Story Stream
recent articles

Mourning the American empire.

Robert Kaplan pens an ode to what he sees as a fading American Imperium:

If the Cold War was an epoch of relative stability, guaranteed by a tacit understanding among empires, we now have one waning empire, that of the United States, trying to bring order amid a world of rising and sometimes hostile powers.

It's a useful conceit to pretend that the Cold War was an era of global stability, but unless we're defining 'stability' as the absence of a war between U.S. and Russia, the Cold War was anything but stable. China fought a war against India and had serious border skirmishes with Moscow. India fought several wars against Pakistan. Two civil wars - one in Korea and one in Vietnam - drew in the United States at the cost of 100,000 American lives and scores more wounded. Tens of millions of people died during Mao's reign of terror. Iran and Iraq fought a war which claimed about one million lives. Israel, too, fought several wars and Lebanon was ripped apart by a civil war (which also drew the U.S. in briefly, with disastrous results).

There is every reason to worry about instability and the potential for violence around the world today. But it has always been thus. America helped stabilize and secure Europe and portions of Asia because the societies it was protecting had been utterly shattered and broken and had no one else to turn to besides the Soviet Union - an unappealing option. But even in Europe there was terrorism, and around the world there was a pervasive worry about subversive Soviet efforts.

Today's international environment, as Kaplan eludes to, is quite different. American power is waning in large part because other powers are growing. That is a combustible mix, to be sure, and it might presage a more violent age than the one that past. But trying to sustain a Cold War sense of imperial mission is not going to fix that, and it would likely lead the U.S. into future costly conflicts that would only serve to hasten her relative decline. In fact, I suspect much of what lies behind this Cold War nostalgia is a pining for an intellectual coherence to American strategy that has been largely missing since the Soviet Union collapsed.