How/when will the US era as superpower end?

If it’s one thing we can learn from history, it’s than no empire is forever. Rome, Ottoman, England, Germany, France… All controlled or influenced a sizeable chunk outside their own immediate country at one time and doesn’t anymore. The UK is still a major player in world politics and economics, but far from the power it was up to 1914. Italy is also strong, but in no way as influential as Rome was.

Since WWII, the single biggest power has been the U.S. USSR tried to compete, and while they could do it militarily, their cultural and economical influence during the cold war was very much smaller than the U.S. For a period during the 70’s to mid 90’s, it looked as if Japan could be a contender, but not any more. The EU is now a bigger consumer market than the U.S. but the military has still a long way to go.
China is moving fast and will probably be a very big influence during this century. I doubt it will come to an open conflict with the U.S. any time soon, but I’m sure there will be tension and smaller “trade wars”.

Now, maybe the U.S. will still have as influential a role in 500 years as it does now or maybe not. I don’t think it will, but that’s just an opinion of course. So if the U.S. would slide back to being a big power, like the UK or China, but not the dominant world power it is now - how would that happen? Why? When? Would the U.S. be replaced with another power?

(I hope we can keep out some of the American partisanship out of this. I dislike and distrust GWB, but I don’t think it’s possible to revert the inertia of a country as big as the U.S. in eight years. Also, this OP was inspired by an article in the summer issue of the Atlantic. It’s only available to subscribers now, unfortunately.)

I don’t know everything about everything, so I’ll happily listen to rebuttals of what follows.

I’m a bit unsure of how we’re defining ‘superpower’ here. Is it purchasing power, amount of energy usage, ability to project military might, cultural influence or some combination of these and other factors? Till informed otherwise, I’m going to assume mainly economic and military influence on the rest of the world.

Off the top of my head, events (alone or in combination) that could end the US reign as a superpower include:

  1. Internal breakup through balkanization or a second civil war

  2. Rise of a power with greater economic or military influence than the US

  3. An enormous natural disaster, such as an asteroid strike or eruption of the Yellowstone caldera, that could cause massive destruction and more importantly, widespread crop failure for several years

  4. Extreme shortage of fossil fuels for a duration of several years, for whatever reason

  5. Massive nuclear attack by another power or powers

  6. Invasion by another power

  7. Invasion by space aliens (assuming they’ve gotten their antibiotic jabs before arriving).

OK, No. 7 is pretty unlikely. Of the others:

(1) presumes an issue or issues of sufficient divisiveness to launch armed conflict between multiple states or militias. This point has been argued before here and IIRC, consensus is that there are no issues sufficiently compelling to cause a breakup of the US in the near (50 years?) future.

(2) The most likely, either a combined Europe/Russia economic bloc, or China alone or a part of a bloc, but probably not for at least 30-50 years

(3) possible at any time, but not very likely for any particular time, going at least several hundred years out; any such event sufficient to take the US out of superpower status would likely cause severe problems elsewhere.

(4) Likely within 50-150 years if no practical, affordable alternatives are found. Of course, every other country is likley to be in the same boat.

(5) I’m guessing it would take at 100 or more weapons detonations countrywide to cause sufficent damage to US infrastructure to render it economically or militarily impotent for a lengthy period, so there are only a few countries that could even attempt this. This also assumes that the country or countries involved had made a conscious decision to absorb massive retaliation by the US. Unlikely.

Note: in my view, a single instance of nuclear terrorism, even detonation of, say, a 20Kt device in a US city, while horrifying to imagine, simply could not bring down the US on its own.

(6) Simply impossible by any power that could attempt a practical invasion of the US landmass. Too much water to cross, and too much land to occupy once you get there.

Given the above, my conclusion that it is highly unlikely that the US could lose its superpower status in the immediate future, but it is much more likely that it could somewhere between 50 and 100 years from now, probably through a combination of (1), (2) and (4) .

Unless of course, the enemy has pyshic beacons ready to take us down :slight_smile:

Yeah, but we have that nifty little pulse-beam-boil-your-skin thingy now. Set em up along the borders and we should be good for awhile.

I think it will more than likely slowly erode rather than have a cataclysmic “end”.

First the U.S. will stop being an Economic superpower once its economy slips further. Perhaps the world will no longer use the dollar as the World’s currency, perhaps outsourcing and trade deficits and aging demographics and foreign borrowing and Energy policies and poor educational investments will catch up to her. Whatever, by a short time past mid-Century 2-3 Countries in Asia will have damn near the Economy of the U.S. and it is possible a truly United Europe may too. All together they will be economically much, much larger and the U.S. will be proportionally much, much smaller. It won’t be too long, certainly within the immediate lifetime of those reading this post, before the U.S. Economy is smaller than China’s… that will be a first, the U.S. being no.2, for almost of our lifetimes. (not counting the EU as truly 1 economy yet - 8/2005 – maybe that is unfair)

The U.S. will still be a military Superpower long after this though. We saw two models for how a former, or never was, Economic Superpower hangs onto military preeminence. The USSR beggared itself to keep pace before it collapsed. The U.K. post 1945 OTOH, made shrewd calculated military choices and although they were no longer dominant, they could still, 40 years later, project enough military power a half a world away to defeat a 2nd tier military power like Argentina by themselves. For the U.S. I favor the second scenario, unless China forces a second cold war spending spree.

I expect 1 World Economy to absorb almost all of the World’s Economies by the end of the Century and, increasingly, political absorption (akin to the EU) will follow. The Nation-state as a superpower will be an extinct paradigm. Developed vs. under-developed blocs will be the new way to look at things.

Or not.

How about an end to or a radical redefinition of the concept of the nation-state itself?

As globalization continues, corporations begin to have their assets in more and more locations. This begins to equalize the playing field, in terms of economics and technological assets. “The World is Flat” as Friedman puts it. As things continue, the corporations become more powerful than the nations they live in. People start following the money, instead of the biggest guns (which the US’ own corporate interests will keep on a leash). Governments are realigned to best serve (and contain and profit from on a local level) transnational corporations. In time, as the transnationals grow, any indivisual “superpower” nation’s influence as a cohesive political and military force, rather than just a location full of assets and consumers, will simply fade away.

Not only not likley, but not even plausible. Have you got any idea how much coal and shale and sand oil exists on this planet? A critical shortage of liquid crude oil in the next 150 years, that’s possible, though how likely it is remains highly debatable. A critical shortage of fossil fuels? Ain’t gonna happen.

[Quote]
Not only not likley, but not even plausible. Have you got any idea how much coal and shale and sand oil exists on this planet? [?Quote]

Having worked for an oilfield service company for the past twenty years, I like to think so. Hey, I’m not married to the figure I stated anyway; if you feel you’;ve got a better one, let 'er fly.

Definitely the most likely in my opinion. And it may be more than one power. China and India both seem poised to overtake the US in various ways; India seems to be on top of the world’s technological trends and since it’s a huge democracy, it’s flourishing that way. China is still under an autocratic government, but it’s an enormous market and could swing a lot of economic heft. I don’t know if Russia will ever get its shit together, or what would happen if it did.

  1. Bird flu strikes the world like the fist of God, and in precisely the wrong sequence for the economic well-being of the US.

How about the next 1033 years, minimum.

Even an economic shortage of oil within the next 150 years isn’t plausible. A physical shortage of all fossil fuels is just slightly more pluasible as the sun going nova.

The US’s super-power status will slowly erode over the next few hundred years as China grows. China, barring any major occurences, could very well be able to out-pace the US both economically and militarily due to their unique economic system.

What will further erode US power is when people realize that we, soon enough, won’t actually produce hardly anything in this country but instead will be nothing but a nation of people working in the industries of service and moving products we don’t actually make. Take out the military industrial sector (which will always be here) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pizza as a larger industrial output than anything mechanical and/or industrial.

Our economy will become completely based upon American companies’ ability to produce things overseas and then move them around the world, and at some point a group of countries will figure out that we’ll be powerless without their nation (since we actually will be producing nothing) and exploit it for their gain and our loss.

The increasing “wussification” as Kinky Friedman will make physical war far too difficult for power-hungry politicians to stomach, just as these other nations would like to avoid a war with the US in which they’re clearly out-classed. As a result, the ‘wars’ will be economic and the nations producing all of our goods would have the upper hand.

That’s how I see it going down.

One thing that would cause us real pain would be for foreign investors to decide that our US governman bonds weren’t a very good investment without a hefty interest hike.

Maybe my OP wasn’t clear enough.
The U.S. clearly weilds an influence on the world, which projects far beyond its own borders.It’s not just a question of military power, but culture high and low), economics, sociological - all of which gives the White House and Capitol Hill enormous powers.
Let’s face it - Hollywood does as much or more to influence people in countries outside the U.S. as the aircraft carriers do.

So, just taking away one factor would not bring the U.S. down to the level of, say Canada. It would take more. IIRC the U.S. consumes close to 50% of all energy produced in the world ( a figure that might be off, but it’s a very large fraction in any case), so dependence on fossil fuel might become a problem - not because it runs out, but because the price goes way up. I suspect SUVs would be less prominent, should the price reach what we have in the EU, around $1.25/liter or say $4.50 a gallon.

I have heard it said that capitalism (and consequently, production) was responsible for America’s emergence as the world superpower. Perhaps it will be the socialization of wealth that will be her downfall.

Liberal, do you have time to expand on this a little bit?

Actually I’ve heard this myself. We are taking away the incentive for people to make wealth (by taxing it) and encouraging the opposite (through welfare). In general one should tax what they wish to reduce, and subsidize what they what to increase. In the long run this is not good and will continue to drag the economy down.

Thanks for the link to the paper, and in a quick glance so far I don’t have any particular problem with most of the data in it, but I should point out that it seems to be assuming higher percentage levels of recovery than are technically feasible at present, and it doesn’t really seem to address potential world demand increases. I don’t have time to do any kind of deep analysis of my own, however, so I’ll let these points slide. In any event, as the paper points out, nuclear probably will most likely become be a much more important energy source long-term, offsetting at least some of the effects of declining resources of other types. Also, who knows, by 150 years out we may all have home Mr. Fusion reactors.

You are welcome to scratch my point (4) as you wish. As I said previously, any such scenario of energy shortage would most likely affect other countries as well, so for that reason plus probable underestimation of energy reserves, I’ll concede it’s unlikely to bring down the US on its own, in the time frame I mentioned.

That’s an interesting link… But note that that’s 1033 years of US consumption. There are more oil-using countries in the world then the US. :slight_smile:

The US is a superpower due to its economic clout, ability to modernise and compete. So I guess its downfall will be economic. Probably loss of eficiency or competition equalizing the playing field.

If the US loses relatively to others 1% of its economy per year… that would mean in 50 years it would be half of what it is now. This doesn’t seem likely now… but if it did happen it would be so gradual as to be unoticeable til late.

Short term the only way would be a dollar shock and it losing the world currency status. That would certainly stop US spending ability… and make those over indebted americans have a serious problem.