International relations are changing fast, and one of the major trends is a growing challenge to American power. At the same time, American economic prosperity and political stability are increasingly shaky. A perfect storm is brewing for the greatest nation of modern times, so much so that we might ask whether America can even survive as a unified nation.
That emerging behemoth, China, recently launched an anti-satellite missile, announcing its arrival in the most exclusive level of global power politics, outer space. This action is a direct challenge to American power, specifically aimed at American technological superiority. America dominates outer space, commercially and militarily, and an anti-satellite capability can only be aimed at this dominance.
China, already the second military power, is also flexing its muscles in other ways, continuing to develop a modern military force (it recently unveiled its new home-built jet fighter) and pursuing a more assertive diplomatic program. Its primary aim is to secure natural resources, especially oil, and to raise Chinese influence globally.
Russia is similarly resurgent, the resource-rich, ex-superpower playing the energy card. Still boasting the second largest nuclear arsenal, Russia is threatening to start another missile race in response to American programs. Russia is particularly concerned about an eastwards moving NATO and recent deployment of US forces in the region. Overall, relations between the two countries are the worst since the end of the Cold War.
Both these developments present serious problems for continued American supremacy. There is also the potential that China and Russia will find common cause, the old American nightmare.
Meanwhile, America is losing its current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reports grow about an imminent attack on Iran, perhaps even a nuclear strike. What is now generally seen as America’s worst foreign policy mistake ever could turn into a genuine global crisis, which would include sky-rocketing oil prices.
All up, America’s military position overseas is dire, and there are growing concerns about the pressure on the US military itself. Under the new thinking, epitomised by Donald Rumsfeld, the US military was supposed to a relatively small high-tech force, but Iraq alone is already stretching it thin.
Furthermore, Washington has signally declined to show any leadership in relation to that looming global disaster, climate change, refusing to join the only serious attempt deal with it, the Kyoto Treaty. This abject failure, shown up by the initiatives of state governments like California indicates the confusion of the American political class.
No wonder international polling suggests that America’s reputation is suffering an unprecedented decline. A nation once highly respected is increasingly feared and loathed, and actually perceived as the greatest threat to world peace of all.
At home, the American political system is in slow meltdown with a lame-duck President who most voters now think is dishonest and incompetent. But George W. Bush’s failure is indicative of a more profound problem within the American political system.
The Democrats are a disorganised opposition with no alternative vision, and the system is corrupt from top to bottom as recent scandals have shown. It is no secret that American politics is nowadays owned by those with the money - Hilary Clinton reputedly has a campaign war chest of a billion dollars.
Even the economy, previously the bedrock of American power, is in trouble. Doubts about the long-term shift to a post-industrial economy and the growing fragility off the dollar suggest that the days of assumed prosperity are coming to an end. Those icons of American industrial power, the big car manufacturers, are in deep trouble and may even go under, out-competed by the smarter Asian and European car-makers.