Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Is the American Century Over? Cambridge: Policy Press. 152 pages, 2015.
Leading International Relations scholar Joseph Nye who is famous for his “soft power” concept, addresses the debate over the posited decline of America and the rise of China, Europe and a host of other nations and forces, presenting a clear argument that “the American century is not over…we have not entered a post-American world” (P.125)
The author leads to this conclusion by analysing the prospective challengers: Europe, Japan, Russia, India, Brazil, and China. Nye begins the book with a general synopsis to present the concept of the American century. In this chapter, he tries to explain what he means by “the American century,” and traces its origins. He believes that the economy play important role in the creation of the leadership, therefore, 1941, when ‘the United States, without full control, had primacy in economic resources and became a central actor in the global balance of power’ (P. 14) should be regarded as the beginning of the American century. He concludes each chapter with a declaration underscoring that the days of American primacy are far from over. As he wrote that The short answer to our question is that we are not entering a post-American world… The American century is not over, but because of transnational and non-state forces, it is definitely changing in important ways (P. 14-15). Then, the next chapter, he discusses the notion “American decline”, exploring America’s historical positions in comparison with other prominent powers over the same periods.
The next two chapters concentrate on the emerging powers and investigate their prospects of cooperation and conflict with/against the United States. In chapter 3, he has analysed Europe, Japan, Russia, India and, Brazil and has found a mixed result. Given its military capacity, revisionist vision and a possible alliance with China, Russia can challenge American supremacy. He begins to discuss the European dream of replacing the United States but concludes that even if the European Union were to overcome its political fragmentation, it would still be a demographically declining area with low military spending and poor investment in basic research then reviews and dismisses the cases of individual countries that might in the future displace American leadership. When it comes to India, Nye argues that population alone is not an index of power, unless those human resources are developed. In this sense, India remains very much an underdeveloped country, with hundreds of millions of illiterate citizens living in poverty. According to Nye, another competitor is Brazil. However, Brazil’s infrastructure is inadequate, its legal system overburdened, it has a very high murder rate and serious corruption problems. On this basis, Nye argues that it is unlikely that Brazil will aspire to compete with the United States. Similarly, Japan and the United States’ interests are intertwined to the extent that it seems unlikely that the former will help others to end the American century.
The author provided the entire fourth chapter to analysing the nature and viability of China. Although, those states may pose a challenge to the American century, not to the extent of China because the latter is relatively close to America in the economy, military, and soft power. China the highest rate of economic growth, since the 2008 economic crisis, China has an average annual growth rate of 10 percent per year (Tellis, 2014, p. 3) and China’s economy is continue growing dramatically. Moreover, China’s military is growing faster, modernising and internationalising and expanding its soft power in Africa and Latin America. It seems that China can be replaced the United States as the world’s leading power as the word “the 21st century will be the century of China” (Femby, 2014, p. 13). However, the author believes that despite significant achievements, China will not be able to pose a serious threat to the American century he states that the American system still has numerous advantages over China in terms of overall national development, currency trading, and rule of law, particularly in the areas of property and intellectual property.
In the fifth chapter, the author compares America to the decline of Rome. The author has taken three variables, which are American society and culture, economy and political institutions, and has argued that because of its immigration policy, in coming decades, American society will remain untouched by the ageing problem that most of the emerging countries will have to face in the same time, and retain a third or fourth place in the world population. Although the American economy is growing more slowly than in the past, however, it remains innovative as using and commercialising technologies and close relationship between industry and world’s top ranking universities give America an upper hand over the other states (p. 92). In the meantime, problems persist in areas, such as income distribution and political institutions, leading to suspicion whether the existing institutions will be able to cope with it or not. Despite the existing problems, the author optimistically concludes that these problems ‘are not creating an absolute decline’ (p. 93) that gives us a clear answer about when the American century will end.
The next chapter underlines the consequences of power transition and power diffusion. He argues that the coming world will be more complex, interconnected world that coincides with two notable shifts of power: “power transition” from Western countries to Eastern ones and “power diffusion,” where ‘the United States would be the most powerful country in the world, but there will be no “hegemons”‘ (p. 97). Instead, the world will look like a ‘three-dimensional chess board’ (p. 95) meaning that non-state actors have an even more important role to play in the field of global politics. Militarily, the world will be unipolar, with power being concentrated in the hands of America, followed by an economically multipolar structure in the middle, while the bottom will be the region of transnational relations.
In this book, the author has succeeded in presenting the important argument that American century is still not over within a short period of time. In other words, the potential to maintain the United State as the peak will continue to exist and the 21st century has not yet moved into ‘a post-American world’. Despite, the United State has to face many problems as well as the challenges that arise from the spread of capacity states’ power. Especially, the power of China which has increased significantly. Furthermore, the value of this book is that the author indicates the weaknesses of the state authority assessment which emphasis merely one aspect particularly economic power as a measure of state power. This is a major problem for understanding the debate on driving competing for power between China and the United State in the present context. Moreover, this book proposing the readers to consider the power and capabilities of the state as a whole in terms of military, economic, and security power rather than stick with a strong perspective that there is only one of the factors to determine whether a state is going to progress or decline.