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16

GREATNESS AND DECADENCE OF THE WEST

 

"Promiscuity and degradation thrived.

Roman morals had long become impure,

but never was there so favorable an environment

for debauchery as among this filthy crowd.

Even in good surroundings people find it hard to behave well.

Here every form of immorality competed for attention,

and no chastity, modesty, or vestige of decency could survive."

TACITUS (c. 55-120), Annals, 14:15.

 

"Éif a state overextends itself strategically—by, say, the conquest of extensive territories or the waging of costly wars—it runs the risk that the potential benefits from external expansion may be outweighed by the great expense of it allÉ"

Paul KENNEDY, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers[i]

 

"Each civilization has the garbage it deserves."

Georges DUHAMEL (1884-1966)

 

         Numerous ancient empires and civilizations have appeared, only to vanish into the night of time. One of course thinks of the Roman Empire, but there have been many others.

 

         Empires, and the civilizations that sustain them, have a limited life. They follow a long megacycle of several centuries, going through phases of implantation, ascension, and expansion until their summit of grandeur, only to mark time during a period of consolidation, followed by a more or less rapid decline ending in their final disintegration. Civilizations, like empires, are not eternal. They are complex, and therefore fragile, and at the mercy of all sorts of disruptions. The more complex they are, the more fragile and vulnerable. Due to the vicissitudes of major shocks, catastrophic events, or the harmful influence of incompetent and corrupted leaders, they can follow the wrong path, hastening their decline and final eclipse.[ii]

 

The 600-year megacycle

 

         From a cyclical standpoint, it is interesting to observe that, in the past, certain empires seem to have followed a 600-year cycle. Let us look at three of the most notable ones.

 

         The Roman Empire. In supposing that Ancient Rome's hegemony really began after the destruction of its rival, Carthage, in 146 B.C., the Roman Empire's period of expansion and subsequent decline lasted approximately 622 years. Its expansionist period lasted from the reign of Agustus Caesar (r. 27 B.C.- 14 A.D.) until that of Diocletian (284 A.D.) For two more centuries, internal struggles and barbarian attacks caused its decline, until its ultimate fall at the hands of the Barbarians, in 476 A.D.[iii]

 

         The Muslim Empire. From the death of Mohammed in 632, the Muslim Empire expanded rapidly under the dynasty of the caliphate of the Umayyaads. By 750, the empire extended from Spain to India. After 945, however, under the caliphate of the Abbasids, the Muslim Empire lost its cohesion and began a long decline. Its final disintegration came in 1258, at the hands of the Mongols. It had lasted 626 years.

 

         The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. From its foundation by Osmon I in 1290, the Ottoman Empire expanded geographically until the conquest of Constantinople, in 1453, which was transformed into the imperial capital of Istanbul under the direction of Sultan Mehemet II. The empire continued its expansion until the reign of Sultan Soleiman II the Magnificent (1520-1566), who conquered Hungary. At its peak, this empire extended from Hungary in the north to Rhodes in the west, to Persia in the east and to Arabia in the South. After Soleiman II was stopped at the gates of Vienna, in 1532, the Ottoman Empire began a long retrenchment, until it fell to the Allied Forces in 1917, having sided with Germany in 1914.[iv] From birth to death: 627 years.

 

         Is there an unwritten law that determines that the length of time an empire can grow and withstand the weight of endogenous and exogenous forces is approximately six centuries? Without making it an inevitability, it seems that there is a megacycle concerning civilizations and empires that lasts for about 600 years.[v]

 

         As for the global explanations for these declines, the thesis of Paul Kennedy is of particular interest. Great powers, and by extension, great civilizations, are usually condemned to follow an internal dynamic which brings them, by the arrogance or the recklessness of their leaders, to overexpand and to overextend their reach.[vi] The nation that extends itself into other territories is in a permanent state of weakness and of constant danger. Sooner or later, the marginal costs of this excessive expansion exceed the marginal benefits, and the empire ceases to get richer, begins to get poorer and then breaks apart.

 

         The question is pertinent. Has the West, and especially the United States, become over-extended under the double umbrella of economic globalization and planetary military hegemony? Will the revolt of populations in the countries that have been left behind generate more costs, in upheavals of all kinds, than the gains procured by this domination? Can the West preserve its values and fundamental principles?

 

The values of Western civilization

 

         Many people believe that religion was the corner stone of Western civilization. They see religion as the vehicule for the development of spiritual and moral values, beginning with the biblical Ten Commandments of Moses, and resulting in the blossoming of Western civilization.[vii] It is true that Judeo-Christian values were the source of certain great principles of civilization, among them:

 

1-  the idea that every individual posesses intrinsic value, and consequently must assume a personal moral responsibility;

1-  the principle of the superiority of reason over superstition;

2-  the subordination of nature to human progress;

3-  the concept of private property and the motivation to economize scarce resources, as well as the incentive to improve conditions and to accumulate productive capital.

 

         Without diminishing the importance of the civilizing influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor underestimating the contribution of the great religions concerning individual spirituality and morality, one can advance that, historically, Western civilization really began to flower when the civil society freed itself from the political-religious institutions that had controlled Western populations for centuries.[viii]

 

         In fact, compared to other civilizations of the time in Asia and Africa, the rise of Western civilization really began in the 15th and 16th Centuries, when a series of shocks, events, and fundamental transformations opened the way for the establishment of political and economic freedoms. The totalitarian tradition of religious and royal power that had dominated Europe for more than a millennium ruptured and weakened, and this period marked the slow development of liberal democracy.

 

         Beginning in the 15th and 16th Centuries, and especially by the 18th Century, the century of the Enlightenment, a revolutionary idea gained hold. It was the idea that the individual had an absolute sovereignty and that political power did not come from abstract deities, as all religions had previously taught, but from the people itself. Therefore, republican and democratic principles went much further than the religious idea of individual self-worth.[ix] They reinforced and completed Judeo-Christian ideas about the organization of public life by rendering possible the rise of liberal democracy as a political system.

 

         While it is true that the Judeo-Christian religious traditions of emphasizing individuality had prepared the philosophical terrain for the establishment of democracy, it was necessary for the idea that political power comes from the people and not from a remote god to take hold, before power could be transferred from religiously appointed kings and princes to elected representative governments. It must be said, therefore, that the conception of the lofty democratic ideal is essentially of a European and secular origin. This ideal proposes that:

 

1-  individual liberty is a natural human endowment;

2-  all men are born equal, are capable of self-government, and political power derives from the people and not from abstract deities;

3-  government should be secular and not religious;

4-  philosophical or religious fatalism should be rejected in favor of the idea of progress through science and knowledge;

5-  property should be distributed and not centralized;

6-  trade can be free while being regulated by means of laws and contracts.[x]

 

         Just as in some Islamic countries today that are at the same stage as Europe four centuries ago—that is, ruled by political and economic systems based on a poisonous combination of politics and religion—Europe's development was paralyzed during more than a thousand years by the domination that religions held over the lay population.[xi]

 

         One cannot really speak of Western civilization during the Middle Ages. Even less can one consider the darkest part of the Middle Ages as representing Western civilization. The terrorist regime of the religious Inquisition subsisted in Europe from its first justification by the Council of Verona in 1184, and its official creation by Pope Gregory IX in 1233, until its final abolition in 1820.

 

Fundamental reasons for the West's success

 

         How did the Western Empire get to its present form in the 21st Century? First of all, the relative success of Western civilization did not happen in a vacuum. It was built on solid political, economic, and military foundations.

 

         Historically, the greatest achievement of the Western world was at the same time political and economic. The West succeeded in reconciling, both in its principles and its institutions, the demands of individual freedom and the requirements for economic prosperity. It was this combination of political and economic liberty that made possible the investments and the initiatives which in turn produced increased revenus and wealth.

 

         Seven factors are found at the heart of the rise of the Western world, or what can be called the Democratic Western Empire, beginning in the middle of the 15th Century: new ideas, new territories, new communication and production technologies, new political organizations, a new decentralized economic system based on property rights and on free markets, social stability through social progress and military superiority in order to defend freedom.

 

 New ideas favoring political and religious freedom and the decentralization of political power in Europe in the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries;

 

 The discovery of the Americas at the end of the 15th Century, opening up new territories to colonization and immigration, which relieved the demographic pressure on European populations and strengthened the European countries that exploited the New World's natural resources;

 

 The invention of new communications technnologies in the 15th Century and the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 18th Century led to increased investments and a rise in workers' productivity, while preventing the decreasing returns of labor on farmlands.

 

 At the end of the 18th Century, the advent of democracy and the establishment of the nation-states ushered in new political and economic organizations. The resulting deconcentration of power in Europe brought an end to the stagnation imposed by totalitarian powers, both religious and aristocratic.

 

The advent of a decentralized capitalist economic system turned out to be a wealth-creating machine parallel to no other and it has been the envy of the rest of the world ever since. An example of a new type of organization in the economic sphere is the limited responsibility corporation. This institution promotes economic development by encouraging risk-taking and investments, while limiting the financial risk of shareholders to their initial capital investment.[xii]

 

 The West's democratic and social philosophy of using the State as a mechanism for wealth distribution, was not only a contributor to domestic political stability, but has been copied all over the world, creating a climate favorable to economic growth.

 

 Finally, because of their economic and military superiority, western countries could more easily resist any destabilizing attempts of subjugation from the outside and could remain free to develop and progress.

 

         Economically, indeed, the new system of ideas, values, and norms based on personal liberty and free enterprise resulted in the extension of property rights—previously concentrated in the hands of the aristocracy and the clergy—to private individuals. The concentration of property and the heavy taxes levied on the people to maintain extensive royal and ecclesiastic institutions kept resources from being devoted to more productive use, and were thus a source of economic stagnation. Entrepreneurial freedom, the freedom to invest and innovate, the rise of commercial and industrial capitalism, and the creation of free markets constituted an enormous progress in Europe. These cultural, political, and social innovations liberated energy and creativity in a way that no centralized system based on the concentration of property could have done.

 

         Well before the Industrial Revolution in the 1750's, technology played an important role in the diffusion of humanist ideas of political and economic freedom. In 1423, the discovery of wood engraving and, in 1452, of metal engraving, and especially of course, in 1450, the invention of printing with movable type by the German Johann Gutenberg, enabled new works and knowledge to spread rapidly. Gone were the days when only a few learned ecclesiastics wrote theological books in Latin, inaccessible to the public. Humanists quickly began to use the vernacular language to communicate with the public at large.

 

         The renewed interest in nature encouraged the development of the sciences. The objectivity and precision of the scientific method supplanted the vagueness and confusion of the scolastics.[xiii] Universities were established—Venice, Bale, Paris, Louvain, and others—to investigate the new areas of study. In medecine, it was the study of the human body. In astronomy, the precise study of the sun and planets' place in the solar system. The Renaissance was the true beginning of the modern era.

 

Totalitarian versus democratic values

 

         Western history is indeed a long battle between totalitarian and democratic values. Thanks to the intellectual and scientific renewal during the Renaissance, the universal values of freedom and democracy triumphed over totalitarian theocratic and aristocratic values. Today, we enjoy the fruits of the victory of democracy over totalitarianism.

 

         The West has been perfecting its 10 founding principles over more than five centuries:

1-  equality, dignity, and liberty of all people, guaranteed by          inherent and constitutional rights

2-  tolerance among all peoples and individuals

3-  social solidarity

4-  the secularization of the state

5-  universal and secular education

6-  the equality of the sexes

7-  political democracy

8-   free enterprise

9-  confidence in progress through science and knowledge

10-the right of all individuals to seek happiness.

 

         These are the values that can be contrasted with the totalitarian principles that other, less advanced, civilizations and philosophies offer the world.

 

The rise of the Western Empire

 

         The interdependent Western nations that have contributed in building Western civilization have constituted over time a de facto empire, not because they were subjected to a single political authority, but precisely because of the absence of such a supreme, centralized government.

 

         All the while sharing the same humanist values, and sharing the same experience of geographic expansion and technological and economic development, the European and American nation-states stimulated each other in a competition that was sometimes creative, sometimes destructive, but, in the long run, very positive. Because European and American nations shared a common Western civilization, it is realistic to qualify this group of countries as the Democratic Western Empire, even though this empire has several centers and contains several sub-empires that rival each other.

 

         It is a super-empire that began its true ascension after the fateful date of 1453, when Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire fell at the hands of the Muslims. This event shows how a short term set-back can be a blessing in the long run. The date is doubly important. First, the "accident" of the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans, in 1492, is the direct result of the closing of the spice road to the Far East. Naval technology for the construction of ships capable of sailing the high seas did the rest.

 

         Second, it was also around the year 1450, that military technology using gunpowder became operational. The French were the first to perfect the new artillery weapons. Economist Leonard Dudley has well documented this point in his book The Word and the Sword:

 

         In 1450 and 1453, "the French artillery played an important role in the victories that drove the English from French soil...By the 1490's, the French artillery was the best in the world. It is no coincidence that the French monarchy was also the most powerful in Europe." [xiv]

 

         The Chinese had discovered gunpowder, but they hadn't mastered the techniques of molding cast iron shot and cast-metal artillery pieces. It was the Europeans, and especially the French, who transformed the Chinese discovery into a devastating military innovation. Artillery became the key element for the efficiency of European armies on the battlefield.

 

         Navies gained also from the new techniques. When England mounted canons on the bridge of its seagoing ships, the small island became the ruler of the seas and extended an empire upon which "the sun never set". Leonard Dudley aserts that Western civilization and its fundamental values would not have emerged without the protective umbrella of military superiority over the other world powers of the times.

 

         The leadership of the Democratic Western Empire changed several times. In the beginning, a few monarchies shared the hegemony—France under Franois I (1494-1547), Austria and Spain under Charles V (1500-1558), and the Austrian Habsburg family until 1659 (the Treaty of the Pyrenees). Thus, at the outset, there were embryos of European power. Later, France became the dominant power in central Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries, first under Louis XIV (1638-1715), then under Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

 

         From 1815 to 1914, Great Britain spearheaded the advance of Western civilization throughout the world. It was England that was first to profit from the Industrial Revolution that began around 1750. The arrival of industrial machinery in Great Britain, and later also in Germany and France, revolutionized the traditional economy—based upon agriculture and trade—and ushered in the great developments of industrialization and urbanization.

 

         The shock of World War I (1914-1918) and the even more devastating shock of World War II (1939-1945), considerably weakened the traditional European powers. These two ruinous wars were exhausting fratricidal adventures, opposing Germany and Italy, on one side, and France and Great Britain on the other.

 

         The cost of the two debilitating wars to the European pole of Western civilization was the economic, military, and political ascendance of the American pole, represented by the United States. Without these two crippling wars, the nerve center of the Democratic Western Empire might never have crossed the Atlantic. During World War I, the outputs of Germany and France dropped over 10 percent and 25 percent respectively, while those of Great Britain and the United States continued to grow. During World War II, the same thing happened and the outputs of Germany and France dropped by over 50 percent in both cases, while the United Kingdom kept growing, and the United States grew even more rapidly.[xv]

 

         Since 1914, and certainly since 1945, the West's leadership torch has been passed to the United States of America, essentially because of its relative economic ascendancy. Today, the Democratic Western Empire comprises the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), less Turkey. It is incontestably the greatest military power in the world. It is also an empire in expansion, since ten Eastern Europe countries joined the European Union in May of 2004, both reinforcing and consolidating it.

 

         When the balance sheet is in, the apogee of the Democratic Western Empire under American leadership may be set at the 1989-91 period, at the fall of communism and the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The only credible rival of the Democratic Western Empire for worldwide hegemony has disappeared. For those who control the greatest military force, that is the United States, this absence of competition could remove all restraints and open the door to the worst follies. Perhaps in the future, the determining factor in the eventual decline of the Democratic Western Empire will be seen to be this dangerous concentration of power in a single dominant pole, based upon military force, apart from all other nation states.

 

         Over the long term, the political, economic, and military tensions that exist between the American and European poles of the Super Empire are certainly a threat to sustaining the dominant position of Western civilization in the world. Indeed, the United States fears a united Europe that could one day challenge its political and economic dominance. For instance, the euro has the potential to overcome the U.S. dollar as the international medium of exchange of choice for trade and financial transactions. In a context of internationalism and of secured peace, Europe could more easily prosper and extend its influence and could supplant the U.S. as the main world political pole. Conversely, a reversal to international tensions and to wars would play to American military strength and would keep Europe divided and subdued.

 

         The 2003 U.S.-initiated war against Iraq in order to control the Middle East oil spigot can be seen as part of a larger U.S. strategy to influence European economic and political development, the EU being even more dependent than America on imported oil. Indeed, with Europe and Japan being most dependent on oil supplies from the Persian Gulf, it is obvious that whoever controls this region militarily will maintain leverage over oil supplies to the rest of the world for decades to come.

 

         This creates a major dilemma for Europe. Even if its size and advanced development make it strong economically, it remains relatively weak politically and militarily. Indeed, with the United States flexing its hegemonic muscles all over the world, it may be dangerous for Europe to remain indefinitely mired in a state of political and military impotence that prevents it from playing a leadership role in world affairs. It remains that Europe is at the center of Western Civilization and is a model of economic and political integration for all the nation states of the world, in contrast to a monolithic and imperial America.

 

         Therefore, which view of the world—the European multilateral approach or the American unilateral approach—will prevail is bound to profoundly influence the acceptability and the legitimacy of western values and influence in the world. If Paul Kennedy's thesis is founded—that empires regress when they become over-extended and heavily indebted—the unilateral and arrogant actions of the American pole, in accordance with the "Bush Doctrine", are more likely to elicit antagonism in the rest of the world than the European attitude of internationalism, of collaboration and of openness to other civilizations.

 

         At the beginning of the 21st Century, the United States has become an empire on its own, with a military presence in 120 countries. It is the country with the world's largest military force, but also with the world's largest debt. Historically, there is no precedent for a country to be both politically dominant and heavily in debt.

 

         Indeed, the cost of American intervention in world affairs is starting to weigh on the U.S. With a foreign trade deficit surpassing $450 billion, and an external current account deficit of $430 billion, in 2002, the United States takes more out of the world economy than it contributes. The current account deficit, in particular, is the reflexion of the net foreign borrowing that the U.S. does each year internationally. These borrowings represent about 5% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). This is not far from the pivotal 6%, the threshold that has triggered financial crises for other nations. As a consequence, the U.S. has become a heavy net international debtor.

 

         At the end of 2001, the net international debt of the United States, that is, the difference between the value of U.S.-owned assets abroad and foreign-owned assets in the U.S. (including stocks, bonds and direct investments), amounted to $2.3 trillion. And this may have to increase in the future, as the U.S., armed with the myth of empire building, needs an ever expanding army in order to achieve security through imperial expansion and through worldwide imperial involvements.[xvi]

 

         At the same time, the Republican administration of George W. Bush has been insistent in pressing its objective of reducing taxes for the wealthy, and in the face of growing public expenditures, letting the domestic fiscal deficit explode. The twin U.S. deficits, fiscal and external, are a direct consequence of the fiscal choices made by the Bush administration. It is a recipe for disaster, for it means relying on foreign savings to finance the enormous U.S. military expenditures. In 2002, these amounted to $343.2 billion, or 43 percent of all military expenditures carried by all the world's countries. U.S. military expenditures represent 80 percent of the yearly current account deficit that it registers with the rest of the world. [xvii]

 

         In 2003, things got even worse. The Bush administration was truly on a militarist-spending binge. At the 2003 projected level of $400 billion of expenditures for the Pentagon, the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world population, is spending nearly as much on defense as all the rest of the world combined.[xviii] When those investors start selling, especially those from the second largest economy (Japan) and from the third largest (Germany), their sales will drive the U.S. dollar down, and the same can be said of American financial markets (stocks and bonds).

 

         The main victims will be the U.S. dollar and the U.S. economy, when consumers retreat and taxes have to be increased substantially to forestall a debt explosion, at the same time that interest rates will have to rise in order to stop the outflow of capital. The twin deficit is a weakness that will come back to haunt the United States in the future. In 2003, the Bush administration did not suspect the long-term damage it was doing to the U.S. economy and by extension, to the world economy.

 

         Under the contested leadership of the United States, how long will the Democratic Western Empire maintain its dominant world position in the face of other rapidly expanding economies, such as China? As pure speculation, if, as previously noted, the average duration of past empires is 625 years, when applied to the Democratic Western Empire, its decline or its decadence would already be well advanced by 2078.

 

         Of course there is no determinism in this conjecturing. There are always so many unexpected shocks and future events, it is impossible to predict. In fact, in 1918, the German historian Oswald Spengler wrote of the decadence of the West.[xix] If the 625-year megacycle of empires holds true, Spengler will have erred by more than a century and a half!

 

A uni-polar, bi-polar or tri-polar world in 2050?

 

         If it were only a matter of economic strength, the uni-polar hegemony of the United States at the beginning of the 21st Century is probably temporary. Indeed, there are two candidates on the horizon who will seriously compete with the U.S.

 

         Within the Democratic Western camp, the demographic and economic force of the European Union is undeniable. Even with only the 15 member nations in 2002-2003, this European block of 377 million people is a world economic giant. After May 1, 2004, with the addition of ten new countries, the European 25 will be a formidable unit of 452 million inhabitants. In 2007, its GDP will reach $14.9 trillion U.S., compared with 18.0 trillion for the United States (see Table below). However, when the European block expands, it will lose in political cohesion what it gains in economic power. For this reason, the eventual arrival of Russia in the EU, which is not inconceivable, will be problematic.

 

         The other mega-state of the 21st Century will be continental China, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan. With a population of 1.27 billion people, of whom two-thirds live in rural areas, its population is ten times larger than Japan's. Although it is an authoritarian state and not a democracy, it is strongly oriented towards export-led economic growth. Around 1979-80, China took a capitalist turn, opening itself to foreign investment, allowing the establishment of mixed foreign and domestic corporations, and creating four special economic zones.

 

         The re-integration of Hong Kong in 1997 gave another boost to Chinese capitalism, stimulating other large economic centers such as Shanghai. Since December 11, 2001, China is officially a member of the all-important World Trade Organization (WTO). In joining the WTO, in order to comply with the rules of the trade body, it had to amend more than 2,300 of its laws and regulations and to abolish 830 of them. This move should give China a big impetus in its integration into the world economy. In 2008, China will host the Olympic Games. It should then be able to show the world the profound reforms and transformations it has undertaken during the last quarter century.[xx]

 

         At its present rate—that is with economic growth two times greater than the United States and three times greater than Europe—Greater China may match the economy of the European Union of 25 countries by 2007, not in terms of standard of living, but in terms of total GDP. China already produces more steel than the United States and Japan combined.

 

         The Chinese are using the new communications technology to break out of their isolation—first linguistic, then economic. China is in fact benefiting from two big transformations in modern life. New technologies of communication that standardize methods and unify peoples, and the globalization of the economy that creates opportunities for specialization and enrichment, and brings economic growth through exports. In 2002, Chinese exports amounted to a staggering $325.6 billion.[xxi]

 

         Due to its low labor costs and undervalued currency, continental China maintains huge foreign trade surpluses, especially vis-ˆ-vis the United States. In 2002, China had a $100-billion trade surplus with the United States. However, the Chinese government staunchly refused to revalue its currency, the Renminbi yuan, pegged to the U.S. dollar at 8.28 yuans for a dollar, since 1994. As a result, China has accumulated large international reserves. Indeed, China's official reserves reached $316 billion in 2003, while Hong Kong and Taiwan had reserves of their own, totaling $116 and $175 billion respectively. If China's currency were freely convertible to other currencies, it would be expected to appreciate by as much as 40 percent, and possibly by 100 percent. This would mean that Chinese wages could rise from about 60 cents an hour to $1.20 an hour. This would have two results: China's external trade imbalances would contract, and deflationary forces in the world economy would be somewhat weakened.

 

         However, even if it were to revalue its currency, China could still rely on an inexhaustible pool of cheap labor, enabling domestic and foreign firms alike to produce ever more sophisticated products with relatively low labor costs. It will take decades, indeed, before the average wage in China catches up with those in developed countries. Continental China has good universities, so much so that many young people from Taiwan prefer to study there rather than in the United States. This is enough to draw many foreign companies to China. In 2002, for example, foreign direct investments in China amounted to $50 billion.

 

         Just as the Turkish leader AtatŸrk (Mustapha Kemal), in 1928, improved the usefulness and the prestige of the Turkish language by latinizing its alphabet, Chinese leaders understood—as far back as 1956—that modern electronic means could facilitate the simplification of their national language (putonghua or mandarin) by using a more standardized alphabet, the pinyin (pin: spell, yin: sound). Also, as Japan did in the 1950's and 1960's, China imported up-to-date foreign technology to strengthen its economy. This openness to capital, to technology and to trade should propel China to new heights in the 21st Century.

 

         The Greater China economic block could equal, and possibly surpass, the GDP of the United States in 2012. These extrapolations, although quite tentative, show that Greater China could substantially outdistance the U.S. in 2017, with a GDP of some $31.3 trillion US, compared to $23.8 trillion US for the United States and $18.2 trillion US for the European Union of 25 countries. At that time, Greater China could be more than four times more important economically than its Asian competitor, Japan. Of course, unexpected tragedy, for example the spread of new diseases, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, could throw a curve to any country's economic future and stifle its growth. In the case of China, it is also vulnerable to any conflict that could arise with the United States regarding the status of Taiwan. Such a military conflict would devastate the Chinese economy and stop short its drive to catch up with industrialized countries.

 

         Nevertheless, there is a good chance that the three main economic powers of the 21st Century will be the United States, the European Union, and Greater China. Indeed, history teaches us that such concentrations of demographic and economic powers are sooner or later accompanied by concentrations of political and military power. It would be surprising if the period of U.S. uni-polar hegemony that exists in the first part of the 21st Century continues for several more decades. By the middle of the century, at the latest, from an economic and geopolitical standpoint, we will most probably live in a tri-polar world.

 

         Will George Orwell's predictions of a tri-polar world in his novel 1984 be realized, almost one century later?[xxii]

 

 

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NOTES :

 

[1]  Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000, Vintage Books, New York, 1989.

 

 

[1]  On this subject, see the excellent book by Joseph A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies, 1988.

 

 

[1]  Originally the term "barbarian" meant someone who could not speak Greek.

 

 

[1]  Robert Mantran, (dir.) Histoire de l'empire Ottoman, Fayard, Paris, 1989, 810 pages.

 

 

[1]  The empire which lasted the longest was the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire. It began in 330 A.D. when Emperor Constantine, newly converted to Christianity, moved the headquarters of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople. This empire ended in 1453 when Constantinople felt to the Turks. The date 330 A.D. also marks the transformation of the Roman Empire into a divine right monarchy. Its golden "Hellenic" age, however, lasted from 641 to 1204, the latter date being that of its overrun by the barons of the 4th Catholic Crusade, which marked the beginning of its decadence.

 

 

[1]  Paul M. Kennedy, op. cit.

 

 

[1]  It can be argued that the two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, destroyed two great civilizations, the Roman civilization and the Arab civilization, and replaced them with more mediocre and more primitive religious civilizations.

In 380 A.D., the Roman emperor Theodosius I opened a Pandora's box which paved the way for the advent of the Middle Ages and which held back the Christian world for more than a thousand years. He decreed that Christianity was the only official religion of the Roman Empire and, as a corollary, that the emperors held power by divine right, under the authority of God. The Church and the State were one.

Similarly, Islam is a religion profoundly anchored in the traditions of a 7th Century peasant society. It denies the right to freedom of conscience and of religion, refuses the principle of religious tolerance, and tramples the democratic principle of the equality of the sexes, while rejecting the democratic principle of the separation of Church and State. By introducing religious and anti-scientific governments, Islam has held back the Arab world for centuries. From 750 to about 1000 A.D., science and technology in the Arab world were much more advanced than in Christian Europe. Then Arab science was declared heretic by religious fanatics. For militant Islam, all truth had to be "revealed" from God (Allah) and didn't need to be researched.

 

 

[1]  For an analysis of the positive and negative contributions of religions to society, see: Rodrigue Tremblay, L'Heure juste, le choc entre la politique, l'Žconomique et la morale, ƒditions StankŽ Internationales, 2001, chapter 4.

 

 

[1]  The Enlightenment, in the 18th Century, was a European philosophical movement characterized by rationalism, scientific learning, religious skepticism and political empiricism in social and political thought.

 

 

[1]  See David Landes, Richesse et pauvretŽ des nations, Albin Michel, Paris, 1998.

 

 

[1]  In most countries where Islam is dominant, the Islamic clergy considers science to be a Western invention and "irreligious". They see scientific and economic progress as a menace to their reactionary conservatism. Their greatest desire is to revive the primitive Middle Ages, when populations were uneducated and could be more easily manipulated by the political-religious class. Without the aid of scientific and technological progress, the populations in Muslim countries are condemned to material inadequacy and underdevelopment.

 

 

[1]  For a history of the limited-liability companies, see: John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Company, A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, Modern Library, 2003.

 

 

[1]  In France, RenŽ Descartes (Discours de la mŽthode, 1637) wrote the definitive description of the scientific method.

 

 

[1]  Leonard Dudley, The Word and the Sword: How techniques of information and violence have shaped our world, Blackwell, Cambridge, Mass., 1991, chap. 4, p.134, p.122.

 

 

[1] A. Maddison, "Phases of Capitalist Development", Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, Quarterly Review, June 1977, pp. 103-137.

 

 

[1]  Thom Shanker, "New Top General Tells Legislators U.S. Will Probably Need a Larger Army", The New York Times, July 30, 2003.

 

 

[1]  Worldwide military expenditures exceeded $800 billion in 2002.

 

The top military spenders (in billions) were:

United States $343.2

Russia $60

China $42

Japan $40.4

United Kingdom $34

Saudi Arabia $27.2

France $25.3

Germany $21

Brazil $17.9

India $15.6

Italy $15.5

South Korea $11.8

Source: Data compiled by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

 

 

[1] This is a record. And it keeps getting larger. The U.S. defense budget is scheduled to reach $451 billion in 2007.

 

            The first victim of the financial crisis that looms will be the U.S. dollar. As soon as a political or economic shock reverses the net flow of capital toward the U.S., the dollar will cease to dominate international financial markets. People forget that foreigners own $1.5 trillion in U.S. equities and another $1.4 trillion in U.S. bonds."

 

 In 2002, foreigners owned 11 percent of U.S. stocks and 42 percent of treasury bonds.

 

 

[1]  Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 2 Vols., trans. Charles Francis Atkinson, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1922.

 

 

[1]  See Dwight Perkins, "ChinaÕs future: economic and social development scenarios for the Twenty-first Century." In OECD, China in the 21st Century. OECD, 1996.

 

 

[1]  For a review of economic and policy requirements for export-led growth, see Rodrigue Tremblay, "The Canada-U.S. Trade Arrangements for Export-Led Growth", Review of North American Economics and Finance, 1991, 14 p.

 

 

[1]  In George Orwell's novel 1984 the world was divided into three countries: Oceania, Eurasia, and Estasia. Alliances were constantly shifting among the three, always pitting two countries against the third, in varying combinations.

George Orwell, 1984, Signet Classic, re-issue 1990, originally published in 1948.

 

Table-1

 

Gross domestic products of the principle economic blocks

(trillions of US dollars, adjusted to purchasing power parities)

 

                                   2002     2007     2012     2017

 

United States                 10,4      13,7      18,0      23,8

 

European Union*            9,3      12,3      14,9      18,2

 

Greater China**             7,8       12,4      19,7     31,3

 

Japan                            3,3         4,2        5,3      6,8

--------------------------------------------------------------

* For the EU, the year 2002 includes 15 countries; afterwards,

25 countries.

** Greater China includes the economies of Hong Kong

and Taiwan.

Sources:

For 2002 and 2007: Business Week, Dec. 9, 2002, p. 51.

For 2012 and 2017, author's projections.

 

 

 

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