If American power declines, what would it mean?

For most of the last century, the United States was the predominant economic and military superpower. With the financial crisis weakening its economic strength, and a desire on the domestic front to withdraw military forces from foreign posts, talk of an “America in decline” has increased.

Perhaps the last period in which America was perceived as weak – whether it was or not can be debated – was at the end of President Jimmy Carter’s administration when the Iran hostage crisis was at its peak. The next eight years under President Ronald Reagan witnessed a more aggressive foreign policy designed to undermine communism and with its collapse, America was left as the singular superpower.

Interestingly, two scholars who served in the Carter and Reagan administrations agree that the world without an engaged America would result in instability and chaos.

Robert Kagan, who served in Reagan’s State Department and is now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, believes a decline would have undesirable consequences.

“If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms that American power has supported will decline, too. Or more likely, if history is a guide, they may collapse altogether as we make a transition to another kind of world order, or to disorder,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor under U.S. President Jimmy Carter, writes in Foreign Policy that there would be “a corrosion of the generally cooperative management of the global commons” and “in almost every case, the potential absence of a constructive and influential U.S. role would fatally undermine the essential communality of the global commons because the superiority and ubiquity of American power creates order where there would normally be conflict.”

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