segunda-feira, 7 de julho de 2008

The Future of American Power

How America Can Survive the Rise of the Rest

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Summary: Despite some eerie parallels between the position of the United States today and that of the British Empire a century ago, there are key differences. Britain's decline was driven by bad economics. The United States, in contrast, has the strength and dynamism to continue shaping the world -- but only if it can overcome its political dysfunction and reorient U.S. policy for a world defined by the rise of other powers.

FAREED ZAKARIA is Editor of Newsweek International. This essay is adapted from his book The Post-American World (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., © 2008 by Fareed Zakaria).

On June 22, 1897, about 400 million people around the world -- one-fourth of humanity -- got the day off. It was the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's ascension to the British throne. The Diamond Jubilee stretched over five days on land and sea, but its high point was the parade and thanksgiving service on June 22. The 11 premiers of Britain's self-governing colonies were in attendance, along with princes, dukes, ambassadors, and envoys from the rest of the world. A military procession of 50,000 soldiers included hussars from Canada, cavalrymen from New South Wales, carabineers from Naples, camel troops from Bikaner, and Gurkhas from Nepal. It was, as one historian wrote, "a Roman moment."

In London, eight-year-old Arnold Toynbee was perched on his uncle's shoulders, eagerly watching the parade. Toynbee, who grew up to become the most famous historian of his age, recalled that, watching the grandeur of the day, it felt as if the sun were "standing still in the midst of Heaven." "I remember the atmosphere," he wrote. "It was: 'Well, here we are on top of the world, and we have arrived at this peak to stay there forever. There is, of course, a thing called history, but history is something unpleasant that happens to other people. We are comfortably outside all of that I am sure.'"

But of course, history did happen to Britain. The question for the superpower of the current age is, Will history happen to the United States as well? Is it already happening? No analogy is exact, but the British Empire in its heyday is the closest any nation in the modern age has come to the United States' position today. In considering whether and how the forces of change will affect the United States, it is worth paying close attention to the experience of Britain.

There are many contemporary echoes. The United States' recent military interventions in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq all have parallels in British military interventions decades ago. The basic strategic dilemma of being the only truly global player on the world stage is strikingly similar. But there are also fundamental differences between Britain then and the United States now. For Britain, as it tried to maintain its superpower status, the largest challenge was economic rather than political. For the United States, it is the other way around.

Through shrewd strategic choices and some sophisticated diplomacy, Britain was able to maintain and even extend its influence for decades. In the end, however, it could not alter the fact that its power position -- its economic and technological dynamism -- was fast eroding. Britain declined gracefully -- but inexorably. The United States today faces a problem that is quite different. The U.S. economy (despite its current crisis) remains fundamentally vigorous when compared with others. American society is vibrant. It is the United States' political system that is dysfunctional, unable to make the relatively simple reforms that would place the country on extremely solid footing for the future. Washington seems largely unaware of the new world rising around it -- and shows few signs of being able to reorient U.S. policy for this new age.


Today, it is difficult even to imagine the magnitude of the British Empire. At its height, it covered about a quarter of the earth's land surface and included a quarter of its population. London's network of colonies, territories, bases, and ports spanned the globe. The empire was protected by the Royal Navy, the greatest seafaring force in history, and linked by 170,000 nautical miles of ocean cables and 662,000 miles of aerial and buried cables. British ships had facilitated the development of the first global communications network, via the telegraph. Railways and canals (the Suez Canal most importantly) deepened the connectivity of the system. Through all of this, the British Empire created the first truly global market.

Americans often talk about the appeal of their culture and ideas, but "soft power" really began with Britain. The historian Claudio Véliz points out that in the seventeenth century, the two imperial powers of the day, Britain and Spain, both tried to export their ideas and practices to their western colonies. Spain wanted the Counter-Reformation to take hold in the New World; Britain wanted religious pluralism and capitalism to flourish. As it turned out, British ideas proved more universal. In fact, Britain has arguably been the most successful exporter of its culture in human history. Before the American dream, there was an "English way of life" -- one that was watched, admired, and copied throughout the world. And also thanks to the British Empire, English spread as a global language, spoken from the Caribbean to Cape Town to Calcutta.

Not all of this was recognized in June 1897, but much of it was. The British were hardly alone in making comparisons between their empire and Rome. Paris' Le Figaro declared that Rome itself had been "equaled, if not surpassed, by the Power which in Canada, Australia, India, in the China Seas, in Egypt, Central and Southern Africa, in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean rules the peoples and governs their interests." The Kreuz-Zeitung in Berlin described the empire as "practically unassailable." Across the Atlantic, The New York Times gushed, "We are a part, and a great part, of the Greater Britain which seems so plainly destined to dominate this planet."

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