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, December 10, 2009

Obama's Peace Prize, and U.S. Power, as Seen From India

The Nobel Committee's selection of President Obama for the Peace Prize is a recognition of the reality that U.S. power rests "not in its weapons or in its armies, but in the syncretic values of the American people." This is the view of India's M.D. Nalapat, a Professor of Geopolitics at Manipal University. Professor Nalapat's essay, "Peace, Not War, the Best Strategy" appears on the webpage of the China-U.S. Friendship Exchange as part of a dialogue on the themes of my book on The End of the American Century.

This response to Nalapat's essay appears on that same site this month.

It is both enlightening and refreshing to hear about the U.S. role in the world from a thoughtful critic outside the U.S., like India's Professor M.D. Nalapat. He points to the past tendency of the U.S. to rely on ''military and economic muscle to seek 'compromises' that are in fact surrenders by the other side.'' I believe those views are widespread in the world, though quite different from the way most Americans perceive their role in the world. It is difficult for Americans to hear the voices and opinions of others, because we are so used to thinking of ourselves as the world's best, and the most admirable. Kishore Mahbubani, the author of The New Asian Hemisphere, thinks Americans are blind to their own shortcomings, and basically unable ''to listen to other voices on the planet.'' In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, this is one big factor in America's declining global power, influence, and effectiveness.

Mr. Nalapat views the great strength of the U.S. resting in its ''syncretic values'' and its openness to innovation and immigration. Indeed, I would agree that immigration, and the power of assimilation and adaptation, have been an important element of this country's history and development. Immigrants have provided both an energetic workforce and a vital source of creativity, innovation, and invention. The election of Barack Obama, an African-American with a multi-ethnic heritage, seems a confirmation of this admirable national trait.

However, this American advantage may also be eroding, and even becoming problematic. In the U.S. now, there is growing anti-immigrant sentiment, and one would expect this to increase as the economic downturn continues to bite. While the United States has (almost) always welcomed others to our shores, we have not usually treated them very well once they get here. Hispanics and other minorities, for example, experience much higher levels of poverty and unemployment than Whites, and are much more likely to be stuck with poor schools and inadequate health care.

The U.S. is still a global leader in science, technology and innovation, but even in these areas, the country is losing some of its edge. Over the last two decades, the U.S. has steadily lost its overwhelming global dominance in the production of both patents and scientific journal articles. The decline of American schools has taken a toll on science education, too, with American students often coming in dead last on international tests and competitions in science and math. China produces four times as many engineers as the United States. As other countries like China and India gear up technologically, it seems likely that talented and creative people are more likely to stay at home, or return home after taking some education in the United States.

Of course the U.S. remains a major global player in science, technology and innovation. But its ''American Century'' dominance in this area, as in so many others, is on the wane in the face of both domestic decline and the ''rise of the rest.'' Similar to Joseph Nye's emphasis on culture, Madhav Nalapat stresses the ''arts and sciences'' as a powerful tool for the U.S., especially in its interaction with China. And this is where I most differ with Dr. Nalapat. While culture and scientific exchanges are important, they can not substitute for the much more overwhelming influence of trade and economics. This is where China (and the EU, and India) are really gaining, and where the U.S. is particularly vulnerable. It is the growing economic might and confidence of these powers, and others that will most challenge the dominance of the United States.

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R. D. Shelton said...

I just discovered your blog and book. You certainly seem like a kindred spirit. My last presentation (to the National Academy of Sciences) was entitled "The Decline and Fall of American Science Leadership."

I just posted a plug for your book on my blog at
I posted your great cover art there; I hope you don't mind.

I'll go to Amazon and buy a copy and post a review there, once I've read it.

David S. Mason said...

Thanks for the posting R.D. It looks like we do have some interests in common. In my book, I also raised concern about the decline of science, technology, engineering and competitiveness in Chapter 4: "The Dimming of America: Education, Science and Fundamentalism."