Global challenge: US decline without war
Editor's note: The decades-long eastward expansion of NATO has not only caused the Ukraine crisis but also evolved into a threat to global peace and cooperation. Since the 1990s, NATO has grown by including a number of Eastern European countries into its fold. This has resulted in the deployment of NATO troops and weapons on their territory, posing a grave threat to non-NATO countries. Three experts share their views on the issue with China Daily.
Empires rise and then they fall. None lasts forever. Imperial falls can be very dangerous.
In contrast to the Soviet Union, which disintegrated over 30 years ago, the US has no charismatic leader like Mikhail Gorbachev who, with a sense of reality, held a vision of a better, disarmed Europe and the world, and who conducted reforms, perestroika, glasnost, demokratyia at a speed that astounded the world and was bound to also result in mistakes.
Most importantly, Gorbachev never contemplated using nuclear weapons even when he realized the game was over.
There are many macro-historical theories with indicators of when empires decline, decay and then tumble to become, in the best of cases, normal and not imperious states.
Learning from, for instance, British macro-historian Arnold Toynbee, one can say there are six basic factors that lead to the collapse of civilizations, including empires:
The first is militarism. Seeing all problems as something to be solved by threats, weapons and various types of warfare against others, you cling to the military while losing on other power scales such as economy, culture, politics and future thinking.
Second, overextension of power, due to missionary zeal, ends up in mismanagement and ill-considered decisions.
The third factor is growing wealth disparity, and the inability to close it.
The fourth is excessive or overuse of natural resources and food shortages. Think about climate change.
Fifth, arrogance, and the mirage of immortality lead to the downfall of civilizations.
The sixth factor is the clash between mind and heart, or intellect and emotions, or science and religion－or, as evident today, the clash between media-created "reality" and actual reality. Propaganda catches up with yourself.
To these one could add other factors such as the lack of legitimacy in the eyes of other civilizations or societies; internal breakdown; lack of reform capacity and long-term vision for the common good; declining creativity and innovation capacity; psycho-political projections of one's own problems unto others accompanied by paranoia; hubris; triumphalism; overexploitation of other societies; triggering wars worldwide; and huge debt creation.
On their way down, empires tend to make use of the power tools that helped make them "second to none". In the case of a younger "US empire", its cultural global reach combined with political vision, economic strength and technological-scientific innovations made the world look up to it. Scandinavian countries including Sweden, where I live, adopted American lifestyle, so did many European countries and other parts of the world, inspiring literature, music, art, television shows, smart products including big cars and Coca-Cola as a drink but also as a living object of consumerism (think Andy Warhol).
It was soft-selling of the larger American narrative. The world was "Americanized" but on most indicators it happened voluntarily. Today's US foreign policy has decayed into force－threats, sanctions, wars, exclusion, ganging up, power projection, demonization－in short, negative energy. Mission by the sword, rather than the Bible.
What we see in the "Cold War" against China, and in NATO's expansion－now sadly and foolishly Sweden and Finland also want that－in the 40-plus years of economic warfare against Iran and Syria, in 20 years of the "global war on terror", and in the present massive arming of Ukraine in order to "weaken" Russia militarily, and the never-ending sanctions against and demonization of Russia to weaken it as a society are all indicators of the "US empire's" decline.
I have never been anti-American. But I have always been against militarism, empire, and enforcement of one's values on other peoples and cultures. We should celebrate diversity instead of uniformity, because diversity helps us learn and be enriched as individuals and as societies. We should also celebrate mutually beneficial cooperation, because it reduces the risk of war and brings synergy, which is badly needed to help humankind survive and thrive.
So, what is to be done? If the US is ready to listen, its friends and allies in particular should help it accept the reality of its inevitable decline. Sadly, the European Union has proven incapable of being the new dynamic Occident and playing the role of an enlightened global leader.
As for the countries that the "US empire" keeps harassing, they should come together, but without ganging up to seek revenge or confront the US, and show, by example, the strength of cooperation and intelligent, peaceful conflict-management.
Perhaps this is hoping for miracles. But the least countries can do is to engage in dialogue with the aim of building a better world before the risk of "Project Humankind" going down with a bang or a whimper increases exponentially.
The author is the director of Sweden-based Transnational Foundation for Peace& Future Research.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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