Being the world’s sole superpower is a lonely business. But, writes former National Security Council advisor Kupchan, the US may not be alone for long.
Unipolar eras—that is, periods in which only one major power holds sway, as at the height of the Roman Empire—tend to be peaceful and fruitful, writes Kupchan. So it has seemed, minus a terrorist outrage or ethnic massacre here and there, since the end of the Cold War, leaving the US the only power capable of maintaining world order. Yet, Kupchan holds, this is probably just an anomaly, a blip on history’s radar, and “America appears to be committing the same error as most other great nations that have come before it—mistaking for a more permanent peace the temporary quiescence that usually follows resolution of a major geopolitical divide.” That peace is likely to be broken by two developments, he adds: the rapid ascent of a united Europe economically and politically, and the off-in-the-wings rise of China and the economic recovery of Japan, adding an East Asian node to a suddenly tripolar world. The absence of a coherent foreign policy—and, Kupchan suggests, a lack of interest in foreign affairs on the part of America’s political class—make the US ill-prepared for these developments, just as it was ill-prepared for the events of September 11. Kupchan urges that the US develop a “sound grand strategy” allowing for the possibility of having to share the world stage—and, moreover, that reckons that the future division of the world will be between the have nations of the Northern Hemisphere and the have-nots of the Southern. The author gets in a few digs here and there—at the current president’s inadequacy, at American collegians’ ignorance of history, at SUV owners—while defending his thesis, which seems both reasonable and probable.
Alarmed readers may take some comfort in knowing, as Kupchan acknowledges, that it’s difficult to forecast history. Even so, this will be a gloomy read for America-first types.