AMERICA is on a downhill roll, economically, socially, politically and globally. What it is clinging on to is its hegemony. On a weekly basis, it produces books that explain why and how America cannot fail and what would happen if it did. The Future of Power by Joseph S Nye, Jr counts the pros and cons of America being overtaken by the Asian giants China and India and concludes that it can never happen. Why? Because Americans say so.
The arguments in favour of America’s greatness are by now very familiar. It produces the maximum number of Nobel laureates, its universities are ranked the topmost in the world, it attracts the best of brains from world over, its currency is the trading currency of the world and it is militarily so strong that it can reduce opponents to pulp a la Iraq. In the unipolar world, it is the master of all it surveys.
“The United States is unlikely to decay like ancient Rome or even be surpassed by another state, including China. The first half of the twenty-first century is not likely to be a “post-American world,” but the United States will need a strategy to cope with the “rise of the rest” – among both states and non-state actors” says Nye. He advocates “accommodation” of China but check-mating it with the friendship of Japan and India.
Nye, an academician and author of many books seeks to redefine ‘power’ by pointing out that the conventional attitudes have changed. Soft power or the power to influence rather than dominate is in vogue. “Two great power shifts are occurring in this century: a power transition among states and a power diffusion away from all states to nonstate actors.” Groups like Al Qaeda are nonstate powers. Soft power includes promoting democracy, human rights and development of civil society. All these America does selectively; it is at its inactive best where it is needed most, like in the oil-rich sheikdoms.
The best example Nye gives of soft power is that of the British rule in India. In more than one place he points out how less than one lakh British soldiers ruled 300 million Indians. “… the secret of this success was more than technology. It included the ability to divide the targeted population and to co-opt some of them into becoming local allies.”
In keeping with the trend, the book discusses China in great detail. In fact, on a count of index, there are 71 references to China in the operative 234 pages of the book. In comparison, India gets only 20 mentions. And Japan and Russia just a few times.
America is in crisis, notes Nye. The public confidence in institutions is declining. In 2010, a survey “found that 61 per cent of poll respondents thought the country was in decline and only 19 per cent trusted the government to do what is right all or most of the time.” In contrast, in 1964, three quarters of the American public said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.
America spends nearly half the global budget on military resources and technology, possessing the most advanced weapons systems. A position that cannot be challenged by any nation in foreseeable future.
There is an illustrative table in the book that demonstrates the pre-eminent position of the US in comparison to Japan, European Union, Russia, China, India and Brazil. India as can be expected is in the bottom of literacy, internet users per 1000 population and world class universities. In all this not only China but Brazil is also ahead of us. We are ahead of Brazil in nuclear warheads and defence expenditure and films produced. In fact in films India is second in the chart with 1091 films (in 2006) with EU slightly ahead with 1155. Interesting.
Nye discusses in detail the BRIC nations as the closest threat to the US supremacy. The argument finally narrows down to China as the most potential. “That China is not likely to become a peer competitor to the United States on a global basis does not mean that it could not challenge the United States in Asia, but as mentioned earlier, the rise of Chinese power in Asia is contested by both India and Japan (as well as other states), and that provides a major power advantage to the United States…. From that position of strength, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and others can work to engage China and provide incentives for it to play a responsible role, while hedging against the possibility of aggressive behaviour as China’s power grows.”
What comes through page after page is America’s anxiety to contain any other nation from growing as an alternative power centre. It wants to unilaterally occupy that space of aggressive, interfering, all-powerful global leader. Nye repeatedly mentions the military powers of the US even while discussing soft power options. It is willing to pit one nation against another, coerce inimical neighbours into artificial friendship, threaten functioning democracies with internal sabotage using civil society and human rights outfits, directly funded by Washington and outright purchase loyalties.
According to Nye, America’s internal problems are declining. There are a few contentious issues, no doubt but nothing insurmountable as India’s insurgency. Some of America’s serious issues needing attention are the economy, education at lower levels, strengthening faith in institutions and the power conversion within the nation.
On the whole the book is all about American dominance of the world, past, present and future. Nye, a distinguished academician, presently a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the British Academy, is clear that America has to continue to rule. He is only elaborating on the ways to perpetuate it despite growing competition and apparent decline of the power of the US. What Nye has left unsaid is one good valid reason why America alone is ‘ordained’ to be the master of the world. Students of international relations and diplomacy must read this book to understand how American minds work.
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