn Laws in 1849 and the United States’ tolerance of Japanese, Korean, and European trade barriers during the Cold War as prime examples of such “asymmetrical trade agreements.”
  • The United States is both “system-maker and privilege-taker”—it pays a large share of system-maintenance costs but takes a disproportionate share of the benefits.
  • Most obvious, the United States, as hegemon, possesses an array of tools with which to reward and punish. It can provide, restrict, or deny access to the U.S. market, technology, foreign aid, and support for membership in international organizations, bribes, and White House visits. These tit-for-tat bargains with individual states, however, are not as consequential as the United States’ power over aspects of the international system itself. In the alternative perspective, hegemony is not just preponderant power; it is “structural power.” It is the power to set agendas, to shape the normative frameworks within which states relate to one another, and to change the range of choices open to others without putting pressure directly on them. It is, at once, less visible and more profound than brute force.
  • To be sure, the costs of maintaining U.S. military superiority are substantial. By historical standards, however, they are exceptionally small.
  • Globalization, therefore, may not be a neutral process that diffuses wealth evenly throughout the international system, but a political process shaped by the United States in ways that serve its interests.
  • In theory, globalization should help developing countries obtain and absorb advanced technology. In practice, however, this may not occur because some of the knowledge and infrastructure necessary to absorb certain technologies cannot be specified in a blueprint or contained within a machine. Instead they exist in peoples’ minds and can be obtained only through “hands-on” experience. The World Bank recently calculated that 80 percent of the wealth of the United States is made up of intangible assets, most notably, its system of property rights, its efficient judicial system, and the skills, knowledge, and trust embedded within its society. If this is the case, then a huge chunk of what separates the United States from China is not for sale and cannot be copied.
  • Compared to developing countries such as China, the United States is primed for technological absorption. Its property rights, social networks, capital markets, flexible labor laws, and legions of multinational companies not only help it innovate, but also absorb innovations created elsewhere. Declinists liken the U.S. economic system to a leaky bucket oozing innovations out into the international system. But in the alternative perspective, the United States is more like a sponge, steadily increasing its mass by soaking up ideas, technology, and people from the rest of the world. If this is the case, then the spread of technology around the globe may paradoxically favor a concentration of technological and military capabilities in the United States.
  • As Klaus Knorr argued, what matters for national power is not wealth, but “surplus wealth.” It is therefore significant that the average Chinese citizen is more than $17,000 poorer relative to the average American than he was in 1991
  • In the 1970s, however, the Chinese government reversed course and instituted the one-child policy. As a result, China will soon confront the most severe aging process in human history. Within twenty years, China will have 300 million pensioners, causing the ratio of workers per retiree to plummet from 8 to 1 today to 2 to 1 by 2040.97 The fiscal cost of this swing in dependency ratios may exceed 80 to 100 percent of China’s GDP.
  • In sum, the United States is now wealthier compared to China than it was in 1991. This prediction runs counter to declinism and provides suggestive support for the alternative perspective. The trends discussed above may change, and historians may one day look back on the recent financial crisis as the beginning of a massive transfer of wealth and power from the United States to China. Such an outcome will depend on, among other things, the relative rates of innovation in each country.
  • Nevertheless, the United States increased its lead in terms of R&D spending over the last twenty years (see ªgure 4), and still accounts for 50 percent of the world’s most highly cited scientific articles.
  • Chinese scientists are “preoccupied with quick outcomes and immediate returns,” and as a result, “quantitative gains in Chinese research productivity have not always been matched by qualitative gains.
  • The number of Chinese students enrolled in universities in the United States increased by an average of 9 percent annually between 1996 and 2011 and 20 percent annually between 2007 and 2011. Declinists assume these students return to China after graduating and therefore “threaten U.S. technological leadership.” But 90 percent of the Chinese students who received a science or engineering Ph.D. from an American university between 1987 and 2007 joined the American workforce, and these students were typically China’s best and brightest.
  • Thus, the ability to produce scientific breakthroughs may be less important than the ability to capitalize on them.
  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has identified ten “knowledge- and technology-intensive industries” that are capable of “altering lifestyles and the way business is conducted across a wide range of sectors.” The U.S. lead, in terms of value added, in knowledge- and technology-intensive manufacturing industries dipped during the 2001 recession but quickly recovered and has increased overall since 1996. Over the same time period, the United States steadily increased its lead in knowledge and technology-intensive services.
  • In sum, a comparison of U.S. and Chinese innovation systems over the past twenty years provides strong evidence against declinism and in favor of the alternative perspective that China continues to lag behind the United States. China has increased its investments in basic science, but these efforts have yet to significantly enhance its innovative capabilities. Data on Chinese hightechnology exports show that Chinese firms have increased their participation in high-technology industries. Data on commercial R&D, patents, and profits, however, suggest Chinese firms engage primarily in low-end activities, such as manufacturing and component supply. By contrast, U.S. firms seem to focus on activities in which profits and proprietary knowledge are highest.
  • China shares sea or land borders with nineteen countries, five of which fought wars against China within the last century; its northern and western borders are porous and populated by disaffected minority groups; and its government faces a constant threat of domestic rebellion. As a result, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) devotes substantial resources to internal security and requires 300,000 troops just to police China’s borders
  • Zakaria: Economic: one thing we’ve realized in the past decades is that nothing goes up in a straight line forever. China looks like it is about to inherit the world, but Japan looked like that for a while… China will follow that law of large numbers and regress at some point to a slow growth rate, perhaps a little bit later than the others because it is a much larger country.
  • Zakaria: Property bubble, huge amount of foreign direct investment, yet GDP growth only 200 basis points larger than India
  • Zakaria: China is demographically in decline. UN report: Over the next 25 years, China will lose 400 million people.
  • Zakaria: Even if China is overtaking the world, can it provide a hegemonic system and global leadership?
  • Zakaria: What is China going to do once it has a middle class? A transition to democracy, like in South Korea and Taiwan, is not an easy period.
  • Zakaria: There is no such thing as Asia. China is not rising in a vaccum. It is rising on a continent in which there are many, many competitors.
  • Kissinger: China will be preoccupied with enormous problems domestically, preoccupied with its immediate environment. I believe that the concept that any one country will dominate the world is, in itself, a misunderstanding of the world in which we now live.
  • Kissinger: China has to accommodate a society in which the coastal regions are at the level of advanced countries while the interior regions are at the level of underdevelopment. And they have to accommodate all of this in a political system that must take care both of the economic change that is being produced and the political adaption that inevitably has to result from the huge figures involved in the economic change.
  • Kissinger: Historically Chinese foreign policy can be described as barbarian management.
  • Kissinger: Our challenge will be to accommodate the rights of China. One of China’s challenges is to accommodate itself to a world in which it is not hegemonial as it has been for 18 of the last 20 centuries.


  • Change is inevitable, but it is often incremental and nonlinear. In the coming decades, China may surge out of its unimpressive condition and close the gap with the United States. Or China might continue to rise in place—steadily improving its capabilities in absolute terms while stagnating, or even declining, relative to the United States. At the time of this writing, the United States remains mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and carries the largest debt in its history. Moreover, the recent partisan standoff over raising the debt ceiling suggests the American political system is losing the capacity for compromise on basic issues, let alone on large-scale problems. It is impossible to say whether the current malaise is the beginning of the end of the unipolar era or simply an aberration. The best that can be done is to make plans for the future on the basis of long-term trends; and the trends suggest that the United States’ economic, technological, and military lead over China will be an enduring feature of international relations, not a passing moment in time, but a deeply embedded condition that will persist well into this century.
  • In recent years, scholars’ main message to policymakers has been to prepare for the rise of China and the end of unipolarity. This conclusion is probably wrong, but it is not necessarily bad for Americans to believe it is true. Fear can be harnessed in the service of virtuous policies. Fear of the Soviet Union spurred the construction of the interstate highway system. Perhaps unjustified fears about the decline of the United States and the rise of China can similarly be used in good cause. What could go wrong?
  • It would be tragically ironic if Americans reacted to false prophecies of decline by cutting themselves off from a potentially vital source of American power.
  • As Robert Gilpin and others have shown, “[H]egemonic struggles have most frequently been triggered by fears of ultimate decline and the perceived erosion of power.”By fanning such fears, declinists may inadvertently promote the type of violent overreaction that they seek to prevent.
  • Hegemony, of course, carries its own risks and costs. In particular, America’s global military presence might tempt policymakers to use force when they should choose diplomacy or inaction. If the United States abuses its power, however, it is not because it is too engaged with the world, but because its engagement lacks strategic vision. The solution is better strategy, not retrenchment.
  • The first step toward sound strategy is to recognize that the status quo for the United States is pretty good: it does not face a hegemonic rival, and the trends favor continued U.S. dominance. The overarching goal of American foreign policy should be to preserve this state of affairs. Declinists claim the United States should “adopt a neomercantilist international economic policy” and “disengage from current alliance commitments in East Asia and Europe.” But the fact that the United States rose relative to China while propping up the world economy and maintaining a hegemonic presence abroad casts doubt on the wisdom of such calls for radical policy change.


Zakaria: It may require that China stay internally focused and absorbed in a way that will not allow it to project enormous hegemonic power

Li: Zakaria is correct, but China is still making changes. Despite having obstacles, China will march on

Li: China’s emergence will be different from that of the U.S. and I also think it will not repeat the problems of Japan

Kissinger: Chinese role internationally has been based on gaining respect for its conduct. It has not been culturally geared to a global role. I believe that for China to manage its environment and its domestic situation, co-operation with the West — rather than attempts to dominate the West — will be required.

Ferguson: Trade patterns were shifted after financial crisis, and China discovered that its most dynamic market is its internal one.

Li: China did not sell massive amounts of Treasury bond holdings during the financial crisis. China has been the most patient long-term investor supporting today’s Europe and supporting the U.S. government.

Moya: Question on Africa

Kissinger: China has to learn some limitation on how it acts on the world, and we also have to realize that China is going to continue to grow

Li: China is gradually learning to innovate, but it will not be at the very cutting edge of innovation.

Ferguson: China will overtake Germany in terms of internationally recognized patents in the next couple of years and that is because of a huge effort on the part of China’s educational institutions.

Zakaria: Strange combination of science and consumer behavior when it comes to innovation

Zakaria: The American system is much better in that it teaches you to think, it teaches you to problem-solve, it teaches you to love learning for the rest of your life, it is a continuous process and it does not make you feel ashamed of failure. The ability to fail efficiently is an incredibly powerful part of innovation.

Kissinger: Look at where we want to be five to ten years from now and work back from that, rather than deal with crisis management month after month and be in a situation in which every time the leaders meet there is a terrific communique and then two months later one is asking, where did the Chinese go wrong, where did the West go wrong?

Kissinger: The issue is not whether China will grow in magnitude. That will clearly happen. The issue is twofold: how China uses its growing capacities and secondly, whether the US and its allies have the willingness to adjust to the new international environment. I see nothing organic in the situation that leads me to believe that China will dominate the 21st century.

Kissinger: The challenge is whether America can redefine itself after its century of progress and similarly how China redefines itself when it absorbs its economic growth. I believe we do have the capacity to draw lines but we have to be selective in drawing the lines. More than that we should try to move toward a relationship in which the lines that separate us are not the crucial element, but the things we do together.

Li: Forget about the past five hundred years of Western philosophy, of Western perspective. Forget about looking at international relations as a question of winners and losers. Instead, look through the lens of our traditional philosophers, the Confucians. The Confucians advocated for a harmonious world in which individuals are at peace with the outside world and with each other and countries are working with each other to solve international conflicts. I urge you to look from this perspective to understand the ongoing changes in the Chinese economy and society.

Zakaria: We are becoming the first universal nation, a country that draws people from all parts of the world, people of all colours, creeds and religions and finds a way to harness their talent and build a kind of universal dream. It happens here and it draws together people from all over the world



  • Great powers were great initially by virtue of their economic prowess. They then sought to become greater through expansion. Expansion, however, involved ever-increasing costs. For a while these could be sustained. But at some point the costs involved in policing and running a large empire were bound to outweigh the benefits and, at that moment, the empire or great power in question would begin to exhibit a tendency to decline. This was almost, though not quite, a law of history. This is why the USA could easily go the same way as other states in the past. The USA might be different and Kennedy was clear in his own mind that it was, but it was not so different. This is why the detailed study of history was so important. (Cox, 2002, 323)
  • Nonetheless, it ran the very real risk, as had other powers in the past, of its extensive commitments outrunning its inevitably limited economic resources. Furthermore, because it faced a series of other problems as well—indebtedness, uncompetitiveness and a growing budget deficit—it had to address this issue sooner rather than later. If it did not do so, then what might at best be a slow and smooth decline could easily turn into something more dramatic and disturbing. (Cox, 2002, 323)



  • Clearly, the USA was not able to do everything. There were limits to its power, but it is inconceivable to imagine the restoration and maintenance of international stability in the postwar period without it. (Cox, 2002, 315)
  • The USA was centrally important, first in the containment of some of the more important threats to global capitalism after 1947, without which there could have been no large-scale economic recovery in the postwar period. It then went on to pump vast amounts of dollars into Europe—initially in the form of direct aid before 1948, then through the more organised vehicle of the Marshall Plan and finally in the shape of military assistance. The USA, moreover, became the central prop of stability in Asia. Indeed, without its various interventions there, there is little chance that either the region in general or Japan in particular could have prospered (Cox, 2002, 315)
  • The United States also performed at least three essential functions for a recovering world economy by underwriting a new international, financial system with its own reserves, establishing a series of institutions like the IMF to help manage that system and providing a vital market for other people’s goods. It even furnished a wider political and moral mission for the world outside of the Soviet bloc in the shape of anti-communism, a doctrine, which not only legitimised its own global role but also united, previously divided states. (Cox, 2002, 315)
  • No alternative leader to the US’ She was also worried about its political implications. Although by no means uncritical of US economic policy (far from it), she took the entirely pragmatic view that there was really no alternative world leader. Her fear was that, if the decline thesis was ever taken seriously by the gullible, it could create a climate of opinion that might encourage the USA to act even less benevolently than it was already inclined to do in international, financial and monetary affairs. (Cox, 2002, 324)
  • Secretary of Defense William Cohen: we were now living in different and more difficult times, and the moment was ripe therefore for a new defence policy appropriate to the potentially long-lasting conditions of acute uncertainty. Moreover, without such a policy, he argued, the United States would be unable to provide the sort of leadership essential for global order. As an earlier and much-quoted defence review of 1992 had made clear, the USA was not like other powers. It had wider international responsibilities, and these required a force structure capable of ensuring its continued dominance in the world—not just to deter likely enemies, but also to send an unambiguously clear message to more friendly regional players that the United States would not countenance any challenge to its hegemony. Much might have changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the USSR, but one thing had not: the US urge to remain number one (Cox, 2002, 331)