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Decline? Think Again

Pundits across the political spectrum are gradually coming around to an argument that Via Meadia has been making for some time: The United States is not in decline. Over at Foreign Policy, two scholars from the Brookings Institution coin a new term, the GUTS, for four states that, contrary to public perception, are actually increasing their international influence: Germany, the United States, Turkey and South Korea.

U.S. influence in Asia has risen at a rapid clip since 2008, driven largely by regional anxiety about Chinese assertiveness. . . . On national security, the U.S. position is also stronger than it has been in many years. . .  . The Pentagon has been at the forefront of the drone and robotics revolution, which may give it an edge in 21st-century conflicts. . . .

Significant challenges lie ahead, but it is worth noting that the United States has significantly outperformed the eurozone and has better prospects for growth than most other Western states. It remains a hub of innovation: Just consider the rise of social media and the technology-driven exploration for shale gas. Over the long term, the fiscal challenges confronting the United States must be weighed against the very real—and very underestimated—internal strains on the Chinese and Indian economies.

On Germany:

The euro crisis is Germany’s greatest challenge but, ironically, it has also made Germany the continent’s preeminent diplomatic and geoeconomic power: For better or worse, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has won argument after argument about the future direction of the EU, often despite deep reservations from other member states.

On South Korea:

South Korea’s strong economic performance since the financial crisis led some analysts to argue it should be added to the BRICs, but as one of America’s oldest and most reliable allies, it belongs in the West’s column. It has become a powerhouse of high-end manufacturing and is on course to become richer than Japan in per capita terms within the next five years.

And Turkey:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has transformed Turkey into a regional powerhouse—its economy has more than tripled under his watch, registering growth rates on par with China. After years of eschewing its Muslim identity, Turkey is emerging as a model, albeit an imperfect one, for Islamic democrats in the Arab world. Turkish assistance is indispensable in dealing with the Syrian crisis, and its diplomats play a pivotal role in mediating international negotiations with Iran.

Significant challenges lie ahead for all four of these nations, but each is uniquely poised to tackle them and emerge stronger than their less-prepared peers. India and China, long the darlings of investors and the “rise-of-the-rest” crowd, have much more significant internal problems than the GUTS. Brazil has ridden out the economic crisis but still struggles to enact reforms that will enable it to be a world power full-time. And Russia? Persistent internal problems severely limit its ability to achieve its ambitious goals.

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  • Kris

    I remain skeptical about Turkey’s internal strength.

  • http://theladiesmap.com Pedro Marquez

    Leaving aside the fact that Erdogan is Putin on the Bosphorus, Turkey will sooner or later have to face some hard facts, such as

    1) it’s growth is fueled by credit
    2) the ethnic Turkish birthrate is low (whereas the Kurdish birthrate is high)

    Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Spengler…

  • Corlyss

    @Kris

    I agree. Regional powerhouse in the Islamist camp is not necessarily a good thing. We got enough o’ that crap from Iran.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    “Tayyip Erdogan has transformed Turkey into a regional powerhouse—its economy has more than tripled under his watch, registering growth rates on par with China. After years of eschewing its Muslim identity, Turkey is emerging as a model, albeit an imperfect one”

    Another Islamist Democracy emerging, break out champagne and celebrate.
    Iran, Iraq, now Turkey. What’s not to like?
    Democracies, albeit Islamic, everywhere. George W Bush is happy.

  • SteveMG

    The US is certainly weaker than it was at the height of the unipolar moment.

    But our decline is minor compared to the problems that the rest of the world faces.

    We have everything a power needs to be dominant. Except perhaps will. If you want to will decline you can. I think Obama was willing to accept that decline his first year or two; but not now.

    The world needs and wants a dominant US (sorry Ron Paul supporters) and Obama recognizes that.

  • thibaud

    “Persistent internal problems severely limit its ability to achieve its ambitious goals.”

    This is a bland statement that could be applied to any ambitious power today, be it the US, China, Turkey, Iran, Brazil, whoever.

    In reality, Russia’s internal problems today are not worse than they were five years ago, and in most respects they have severely lessened since the late 1990s.

    Just as Turkey is rising to fill a vacuum left by our toppling of Saddam, our subsequent withdrawal and the tottering of the Syrian regime, so too Russia will seek move fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the eurozone.

    The Russians will not be shy about stepping in to inject liquidity into the Greek economy in exchange for Greek hard assets. Russia has no shortage of hard currency reserves – not including the hundreds of billions that have been stashed away in various personal accounts and offshore locations by Russian elites over the last two decades.

    At the same time, France’s inability to serve as a reliable, strong ally of Germany will accelerate Germany’s fitful moves closer to Russia. Already, the German and Russian economies have become closely intertwined, with Russia as Germany’s most important source of not only energy but export growth and nearshore manufacturing. Russian-German economic integration is now going to increase even further.

    Add to this America’s belated recognition that NATO is a dead letter, and it would be foolish not to include Russia on the short list of regional powers whose influence is certain to increase substantially in coming years.

  • http://www.gregrlawson.com Greg R. Lawson

    I think Mead has some good points here, but though the US will still be a great power in the new era of the “neo-Middle Ages” as I call it (or Ian Bremmer calls G-Zero, Richard Haas calls non-polarity), it will not be able to stabilize all the arenas of disorder and discord. It is going to need to husband its strength for major conflicts and monitoring the threats that will take advantage of the emerging seams of a regionalizing rather than globalizing world order.

    America may not fall off a cliff, but it faces unprecedented challenges to its self-image and its ability to adapt to rapidly changing geopolitical realities.

  • thibaud

    Good points by Greg Lawson. Even if one could define the term with any specificity, whether the US is in “decline” isn’t interesting or even terribly relevant.

    The bigger questions have to do with the nature of the collective security order that will replace the very brief unipolar interlude that followed the end of the bipolar US-USSR standoff.

    Within that order, there is no question that the US will not have the financial resources necessary to sustain a blue-water navy and a global forward deployment on anything remotely similar to what we’ve sustained over the last 50 years.

    This should be especially obvious to the more ardent libbetrarians here.

    Not just the isolationists like Paul pere and fils, but also more mainstream heroes of this crowd such as Paul Ryan are putting forth visions of national priorities that will, if not actually gut the US military, at a minimum drastically downsize the US Navy and also force us to retrench significantly in several theatres, beginning with Europe and of course Afghanistan.

    The notion that the US can continue as an “offshore balancer” on a global basis with such a shrunken military seems, on the face of it, very unlikely.

    So if the US is going to devote most of its attention to teh Pacific Basin, it stands to reason that new regional hegemons will rise up in the other two crucial theatres, Europe and the Middle East, to fill the void.

    The three candidates for those theaters are Turkey and Iran in the middle East and Russia in Europe. None of these powers wishes us well, or has much interest in or respect for democracy and tolerance of dissent.

    All of these nations’ leaders view themselves as heirs to a glorious imperial legacy from centuries past, one that’s at least as prestigious as any Chinese or Hindu dynasty’s.

    Mead has written well and at length about East Asia, but his scorn for the EU and his Russophobia seem to be clouding his judgment about what’s next for those battlegrounds of history, the arc that runs roughly from the Danube region across the near East to Afghanistan.

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I am reminded of South Korea every time I use my Galaxy. My but they have done well under the radar overshadowed by the glorious success of thier northern cousins. Even if you discount the protection of the imperialist legions of the Amercan Army they have managed to get sued by the world’s most successful company for using rounded icon corners. Mark my words, the South Koreans are no flash in the pan.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I’ll accept that Germany, America, and South Korea are rising powers as they have a historical track record over many decades of doing just that. But Turkey has struggled over the same period of time and with the re-empowerment of Islam in Turkey, I have serious doubts about its future. No Islamic culture which wasn’t being uplifted by western oil money has ever grown in power in the modern era, and Turkey is unlikely to be the first.

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