China, and Russia are challenging the US in the seas and skies. It's
a symptom of America's declining global influence.
book about the decline of US global power, historian Alfred
McCoy writes, that faced with a fading superpower, incapable of
paying its bills, other powers will begin to "provocatively
challenge US dominion" in the seas and skies.
is happening already with what appears to be increasing regularity,
although perhaps "provocative" is not the right adjective
to describe it. The
American military has been the chief provocateur in the seas and
skies for decades, entering foreign airspace and territorial waters
with impunity, expecting no retaliation. Now, powers like China, Iran
and Russia are more actively challenging the US's unchecked
January, Iran detained ten
American sailors overnight after two US Navy boats entered Iranian
territorial waters. American exceptionalists were dismayed at Iran's
apparent show of disregard for US power, many blaming the incident on
Obama's "weakness." In May, US officials accused Beijing
of an "unsafe intercept" when Chinese planes buzzed an
American spy plane flying off the coast of China. Later that month,
two US nuke 'sniffer' aircraft were intercepted by Chinese planes in
the East China Sea. In July, Chinese jets again drove off an American
spy plane flying over the Yellow Sea. Just last week, a US ship fired
warning shots at an Iranian boat in the Persian Gulf after the craft
approached within 150 yards and ignored American warnings to stay
Those are just a few examples from a spate of
recent incidents that have seen US boats and planes intercepted or
harassed. Not to mention, Russian and American jets are always
buzzing and chasing each other off over the Baltic and the Black
This willingness to confront the US military may be
indicative of the wider, aforementioned problem for Washington: Its
global influence is waning, the country and its military are enjoying
less respect and clout internationally, and rising powers are
beginning to assert their own national interests more
The assumption of US
dominance in regions like the Western Pacific and South
China Sea has ended. In Europe, Russia has not been shy about
challenging the seemingly endless eastward expansion of NATO. In the
Middle East, too, Russia has come to be seen as an equal to the US in
terms of clout, influence and the ability to arbitrate in regional
conflicts. Despite its archipelago of more than 800 bases across the
world, the US can no longer dictate to the world in the way it once
these powers, that the US has worked so hard to keep in check, are
continuously being pushed
toward each other by a common goal: to end US domination and
build a more multipolar world.
often, these developments are portrayed as "muscle flexing"
and "aggressive" by Western media, while American efforts
to maintain global hegemony are seen almost exclusively as benign and
crucially important for democracy and world peace.
American politicians and pundits, there's a temptation to pick
someone to blame for this diminishing power. Republicans often want
to blame "weak" Obama, while Democrats prefer to blame
George W. Bush. In future years, the focus of their blame will
undoubtedly shift to Donald Trump for compounding the image of the
once-superpower now in the midst of a flailing and embarrassing
decline from within.
If we had to pinpoint the most
significant turning point or catalyst, it would probably be the
invasion of Iraq under Bush. But it's not about one president or
policy. What sets an empire on a path toward decline is rot from
within the system. That system does not change with elections, no
matter how radical the candidates.
It is the system
Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in a 1953 speech, two months into
his presidency. Despite his military background, the former Supreme
Commander of Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe warned against "a
burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a
wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet
system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the
peoples of this earth." "Every
gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are
not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," he said.
his farewell address eight years later, Eisenhower warned again: "We
must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether
sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
it's not just the overuse of the military causing the problem. There
are other trends which will eventually affect America's global
US infrastructure is crumbling. About 56,000
bridges across the country are marked as "structurally
deficient." The country cannot boast a single airport which
ranks among the top 20 in the world. More than two-thirds of American
roads are "in dire need of repair or upgrades" - and the
American Society of Civil Engineers has given the
overall condition of the country's infrastructure a "D+"
Recent OECD literacy, science and math tests have
seen students from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan come out on top,
while the US trails 20 or 30 places behind.
Over the long run, trends like this may contribute to the US losing
its reputation for cutting edge technology and innovation. All of
these factors contribute to imperial decline. Like
any declining empire in denial, the top priority becomes to preserve
its status at any cost. A desperate attempt to preserve that
dominance can be seen in Washington's haphazard, erratic and
nonsensical foreign policies. This is not at all president-specific.
Each of the last four presidents has been foreign policy
speaking of the decline of American empire, people often assume it
will happen in one big bang. We wake up one day, and the empire has
suddenly fallen. Empires don't rise or fall in a day. In reality, it
can be so slow you barely notice it until it's no longer possible to
correct the course.
The US has, in the past 17 years,
invaded Afghanistan, invaded Iraq, launched a "humanitarian"
intervention in Libya which destroyed the country, fueled a proxy war
in Syria and aided Saudi Arabia's slaughter of Yemen. Now, the Trump
administration appears to be angling for a war with Iran. Contrary
to the official narrative, none of this has been to do with democracy
or fighting for human rights. It has been a scramble to maintain
America's status as the world's top-decider and go-between.
which is forecast to have a bigger economy than the US by 2030, has
managed to quietly expand its influence and strengthen its military
without deploying it abroad or starting pointless wars. Meanwhile,
the US has overextended itself around the globe to little avail. It
has alienated powers like Russia and Iran by constantly saber
rattling in their directions, slapping sanctions on any nation which
fails to do its bidding - ultimately encouraging its so-called
enemies to unite against it.
The growing willingness of
other countries to outwardly challenge US power on the seas and in
the skies may just be a visible example of the results.
1991, we have lost our global preeminence, quadrupled our national
debt, and gotten ourselves mired in five Mideast wars, with the
neocons clamoring for a sixth, with Iran," wrote Pat
Buchanan in a recent piece for The
concerned at the direction their country is taking should ask
themselves whether continuing on the current course will be worth