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The End of the American Era

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stephen M. Walt

THE UNITED States has been the dominant world power since 1945, and U.S. leaders have long sought to preserve that privileged position. They understood, as did most Americans, that primacy brought important benefits. It made other states less likely to threaten America or its vital interests directly. By dampening great-power competition and giving Washington the capacity to shape regional balances of power, primacy contributed to a more tranquil international environment. That tranquility fostered global prosperity; investors and traders operate with greater confidence when there is less danger of war. Primacy also gave the United States the ability to work for positive ends: promoting human rights and slowing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It may be lonely at the top, but Americans have found the view compelling.

When a state stands alone at the pinnacle of power, however, there is nowhere to go but down. And so Americans have repeatedly worried about the possibility of decline—even when the prospect was remote. Back in 1950, National Security Council Report 68 warned that Soviet acquisition of atomic weapons heralded an irreversible shift in geopolitical momentum in Moscow’s favor. A few years later, Sputnik’s launch led many to fear that Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev’s pledge to “bury” Western capitalism might just come true. President John F. Kennedy reportedly believed the USSR would eventually be wealthier than the United States, and Richard Nixon famously opined that America was becoming a “pitiful, helpless giant.” Over the next decade or so, defeat in Indochina and persistent economic problems led prominent academics to produce books with titles like America as an Ordinary Country and After Hegemony. Far-fetched concerns about Soviet dominance helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency and were used to justify a major military buildup in the early 1980s. The fear of imminent decline, it seems, has been with us ever since the United States reached the zenith of global power.

Continue Here: http://nationalinterest.org/article/the-end-the-american-era-6037?page=show

*Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he served as academic dean from 2002-2006. He previously taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago, where he served as master of the social science collegiate division and deputy dean of social sciences.

Source: The National Interest
http://nationalinterest.org

More By Stephen M. Walt:

*Fear, Incorporated: Who's Paying for All that Islamophobic Paranoia?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Fear_Incorporated_Who_s_Paying_for_All_that_Islamophobic_Paranoia_.htm

*Wishful Thinking: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Wishful_Thinking.htm

*Mainstreaming War with Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Mainstreaming_War_with_Iran.htm

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