TCS Daily

American Hegemony

By James D. Miller - October 29, 2003 12:00 AM

James Pinkerton recently wrote in TCS that three world power blocks will soon form: one lead by the U.S., another by France, Germany, and Russia, and the third by China. I disagree and believe that for at least the next 30 years most nations will continue to view the U.S. as the dominant global player.


Pinkerton correctly observes that "The reality of Europe today is that, more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it doesn't feel that it needs the United States for much." Tragically, terrorists may soon cause Europe to rush into America's protective embrace. September 11, 2001 terrified America by illuminating our vulnerability, and America's immediate response was to deprive the terrorists of their Afghani home base. Since Europe lacks the ability to project significant force abroad, if she were attacked by foreign terrorists she would need to rely on U.S. help to retaliate successfully. Consequently, if Europe ever became estranged from the U.S., terrorists would view her as a relatively soft Western target.


Although Europe today may not feel that she needs U.S. protection, this would suddenly change if terrorists fulfilled their dream of killing tens of thousands of Westerners in a single attack. Such an assault would terrify Westerners, resulting in their placing security concerns above all else, causing all Western governments to look to the U.S. for leadership. Sadly, since the probability of such a mass-killing attack happening in the next few decades is, I believe, over 50%, Europe will probably come to realize that she does need the U.S.


Even if terrorists are permanently prevented from executing mass-killing attacks, Europe is still unlikely to form a separate power block because she has no fundamental reasons for doing so. Current Franco-German attempts to thwart U.S. foreign policy are based on short-term political interests originating from their leaders' desires to look and feel important. As the libertarian French political activist Sabine Herold says, "One of the big problems in France is that we are anti-American without knowing why." Furthermore, the German Chancellor's anti-Americanism seems to be politically backfiring. Since Europe has no strategic interest in opposing U.S. foreign policy, she is unlikely to go to the expense and risk of forming a separate power block. Even if she were, however, Old Europe wouldn't get New (eastern) Europe to ally militarily with her.


Pinkerton writes that if an alliance between France, Germany, and Russia "were ever to crystallize, the countries of 'New Europe,' sandwiched in between these far greater powers, would likely fall into line, as they always have in the past." I disagree, and believe an alliance among these three would cause Eastern Europe to seek U.S. protection. Napoleon, Hitler and the communist czars all used their periods of military dominance to conquer weaker European nations. After World War II, America, in contrast, forwent the opportunity to militarily subjugate Western Europe. Consequently, if forced to choose between a European and American power block, nations such as Poland would always prefer protection under America's nuclear umbrella to submission to Germany and Russia.


Trust of America is also a reason to doubt the rise of a China-led Asia. Pinkerton correctly points out that the decline of the Soviet Empire means that Europe has a lesser need for U.S. protection. Pinkerton fails to factor in, however, that an increase in Chinese power would cause Asia to have a greater need of U.S. assistance. Comparisons between America's military occupation of Japan and China's occupation of Tibet undoubtedly demonstrate to all Asians whom they can trust for military protection.


America's current supremacy is based on economic dominance as much as military might. Since New Europe is graying at a much faster rate than the U.S., demographics favor America's continued economic dominance over Western Europe. Indeed, when you combine Western Europe's aging workforce with her expansive social welfare policies, Western Europe appears to be at a permanent economic disadvantage compared to the U.S.


Although Pinkerton writes "The reality of China's economic surge is so obvious that one needn't spend time rehashing the data," I wouldn't trust any data coming from a country that would cover up the spread of infectious diseases such as AIDS and SARS. The epidemic of corruption in China will likely prevent her ever obtaining first-world status. In fact, China will become rich enough to challenge the U.S. only if she becomes a free enough society that she will no longer have any strategic interest in becoming an American rival.


James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.

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