At the end of this year, the U.S. National Intelligence Council will release Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, its latest report forecasting the future of an international system being remade by the ascendance of emerging powers and the erosion of the Western liberal order. As with most exercises in strategic forecasting after the global financial crisis, the draft report’s focus on an emergent multipolarity and the “rise of the rest” obscures the continuing strengths and staying power of American leadership in the international system. In fact, some of the key drivers of strategic change in the period through 2030 – including demography, access to energy resources, and leadership in innovation – actually reinforce rather than undermine American resilience in a changing world.[...]
Despite all the hype over their ascent, “the rest” are not a unified geopolitical bloc – they are riven by rivalries which will make competition among emerging powers more intense than that between the developed and developing worlds. And even as power diffuses across the international system, it will also diffuse within societies as a middle class explosion in China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and elsewhere transforms politics within them, potentially reinforcing rather than undermining Western interests.
Finally, raw calculations of relative economic power mislead analysts to believe that the ascent of emerging powers is necessarily a zero-sum loss for the West. In fact, the entrance of billions of new consumers into the world economy has enormously benefited the United States and Europe – through cheaper imports, growing markets for trade and investment, and a greater stake for aspiring economies in sustaining an open international economy.
Strategically, the West is arguably in a better – not worse – position as the capabilities and strategic horizons of emerging powers expand in ways that potentially empower them to help provide global public goods. Washington certainly has high hopes for partnership with emerging giants like India and Brazil – to the point that European strategist Mark Leonard worries that the U.S. tilt toward these “post-colonial superpowers” undermines the transatlantic alliance.
In short, despite the fad for declinism, the United States is positioned to remain the pacesetter among the great powers through 2030 – if its leaders can get the country’s fiscal house in order. America certainly has its problems. But whose problems would Americans rather have – China’s?