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Sunday, November 03, 2002 - 07:46 AM Permanent link for End of the American Era
End of the American Era

Picked up The End of the American Era by Charles Kupchan at the SFO bookstore en route to NYC.   I'd heard about the book on the blogosphere and figured it was worth checking out.   (Coincidentally, Pinker's Blank Slate seemed to be heavily promoted at this book store...  I'll get to it eventually!).  Kupchan's central theses are:

  • that the US is irretrievably facing a decline in relative power primarily due to the rise in other nations / blocks.
  • this decline is power is heightened by a "dangerous" isolationist tendency in the American political character on most issues coupled with a simultaneous "unilateralist" tendency for specific engagements of interest
  • that the political "fault lines" in the future will be more "classical" exegises -- the return of a type "Geo-political rivalry" that Imperialists of Olde Europe will recognize albeit with dramatically larger and well endowed actors
  • that Europe/EU will be the short term contender to the throne with E. Asia after 2025

It bears directly mentioning that the decline of the American Era that Kupchan describes isn't necessarily a "Collapse of the Rome" type event but rather the movement from an international world totally dominated by US interests towards something more multi-polar.  

Kupchan starts with an EXCELLENT summary of 5 of the prevailing views of current geopolitical fault lines:

Francis Fukuyama Liberal democracies vs. non-democracies in military conflict with economic "competition" within the LD's
Mearsheimer Advocacy of a Multipolarity, MAD amongst nuke armed states w/ equivalent military power;  a return of pre-WWII/Cold War style rivalries as the EU comes apart into constituent nation states
Samuel Huntington Clash of Civilizations;
Kennedy/Kaplan Pseudo anarchy from North (rich) vs. South (poor) conflicts such as mass immigrations, terrorism, narco trafficking, etc.
Thomas Friedman Liberal economies vs. non liberal engaged in economic conflict

Kupchan examines each of these worldviews in light of post 9/11 events and contends that each of is lacking.  

Francis Fukuyama Too Optimistic;  we don't possess enough data to conclusively argue that liberal democracies will NOT fight with each other;  uneven paces of "liberalization" across democracies could spur conflict (for ex., India vs. Pakistan)
Mearsheimer Doesn't take into account economic integration (e.g. Friedman's world view);  prescribes cordoning off the world into zones.
Samuel Huntington Although civilizational entities exist, to the extent that they aren't equivalently powerful, they will NOT want to clash with the "west"  (for ex., India/Hindu not actively trying to conflict with West).   Doesn't address conflicts within the West (EU vs. US)
Kennedy/Kaplan North / South conflict will be piecemeal from individual actors (e.g. bin Laden style terrorists), NOT from wholesale, organized collective action across the entire South.
Thomas Friedman Political power is / can be exerted to overcome globalization's integration -- for ex., EU self sufficiency & Airbus

He contends that the primary short term competitor to US will be an assertive EU [p 62]:

The near term challenger to America is not a single country trying to play catch-up which takes time -- but a European Union that is in the process of aggregating the impressive economic resources that its member nations already possess

And, the basis of this competition will be classical & broadbased rather than simply economic [p 120]:

North America and Europe are likely to engage in the competiion over status, wealth, and power that has been -- and remains -- so much a part of the human experience.

Kupchan doesn't spend very much time describing the types of issues which spark division between the US and EU.  At the heart of these differences are a host of ideas over models for foriegn policy intervention - for ex., Transnational Progressivism, Genetically Modified Foods, the International Criminal Court, Moral Restraint/Equivalence, etc.

So, despite having roughly similar political systems on a prima facie level (Liberal Democracies), there are radically different underlying world views about the purpose of governance.

Much of Kupchan's book is dedicated towards describing the mechanisms being put in place to provide cohesion to the EU and address some of it's criticisms (for ex., the "Democracy Deficit").   And he, correctly, describes many of the EU's triumphs in the post-WWII era including various trade agreements, the Euro, etc.

He provides too WAY much credit, in my opinion, to EU attempts to solve many of their internally, long-brewing problems.   For example:

  • demographics / declining birthrates -- Kupchan thinks this will be solved by annexing more territory / population into the EU;  however integrating in nations with similar demographic problems (e.g. Eastern Europe) will exacerbate, NOT solve this problem
  • euro-sclerosis & business vitality -- aside from the anecdotal Nokia's and VW's which Kupchan dutifully cites, there is no question about which way relative productivity trends in the EU are going
  • economic integration across national regions -- Kupchan thinks that we are close to seeing European identity trump national identies
  • crushing welfare states -- amplified by demographic and business vitality problems

He does mention these problems but too cursorly dismisses them by merely stating "the EU launched a program to homogenize regulations around...." This are clearly areas FAR easier "studied" than solved.   Arguably, currency integration was a comparatively more tractable and policy-neutral technical problem. 

Nevertheless, these issues question the size of the contender that Europe will become but NOT the fact that the EU sees itself as a contender.  Returning to Kupchan [p 63]:

But as Europe grows stronger and more integrated, it will want a voice commensurate with its new station.   Whether or not the United States likes it, Europe is becoming a new center of global power.  America's sway will shrink accordingly. 

At a military level, Kupchan believes the EU will be closer to self sufficient; and eventually possess minor power projection capability in a limited number of theaters. However, he also contends that the vast majority of the policing burden outside of the European continent will be borne by the US.

On the US side, there are two, incoherent foriegn policy "mistakes" Kupchan contends are driving an unnecessary wedge between the US and the EU:

  • Isolationism -- US withdrawal from some international issues (for ex., pulling our troops out of Somalia & the Balkans)
  • Unilateralism -- Simultaneous US unilateralism in other international issues like Iraqi intervention, Kyoto, ABM, etc.

Kupchan's prescription boils down to " It's gonna be a multipolar world, Get Used to It."   He asserts that US isolationalist tendencies and it's accordant implied morality are a luxury.  He argues for:

  • Less isolationism, recognize that international diplomacy -- almost like a domestic mud slinging election -- is an intrinsic price of playing the new game.   Be proactive in helping to create the new international bodies that will necessarily be put into place
  • Drive the EU towards both Capabilities & Influence.   Clearly and measurably provide the EU with influence in international affairs in proportion to their growing military/trade Capabilities (a more positive variation on Put Up or Shut Up)
  • Leverage NATO as a second influential body within Europe that is structurally friendlier to US interests.   NATO, in part becomes a counterweight to the EU in Brussels.  Kupchan suggests, for example, making eventual integration of Russia into NATO a key long term policy goal.

While I agree with many of Kupchan's observations, I don't buy into a couple of his proposals.   He never, for example, presents his own clear articulation of the deep differences between the US and EU governance models.   Without this articulation is difficult to assess what principles are upheld or destroyed within Kupchan's prescribed multi-lateralism.   Kupchan has a soft spot in his heart for many of the core tenets of Transnational Progressivism.  

On the other hand, his suggestions that the US undertake a more active role in shaping future transnational bodies has a Realist tone.   The use of NATO and potentially EFTA (the euro equiv of NAFTA) to create a counterweight to the EU is particularly appealing.

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