The world’s nations and civilizations have faced numerous daunting challenges throughout the ages. Nations can be reborn and continue with their progress when these challenges are overcome. However, when these challenges overwhelm a civilization, there are two possible outcomes; either a temporary retreat followed by a period of reflection and restoration to prepare for a new beginning, or civilizational stagnation, resulting in inevitable demise. This means that the primary factor determining the survival of nations, according to the British historian Albert Toynbee’s (1889-1975) challenge and response theory, lies in their ability to respond to challenges and threats as well as the flexibility they display in dealing with their various dimensions.
German philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) noted that human history is not a straight line, but has cycles of growth and decline. Since the dawn of history, superpowers have emerged and fallen. After World War II, the Yalta conference led to the establishment of a bipolar world order. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, this world order ended.
After former US President George H. W. Bush’s announcement in 1990 that a new world order had been established, Washington’s unilateral domination increased, with no competitors in sight. Thereafter, during the tenure of the next Bush president, former President George W. Bush (2001-2009), America’s strength reached its peak and the neoconservatives argued that the American nation had reached what Francis Fukuyama hubristically called the “end of history.” This historical point heralded American triumphalism, global governance and the internationalization of global capitalism in all its economic, cultural and military dimensions. This period embodied Bush’s saying, “You are either with us or against us.”
Despite global support, whether willingly or begrudgingly, for Washington’s ‘War on Terror’ the symptoms of the country’s strategic weakness appeared unambiguously in the Project for the New American Century. These symptoms were the outcome of what the former French minister Hubert Védrine called the US excess of power. The US strategic weakness was most glaringly evident in its inability to manage the chaotic scenes that followed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the low strategic dividends recouped by Washington compared to the costs which reached almost $6 trillion.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dented America’s economic capacity, culminating in the collapse of the US stock market in 2008 and a decline in Washington’s global image and influence. This coincided with the rise of two other major global powers: Russia and China.
These factors placed tremendous burdens on the Obama and Trump administrations to redress the consequences of Bush’s policies. As a result, both focused on the home front, typified by Obama’s “strategic patience” and “leadership from behind.”
As soon as America had the opportunity to restore its strength, the coronavirus pandemic hit the country. This pandemic has dealt the most fatal economic blow to the country since the Great Depression of 1929.
All this gives rise to one question: Will the United States continue to dominate the world order, or will there be a gradual transition to a new, multipolar strategic balance of power?
Most indicators highlight that the US economy since the 2008 economic crisis has oscillated between slight growth and contraction in contrast to Russia’s and China’s rapid economic growth. According to the International Monetary Fund, US public debt for 2018 reached $21.9 trillion, 107 percent of the country’s GDP. The coronavirus pandemic, in turn, has sent the US economy on a new rollercoaster ride. This began with the contraction of the country’s GDP by 4.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, the largest decline since the economic crisis of 2008. The downturn is expected to accelerate further in the next two quarters, turning into a severe economic contraction close to 5.5. percent by the end of 2020.
This is in addition to the US stock market experiencing an unprecedented decline. Also, US crude oil posted a negative price for the first time in history, with the economic downturn expected to reach 11 percent by the end of this year. This is what led the American magazine Foreign Affairs to publish an article entitled: “The Coronavirus Could Reshape Global Order.” The article noted that “China maneuverers for international leadership as the United States falters.”
Despite all this, however, it is still too early to conclude with any certainty that the post-coronavirus world will see the emergence of a new world order. The point we have currently reached is that of a continual decline in US political will. This decline is not an outcome of US power shrinking but rather a result of its need to review or reconsider the country’s strategic performance and come up with new strategic options. Policies that will revive the country’s economic and commercial sectors must be prioritized. In addition, attention must be paid to social policies that concern US voters, as well as the introduction of new tariffs, intellectual property laws, and further trade laws amid the ongoing trade war with China. This came at a time when the trade volume between the two countries hit $737 billion in 2018, with a trade deficit in China’s favor amounting to $378 billion.
The United States will continue, via the concept of ‘smart power,’ to impose strategic deterrence against all those who oppose its interests, pose a danger to its areas of influence, or attack its allies. At the same time, however, it will not engage in further misadventures by waging an all-out pre-emptive military confrontation.
Instead, the United States will opt for carrying out selective and limited-scale military strikes against the positions, strategic hotbeds, and senior leadership of its enemies. The Pentagon will continue to rapidly develop its technology and its capability in the field of cyberspace.
All these factors lead me to believe that, despite the decline in America’s willpower, it is too early to conclude that we will witness a total downfall of US domination and the beginning of a new world order led by China.
The US administration has gone through several crises since the beginning of the last century, but they have repeatedly proven its ability to adapt, recover and return to competition. This has been because of its strong knowledge and research base, and its administrative capabilities, as well as its major role in international organizations and alliances. Also, its multinational firms have played a strong role in upholding the US economy.
According to global standards applied to measure the power of states, the United States is still the number one country in the world. At this moment in time it is the strongest in the finance, energy, education, technology and transport fields. Most importantly, it is the number one military power in the world. However, we should be aware that although, historically, military triumphs were the primary factor in determining a country’s progress, in today’s world global leadership is dependent on which country can invest in sources of production and the knowledge economy most efficiently. It is highly probable that whoever wins the race in these two areas will be the one who rules the new world order, which will not see light until at least another decade has passed.
Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah