In 1941 Time magazine's Henry Luce exhorted his countrymen to
eschew isolationism, enter what became World War II and make the
20th century the first great American century. Fulfilling his
vision, the United States managed a historic trifecta, prevailing in
two world wars and the subsequent Cold War.
If Luce were alive today, he no doubt would urge his fellow
citizens to make the 21st century the second great American century.
This one, however, would focus not on winning ideological struggles
and thwarting totalitarian bids for dominance, but on creating
meaningful rules and international arrangements to contend with the
defining challenges of the era: the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, climate change, infectious and non-communicable
diseases, trade and investment protectionism, terrorism and
providing for the 9 billion people who will soon inhabit this
This notion of a second American century may seem bizarre, given
the United States' obvious domestic troubles -- from poor schools
and crumbling infrastructure to mounting debt and low economic
growth -- and its external challenges, including terrorism, a rising
China, an antagonistic North Korea that has nuclear weapons and an
equally hostile Iran that appears to want them. Nevertheless, we
could already be in the second decade of another American century.
Here are six reasons:
* The United States is and will remain for some time first among
unequals. This country boasts the world's largest economy; its
annual GDP of almost $16 trillion is nearly one-fourth of global
output. Compare this with $7 trillion for China. Per capita GDP in
the United States is close to $50,000, between six and nine times
that of China.
The United States also has the world's most capable armed forces.
No other country comes close. Core U.S. defense spending of some
$500 billion is greater than that of the next 10 countries combined.
The American qualitative military edge will be around for a long,
* There is no peer competitor on the horizon. Yes, China has been
growing fast, and its GDP one day will equal or pass that of the
United States. But that day will arrive later than many forecast, as
Chinese growth is slowing. In addition, China's ability to translate
its increasing wealth into power and influence is constrained by a
deteriorating natural environment, an enormous and aging population,
burgeoning social needs and a political system far less dynamic than
the economy and society it seeks to control.
As for the European Union, despite a collective economy slightly
larger than that of the United States and a population surpassing
500 million, it punches far below its weight due to it parochialism,
pronounced anti-military culture and unresolved tensions between
nationalism and unity. Europe also faces prolonged low economic
Japan is saddled with a large debt -- approximately 200 percent
of GDP -- while restrictive immigration policies deny the country an
opportunity not just to increase its population and lower its
average age, but to obtain new ideas and talent. It also labors
under the burden of a feudalistic political system and a history
that makes most of its neighbors wary of any Japanese reemergence as
a political and military power.
Russia will also continue to be held back by its politics. It is
hobbled by corruption and is more an oligarchy than a democracy,
though the possibility exists for a "Moscow Spring." Russia also has
a mostly one-dimensional economy, more influenced by government than
markets, that depends on oil, gas and minerals.
In short, the alleged other great powers are not all that great.
* The United States has not acted in a way that has provoked a
direct challenge. Yes, doubts about the wisdom and legitimacy of
U.S. foreign policy are widespread, but they tend to lead more to
denunciations, head-shaking and an absence of cooperation than to
outright resistance. …