Is American Power Declining Are China and India the New World Superpowers  Essay

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American Empire

Is There Room at the Top?

The question as to whether the United States is currently and will remain a superpower is the topic of much scholarly debate and in the general population around the dinner table. The follow up question to that, of course is, is there room at the top for another superpower, and if so which country or countries will rise to the occasion? Is America really finished as the world's superpower? There are respected intellectual, members of the elite media core, think tank theorists, and many in society at large that seem to think so. In many newspapers, magazines, and on reputable news programs around the world, learner authors announce the end of the American era and advise that the rise of China and India, the resurgence of Putin's Russia, and the noted expansion of the European Union signifies a significant and profound shit in geopolitical power that will summarily retire once and for all the burden of American Exceptionalism (Lieber, 2008). Some maintain that America has become an "enfeebled" superpower, according to Fareed Zakaria in his book, "The Post-American World," which purports that, while the United States will not recede from the world stage in the near future, "Just as the rest of the world is opening up, America is closing down" (Zakaria, 2008, p. 216). It is true the United States does have some significant issues to contend with both at home and abroad; but do these prophesies of American doom emanate from a rational appraisal of the current situation, not just of America but of others countries on the cusp of potentially becoming superpowers?

II. Is the United States Still a Superpower?

Although the definition of superpower is left up to interpretation, many scholars agree that in order to be deemed a superpower there are four major components that should be present: economic, military, cultural and political. According to one noted scholar, the term superpower was used to signify a political community that occupied a continental sized landmass, had a sizable population, a superordinate economic capacity, including ample indigenous supplies and natural resources; enjoyed a high degree of non-dependence on international intercourse; and most importantly, had a well-developed nuclear capacity

(Nossal, 2007).

Some scholars doubt the existence of superpowers subsequent to the post Cold War era all together, advising that given today's complex global marketplace and the increasing interdependency between the world's nations making the notion of superpower obsolete, still others argue that the United States has been and will remain a superpower. Every since the United States was 'discovered and founded' there have been those who have lauded its glory and predicted its demise. But according to Joffe in his article, "The Default Power" (2009), when you look at the facts, the United States has been and very well may remain as a superpower. Current figures show the United States economy to be valued at approximately $14.3 trillion which is three times as much as the world's second largest economy, Japan, and slightly less that the economies of the four nearest competitors (Japan, China, France, and Germany) combined (Joffe 2009).

According to Joffe, the gap between the world's economic leaders has never been so large.

Moreover, the United States leads the pack in terms of per capita income with $47,000 per person; followed by France and Germany, both in the $44,000, Japan at $38,000, Russia at $11,000, China per capita at $2,900 and India at $1,000. According to Joffe, the per capita income is 7.5 times as large as China's and Joffe argues, with those facts being considered, how then can China be considered the next emerging superpower? Joffe continues positing that the gap becomes even larger when considering military power, with the United States 'playing in a league on its own' (p. 32). In 2008, the United States spent $607 billion on the military, representing almost half the world's military spending. The next nine countries spent approximately $476 billion in total, and the presumptive challengers, China, India, Japan, and Russia combined spend an estimated $219 billion on their militaries. At present, China's military budget is 1/7th that of the United States.

III. China as a Superpower?

China's rapid ascension as a major world economic power has drawn considerable attention from the media, policy makers and many American scholars. In 1949, China was regarded as a peasant based, impoverished agricultural economy with minimal natural resources and an ever-expanding population of approximately 600 million (Xie & Page, 2010). Nearly 60 years later, however, China's real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services by property and labor, has multiplied nearly 37 times. During that same 60-year period, the United States, already possessing the world's largest economy a century before, only multiplied its GDP six fold (Conference Board, 2009). Although China's expeditious rise is notable, in per capital terms, China is still well behind Japan, North, America and Europe, and it is likely to remain in that position for quite some time, according to the Totally Economy Database 2008).

Still many experts argue that given China's vast population, its total economy is expected to surpass the United States and become the largest in the world by the mid 21st century, according to many experts. According to some plausible estimates, the size of China's economy will match the United States by 2035 and double by mid century (Keidel, 2008).

As China has grown economically, they have also demonstrated growth politically and in military power as an advanced and large economy offer the foundation for a strong military with weapons that are technologically advanced. Additionally, economic strength provides resources to generate and distribute cultural products to launch diplomatic efforts as well as foreign aid.

China is experiencing deepening relationship of aid, trade, and investment which can be seen as sticks or carrots to exert influence with and over other countries (Xie & Page, 2008). Realist theorist, John Mearsheimer, posits that in an anarchic international system, great powers are fearful of each other and compete to garner positioning of dominant power in order to ensure their own survival (Mearsheimer, 2001), and see rising powers like China and possibly India as potentially dangerous. Still other scholars argue that China is behaving like a 'status quo' power; responsible, cautious, and focused on its internal problems while avoiding major conflicts (Goldstein, 2005). For neo-liberals, they envision China as essential to a peaceful world system through diplomatic and economic engagement and a network of normative obligations (Ikenberry, 2008). Chinese leaders, maintain that China is on the road to 'peaceful development' striving for a harmonious, peaceful world, not seeking 'hegemony and not threatening anyone else' (China State Council, 2005).

IV. India as a Superpower?

There are scholars that argue India's positioning in becoming a superpower. However, according to Pant in his article, "Indian Foreign and Security Policy: Beyond Nuclear Weapons," the greatest challenge India faces remains that of continuing to achieve the rate of economic growth it has experienced in the recent past. India's real gross domestic product has increased annually on average of approximately 9% and the country is on tract to emerge as the "fastest growing economy in the world" from 2008 through 2013 with average annual growth of roughly 6.3% (Kaur, 2001). Pant argues that unless India can maintain this substantial rate of growth, the country's larger foreign policy goals and ambitions can't be realized. This steady economic growth is required for the next decade or longer with little disruption in regional and global peace in order for the country to convert its global dreams into reality (Pant, 2009).

However, the process of economic report has almost come to a standstill over the past 5 years, which could have serious long-term implications for India. Moreover, considering the current financial climate and unrest around the world, some scholars argue that it would be difficult for any Indian government to pursue meaningful reform and defy initial expectations that the country could remain immune from the global economic slowdown (Mehta, 2008). For India, economic growth is the underpinning that provides for the nations increasing defense needs. The country has emerged as on the of the biggest buyers of military arms in the global marketplace in the past few years, and it is anticipated that India will make more than U.S. $435 billion in arms purchases from 2009 to 2013 (Pant, 2009). With the fourth largest military power, India has embarked n an ambitious plan to revolution its military arms and its military affairs.

However, Pant argues that arms are insufficient to make a significant impact particularly as a world superpower. Effective leadership that has a sense of direction is essential in the ream of security and foreign policy. At present, many believe India does not have the necessary leadership. Moreover, India has experienced some turmoil on their domestic front. The media of the world and India's elite converse about India's rise, often not realizing that the state is thwart with Maoist insurgency, Islamist extremism, and increasing and…

Sources Used in Document:


China State Council, (2005). White paper: China's peaceful development road. Accessed 28, January 2009 at:

Goldstein, A. (2005). Rising to the challenge: China's grand strategy and international security. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ikenberry, J. (2008). The rise of China and the future of the West. Foreign Affairs,

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