Lizzie Roberts examines the causes of a decline in American hegemony.
Since the end of the Second World War, America has held a position of world hegemony thanks to its sheer military and economic strength. Recent debate surrounding the rise of China on the world stage has called this strength into question and some argue that America’s power is now in a state of decline. China’s rise is not the only factor contributing to the decline in American dominance, but also their economic decline (particularly since the 2007 Great Recession) and their declining global popularity following controversial military excursions in the last 12 years is resulting in their decay.
In the last 20 years, China’s economic status in the world has risen extensively; they have almost caught up to America’s 18% share of world GDP with 15% in 2012, and – according to some economic analysts – the country has already surpassed the US as the leading global manufacturing nation in 2010. It is not just commentators who are witnessing China’s growth as a recent Gallup poll revealed 53% of Americans see China as the world’s leading economic power today. However, is China’s rise signalling a decline in America’s power or merely balancing the power share in the world? It is well known that China is still functioning poorly both domestically and culturally, making it highly unlikely they will fully catch up with the US any time soon. For example, the controversial one child policy from the 1970s is still having disastrous effects on the country, leaving China with an ageing nation and fewer young people to look after the elder generation.
A recent Gallup poll revealed 53% of Americans see China as the world’s leading economic power today.
America’s economic problems of the last 6 years however cannot be overlooked in contributing to a decline in the world power. The 2007 Recession left the US spiralling into extensive debt, the majority of which is owed to their rising rival China, and the strength in the dollar as the world reserve currency has also waned. Most recent events, such as October’s government shutdown, have also shaken the foundations of America’s economic power. During the shutdown, the Fitch rating agency threatened the government with the removal of their triple “A” rating, this clearly shot fear into the stubborn politicians as reconciliation was sought soon after. However, it is clear the US is no longer seen as the robust economic state it was before these substantial tremors to their system.
But what appears to be most damaging to America’s power and influence is their diminishing popularity across the globe. It goes without saying they are largely hated in the Middle East, and the majority of Muslim countries at that: following their controversial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under the Bush administration. Moreover, actions of the Obama government have led to a further deterioration in their international popularity. The promise of the closure of Guantanamo Bay has not materialised. The stepping-up of drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – which have had questionable success – are repeatedly condemned by many. The aggressive behaviour of the NSA has rocked relations with European allies. America has long relied on its allies and the support of the world in general for their global engagements and this has assisted in its dominance. But the actions of the last ten years have placed them on an uneasy footing in the world, and they are no longer seen as a powerhouse of democracy and freedom on the world stage.
The promise of the closure of Guantanamo Bay has not materialised.
It is clear that China will not surpass America any time soon. However, it cannot be ignored that they are contributing to America’s waning stature. The 2008 Obama campaign rested on the empty promises of “yes we can” but this determination for change has clearly deteriorated in America along with the hysteria that surrounded it; not only Americans but also people across the world feel let down by the unfulfilled possibilities under Obama. The USA’s power and influence in the world is in a state of decline. Their extensive military excursions of the last 10 years have left them profoundly more unpopular. All this is set in the context of China’s economic power continuing to rise; this may soon prove to be a substantial threat to American hegemony.
Lizzie is a second year History and Politics student at Lancaster University, with a strong passion for American politics, equality and good old British sarcasm.