Is the United States facing decline? Since the unipolar moment around the turn of the century, the United States has lost ground on nearly every dimension of power where it then led the world: economic, military, diplomatic, and soft-power appeal. The US share of the global economy has declined, with the Chinese economy now the second economy in nominal terms and the first when calculated through Purchasing Power Parity (PPT).
With the rise of China as a military great power in Asia, and the renewed aggression of Russia in Europe, as well as the perpetual instability in the Middle East, the US military is overcommitted. Allies in Europe and Asia have not overcome the memory of the Trump administration years, especially not since the unilateralist tendency might return after the Biden administration. The toxic polarization within American politics visible over the past years also undermines a great deal of the appeal of the United States as a country.
All these factors could point to the United States being a superpower in terminal decline. However, the debate on US decline tends to be deterministic, emphasizing either the inevitable downward trajectory of all great powers or the inherent, exceptional robustness of the United States itself. Neither perspective does justice to key trends, nor specifically to the choices US officials and its allies and partners can make.
Paul van Hooft, Atlantisch Perspectief, Nr. 6 – 2022