Is the United States in decline?
Based on Joseph S.Nye, “The Future of American Power”, Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2010, and Immanuel Wallerstein, “Precipitate Decline: The Advent of Multipolarity, “Harvard International Review, Spring 2007.
Joseph S. Nye and Immanuel Wallerstein are both theorists in International Relations. If Nye is known for his notion of “smart power” (which is used inthe excerpt), Wallerstein is rather known for being a sociologist and a world-systems analyst. Both texts deal with the idea of a hypothetical American decline, which is a recurring topic when discussing about the world stage nowadays. Joseph S. Nye has a rather optimistic point of view about the matter. Yet he tries to warn the American leaders who would try to act before thinking. According tohim, one should not put the emphasis on this decline knowing that it would encourage some countries (such as China) to “adventurous policies”. Indeed, Nye argues that the United States should remain the most powerful state in the world for the next few decades and that it has no interest in reacting too quickly. However he admits that this domination will be relatively less important than in thepast and that the United States will have to accept the help of other countries if it wants to achieve its future goals. That, according to Nye, will only be possible through “smart power” that will allow the construction of alliances and networks between states. Wallerstein on the other hand acknowledges the idea of the American decline, but reminds the readers that this decline didn’t actuallybegin with the war in Iraq but during the seventies. Indeed, the United States became a major power after the Civil War until the beginning of their decline one century later. The fall of the USSR, contrary to popular believes has been “a major blow” to US power, and the war in Iraq just accentuated the process. According to him, they became the first economic power of the globe after the Second WorldWar but soon dug their graves since they helped many countries making their way back on the world stage. In order to avoid this decline, neoconservative politicians under the G. W. Bush administration tried to find an outlet in Iraq for their military power so they could prove that they were still the number one country. But that only weakened more their power since they were not capable ofstabilizing the Iraqi state. Actually Wallerstein’s example of the war in Iraq seems a good illustration of Nye’s argument about the “overconfidence” of the United States and the danger it can lead to. The United States government clearly thought that it would be able to finish the war quickly and to institute a relatively stable regime, which is obviously not the case, still today, almost 8 yearslater. In other words, one of the recommendations Nye exposed in order to avoid decline has already been pointed out. Both authors agree that the United States’ power is not in an exponential growth. But there is still a big difference. We could represent Nye’s vision of the American power by a line that would still grow up but would decelerate on a slow pace. Whereas for Wallerstein it would startfrom the same point but it would be a decrement, a line going down, in order words a decline.
Those points of view are thus opposed. It would be interesting to implement some other major thinkers in this debate. Joseph S. Nye writes toward the end of the excerpt about a concept that was developed by Fareed Zakaria, “the rise of the rest”. In an article published by the review Foreign Affairs inMay/June 2008 called “The Future of the American Power, how America can survive the rise of the rest”, F. Zackaria tries to combine both theory into his. First, he compares the situation of the United States with Great Britain’s in the early twentieth century. According to him there actually can be a decline –“Britain declined gracefully but inexorably”-, just as Wallerstein writes in his...
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