Over the Horizon: The Future of American Hegemony

Over the Horizon: The Future of American Hegemony

Editor's note: This will be Robert Farley’s final “Over the Horizon” column at World Politics Review. However, we look forward to featuring his work in WPR in the future. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Robert for making “Over the Horizon” a must read over the past year and a half and to wish him success in all his many endeavors.

The intellectual battle over the future of American hegemony has been joined. Andrew Bacevich argues that the American Century has ended and that further American pretentions to hegemony will lead to disaster. Michael Cohen argues that the United States suffers from critical domestic problems that undermine long-term U.S. capability. On the other side of the debate, Dan Drezner, Robert Kagan and others (.pdf) argue that U.S. military and economic advantage are likely to persist over the foreseeable future.

How might we know that the American Century has actually ended? Shifts in hegemony rarely come with a herald; even when the U.S. was at its most dominant in 1945, the shape of the future was hardly clear. Indeed, the United States surpassed the United Kingdom in economic power -- and in latent military power -- around the turn of the 20th century, yet no one claims that the American Century began in 1900, or that British hegemony ended when the GDP numbers turned south. Indeed, while the United States surely played a pre-eminent role in global politics after 1945, the existence of the Soviet Union put a wide swath of the globe off limits to direct U.S. influence. In military terms, we are still many years from a replay of the kind of global military and ideological competition that characterized the Cold War, even if we accept worst-case assumptions about China’s growth and belligerence.

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