Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Russian Reflections in a U.S. Mirror

A prominent Russian professor and former KGB analyst,Igor Panarin, predicts that the U.S. will collapse and break into six pieces next year. His forecasts are “all the rage” in Moscow and Panarin has become a media celebrity in Russia. As interesting as his theories are though, and as bad as things are in the U.S., his predictions are way overblown, reflect a shallow understanding of the United States, and actually tell us more about Russia than about the U.S.

In December the Wall Street Journal reported on an interview with Panarin, entitled “As If things Weren’t Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.” The Russian sees mass immigration, economic decline and moral degradation in the U.S. leading soon to a civil war and a collapse of the dollar. Soon thereafter, the richer states will withhold funds from the federal government, effectively seceding. The country will break into six pieces, based mostly on ethnicity, and foreign powers will move in to gobble them up. (There is a map of the future Un-United States in the WSJ article).

As with many such apocalyptic scenarios, there are bits of truth in Panarin’s analysis. He points to the problem of U.S. debt, and foreign debt in particular as a “pyramid scheme” that is unsustainable. In an Izvestia interview in November, he predicted the U.S. financial crisis would worsen, that unemployment would grow, and that people would lose their savings. He sees the revival and growth of both Russia and China as major political and economic powers. All this is pretty accurate.

However Panarin’s more extreme predictions about the U.S. seem more like a reflection of what has happened in Russia—-he is “projecting” as psychotherapists like to say. His concern about “moral decay” in the U.S., for example, is hard to fathom given the extremely high levels of alcoholism, divorce, crime and corruption in Russia. And the breakup of the US seems more a reflection of Russia’s own past—the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union into 15 separate countries. But the parallels are few: each of these 15 “republics” of the USSR were based on entirely different nationalities, or ethnic groups, with little holding them together but the centralizing force of the Communist Party. As contentious and fragmented as the US can sometimes seem, almost all people here still consider themselves, first and foremost, Americans.

What is most interesting about Panarin’s predictions—and their popularity in Russia—is what it says about Russia’s desired place in the world. The country has been through some very rough times over the last two decades, and under Putin has begun to revive and reassert itself. Vladimir Pozner, a prominent Russian tv journalist, says Panarin’s vision “reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia,” which, he says, is “much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union.”

In The End of the American Century, I point to Russia as one of America’s potential “New Rivals.” One can not ignore that Russia is the largest country in the world, occupying almost twice the territory of the U.S. Within those borders it contains the world’s most abundant array of natural resources. It is the world’s second largest producer and exporter of petroleum and has, by far, the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. Russia’s economy has been growing at about 7 percent annually. It also has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear warheads.

Both Russia’s citizens and its leaders want Russia to play a bigger role on the world stage and to be more respected by other countries. Premier Putin has been particularly vocal and critical of U.S. efforts to dominate the globe, referring not so subtly to a “world of one master, one sovereign.” He has said that “the trust in America as the leader of the free world and free economy is blown for ever.” (See The Economist's special report on Russia, "Enigma Variations," for more on this theme).

Russia has its share of problems, as the U.S. does. But it will be a force to reckon with, and the U.S. will have to learn to deal with Russia, as with other countries, as partners or competitors, rather than subordinates or enemies.

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David S. Mason said...

I am pasting in some comments on this posting sent by "Bones" from South Dakota. I have not included his numerous references and weblinks, but could do so if readers would like to see them.
Panarin's scenarios, if you read his paper, are much closer to reality than most of the Western commentary about his paper. It is obvious that many of those who've 'analyzed' his work have never actually read the thing. The scenarios in Thomas Chittum's book, "Civil War II," although it is somewhat out of date and a bit racist, are more likely, in my opinion...and there is more than a bit of agreement between Panarin's paper and Chittum's book. Comparisons to Buchanan's book, "The death of the West" are also apt.

Like yourself, I have profound disagreements with Panarin in the manner in which he divides the US. It's not going to be such a 'neat and clean' or 'cut and dried' a process. I have other problems with his paper, but that one is like a sore thumb. For example, Alaska will more probably fall under Japanese, Chinese and even Canadian economic influence instead of solely under Russian influence. Local and regional cultures and sub-cultures will also have a dramatic influence on the processes and outcomes. That said, his conclusions are very similar to those of a number of credible people.

In order to fully appreciate Professor Panarin's work, you've got to learn a lot more about memetic engineering and Info Ops, as well. Panarin is an expert in the field. There's a reason he published his paper when he did, the way he did. Multiple reasons, more than likely. Not the least of which is influencing the international perception of America during a crucial point in history.

The resources I've enclosed below are by credible people, professionals, educators and businessmen. For example, Joseph M. Miller retired as a board member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. One of his associates is a physicist who worked for Control Data Corporation. The other, Marion Butler, has a background as a CFO. Niall Ferguson holds a Chair in the history department at Harvard. Pranab Bardhan is a professor of economics at Berkley. Carmen M. Reinhart is a professor of economics at the University of Maryland. Most of the other resources (enclosed below) were prepared by people with similar backgrounds. Individually and as a group, their work appears to lead to the same general conclusion. It is a very similar conclusion to the one found in Professor Panarin's paper.

David S. Mason said...

Bones cites a number of sources and scholars to substantiate Panarin's predictions. But while some of those (mostly ones I don't know) may predict a disintegration of the US, most of them simply forecast the end of the U.S. as a superpower or empire. The British historian Niall Ferguson, for example, sees the U.S. empire in decline, a trend which he sees as destabilizing for the world. But he does not anticipate a breakup of the U.S., as Panarin does. What is even more radical in Panarin's forecasts, is that he sees the collapse and disintegration of the U.S. beginning NEXT YEAR!.

The trends I document in my book are closer to those of Ferguson and the "end of empire" theories than to the more apocalyptic predictions of Panarin (and apparently Chittum).

But unlike Ferguson, I see potentially positive outcomes in the U.S. decline. In the last few decades, the U.S. has grown TOO rich and TOO powerful, to the detriment of much of the rest of the world. A diminished U.S. will be beneficial for both American citizens and the rest of the world, though the transition is going to be difficult. It is not the end of the U.S., or the end of the world.