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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

America’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ pt-2: The global growth

The author, while assessing the effects of China’s phenomenal economic growth and Russia’s resurgence from the ashes of the downfall of the Soviet Union on America's 'manifest destiny', asserts that neither the rise nor the sunset of nations is inevitable nor fated by stars.

Let us now look at the second iceberg of global growth that has hit manifest destiny and has created that sinking feeling among its legatees and disciples. At the global level, three continental-countries and empires ultimately decide all strategic issues like war, peace, security, and boundaries.

America is the undisputed hegemon of the Western Hemisphere, whereas Russia and China are the hegemons of the Eastern Hemisphere. Each is a continental size country which is also an empire. Historically each of these three continental-countries expanded through occupying territories that belonged to many other nations. Whenever two of these three continental powers become allies and form a unified group, the third power has no choice except to yield to the will of that alliance. Whenever all these three global titans unite on any agenda, no option remains for the rest of the world except to comply with their unanimous decision. The structure of triangular relations between these three continental-countries is thus of vital importance on all strategic issues.

During the 20th century, America had a unique position and a superiority over the two other powerful empires. As the sole hegemon of the Western Hemisphere, America could deploy all its accumulated force and power in the Eastern Hemisphere without fear or cost of having to divert any of its resources on threats that could emanate from its own backyard in the Western Hemisphere. The same option was not available to the other two empires: neither Russia nor China could ever be so sure of its position and power within the Eastern Hemisphere that it could either stop American role and influence in the Eastern Hemisphere or challenge its dominance in the Western Hemisphere.

Moreover, in the 20th century America could play one hegemon of the Eastern Hemisphere against the other. Through its multiple global alliances, it could stop the emergence of a sole hegemon in the Eastern Hemisphere. The best example of such American global alliance is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The underlying objective of NATO is to ensure American presence and influence in the Eastern Hemisphere, and to stop the emergence of a sole hegemon that could become a challenger in the Eastern Hemisphere. This special position allowed America to play the role of that power which held global balance in its own hands, which could decide which side to put its weight in, and thus act as the de facto balancer of the global balance of power.

During the Second World War, America formed an alliance with Russia (Soviet Union). Both were able to defeat the emerging powers in the Eastern Hemisphere (Germany and Japan). In the second half of the 20th century, the triangular configuration of relations drastically changed when America and China (Nixon-Mao) forged a unified front that in the end resulted in the collapse of the third continental-empire, Russia (Soviet Union).

Read more: Has anyone benefited from American interventionism?

China’s rise to power

The 21st century has, however, dawned with new ground realities. Due both to China’s phenomenal economic growth and Russia’s resurgence from the ashes of the downfall of the Soviet Union, the brief period of a unipolar American world now is a faded dream and now there are two other equal powers on world stage. This revolution is not something that was unforeseen. Hans Morgenthau, the father of realism in international relations, envisioned the rise of China and the restructuring of global power relations, in what he called the Asian Century. In ‘Politics Among Nations’, Morgenthau argued that developments in Asia, and especially in China, ‘may well in the long run carry the gravest implications for the rest of the world.’

As China started to rise and grow faster, America has become cagey about the emergence of a new titan in the Eastern Hemisphere. Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of American House of Representatives) recently published a book ‘Trump vs. China’. Discussing the book at the National Press Club, Gingrich told his audience, ‘If you don’t want your grandchildren speaking Chinese and obeying Beijing, then this is a topic we better have a national dialogue about.’ He called China ‘the greatest threat to America since the British Empire in the seventeen-seventies, much greater than Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.’

If China continues to grow at the same pace, eventually it will not only push and roll back American hegemony in the Eastern Hemisphere but one day it may even start to challenge America’s undisputed dominance in the Western Hemisphere. American fervent opposition to China’s flag-ship global outreach project of One-Belt One-Road has to be seen in this context of the emerging but anticipated change. This gradual but creeping power dilution on the global stage will further distress domestic aggrieved groups in America.

Joining hands with Russia

As the capital of white supremacy is located in Moscow, in their sheer desperation, these grievance-driven segments of the white population in America may even support the policy choice of joining hands with Russia in order to give a fatal blow to Chinese rise (ala Japan knock-out blow in mid-20th century when America and Russia joined hands).

China in the 21st century is in the same position as Japan was during the first half of the 20th century. Today, many Asian scholars are as excited about the rise of Asian China as Asian strategists were with the rise of Asian Japan during the first half of the 20th century. Such exuberant Asian scholars forget what can happen to the third titan whenever two of the three continental powers make an alliance or a unified front against the third titan.

The nervousness about the unstoppable growth and rise of China, and the consequential fear it is generating in America, can be used as an excuse by the white population segments in America to maintain and extend domestic political controls, and thus delay and derail domestic political restructuring that is becoming inevitable due to domestic demographic change. Such an alliance between American and Russia will assist shrinking and distraught groups in America in maintaining domestic political dominance.

Read more: Obama reprimands Trump as unfit, calls on Americans to fight for US democracy

It is, however, also possible that Russia may adopt an alternative strategy. Instead of joining hands with America, it can easily join hands with China in order to take its sweet revenge for the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union during which period China and America had joined their hands. If the two rising continental powers of Russia and China join hands, they have the wherewithal to influence and shape the domestic political system in America. Such a global alliance can further fuel grievances of declining domestic white population groups, highlight their dilution of political ascendancy both at home and abroad, exaggerate demands for amendment of their domestic social-contract, and generate support for Brexit-like solutions. Such times of adjustment and nervousness generate confusion and chaos, and in the ensuing melee American decision-makers may make suboptimal policy choices, thus further hastening the very change which they thought they could stop or stem by their decisions.

Those in Moscow who may contemplate such a sweet and cold revenge may be heartened by the January 2021 attempted putsch by internal goths and vandals in America, as that horrifying occurrence demonstrated great potential for seeding further chaos in the future. In view of these tectonic shifts in distribution of global power, the global role and influence of America will be drastically diminished. The rise of Russia and China is thus the other iceberg that has hit the titanic of manifest destiny and has generated such fear and fretfulness in America as is exhibited by people who deem themselves to be on a sinking ship.

Nothing can be said by way of prediction: there can always be many a slip be-twixt the cup and the lip. Nevertheless, one thing can be said for sure: a functional democracy can easily resolve such political disagreements and simmering domestic disputes by reaching compromises and finding viable alternatives that fall far short of extreme solutions like Apartheid or Brexit. The looming threat is that once the trust and confidence of the shrinking segments of the white population in America in majority-rule (democratic process) withers away, these groups may opt to explore and pursue post-democracy models and discard the norm of democracy that binds the large continental-empire together.

In the end, democratic process can only function and deliver when both sides continue to believe that the outcome of the democratic bargaining process can also sway or tilt in their favor and thus both sides consciously make efforts to search for and reach a common or a middle ground. Where one side nurses its wounds and grievances and discerns that it has been irreversible and permanently displaced from its ascendant position, it may not make any effort to find a common or a middle ground through democratic process, and may choose to put up a fight in order to remain on the top of the totem pole.

Comparison with ancient Rome

Given its global position it is natural to compare what is happening in the 21st century in America with what happened many centuries ago in ancient Rome. While no historical analogy is exact, history shows that the collapse of the old Rome was brought about by the insatiable greed and ambition of vertical and horizontal extension of power. Domestically self-serving and ruthless individuals centralized most of the power vertically that resulted in the creation of huge out-groups at the bottom of the society. Ambitious rulers followed the policy and the temptation of capturing more and more territory horizontally that resulted in the erosion of viability of old Rome, and also created huge outgroups all around the center that were ruled by distant foreign rulers.

Read more: Is US still the only superpower in world?

The definitive historian of the ancient Roman empire thought that ‘we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long…’ (Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). Today America also faces the same dilemma that ancient Rome faced – to include all or most of its population groups in its mainstream thus minimizing tendency to create outgroups and hence survive in future, or to take back and centralize controls thereby pushing large segments of population out of the mainstream into the outgroups and thus perish. History of course is not destiny. But it is indeed a warning.

There is no infinite path to linear growth: all nations are mortal, sometimes they grow, and at other times they make wrong choices, and then fall. No historical path or trajectory is predestined. Just as rise and ascendancy of nations is based on policy choices that decision-makers make at a point in time, the process of waning and fading of nations is also the direct consequence of policy choices that are ‘slowly and silently’ executed overtime (ten centuries in the case of ancient Rome).

Neither the rise nor the sunset of nations is inevitable nor fated by stars. ‘Fortune is depicted as blind, with a scarf before her eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is also depicted with a wheel to signify to you, which is the moral of this, that she is turning and unpredictable, and full of change and variation; and her foot, you see, is planted on a round stone, which rolls and rolls and rolls…Fortune is an excellent moral lesson.’ (Shakespeare: King Henry V).

Nothing can be predicted with any certainty. The future is always contingent on and dependent upon policy choices that are made by decision-makers. Only permanent feature is change and that is nothing new in history: it is actually the real norm and the only constant in world history. Actually, it is human folly to forget that nothing lasts forever:

‘I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said— ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . .Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

[P.B. Shelley: Ozymandias]

Asim Imdad Ali is currently a partner in an Islamabad-based law firm. He earlier served in Central Superior Services, at positions of increasing responsibility, in its prestigious DMG group (1992-2006), and later served as Head of legal and regulatory affairs in a major multinational company. He is LLB (gold) from Punjab University, LLM from Kings College London, and did Masters in Public Administration at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University where he was an Edward S Mason Fellow. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.