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The End of the Pax Americana
The End of the Pax Americana
Ismail Ibrahim, NYU Florence student

September 10, 2015

It’s quite telling of the United States’ global status, or perceived status, that the first dialogue in the EU in Focus series was entitled “The End of the Pax Americana”. America’s strength is integral to peace in Europe and the dialogue focused on the diminishment of America’s relative power on the global playing field. J.H.H. Weiler, President of the European University Institute, argues that America will remain a strong country, however its ability to project its power abroad is declining, preventing it from guaranteeing European security. He argues that the failure of European countries to acknowledge this decline has the continent sleepwalking towards a regional conflict similar to World War One.

Throughout the talk Weiler repeatedly quoted former American President Theodore Roosevelt’s remarks on diplomacy. Roosevelt felt that the best way for America to enter negotiations was “to speak softly, and carry a big stick”, which is how the United States has been conducting international relations since the World Wars. The United States has enacted Roosevelt’s philosophy, spending 581 billion dollars on defence annually, 4-5 times more than China, who is second on the list. Weiler argues that having a big stick is no longer enough. During the Cold War when America was a global superpower, America had more relative political, economic, and demographic leverage than it does today.

Weiler argues that economic, political, and demographic factors are the main reasons for the end of the Pax Americana . Recently, domestic politics have been impacting America’s foreign policy. The political polarization between the two party system is slowing American action, which allies do not view too kindly. Historically, America earned a great deal of political capital because of its ability to pay off its debts; countries trusted American currency and bonds a great deal. This year the USA was 3 days away from defaulting on its debts, something that has never happened and can be seen as a major loss of face for America. Furthermore, America’s position as a beacon of justice and democracy the world over has been called into question. Between the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and the Edward Snowden scandal, America no longer stands on moral high ground. All these factors have greatly contributed to America’s international image being tarnished.

Despite political difficulties, the American economy is quite strong. The American economy is still the highest grossing economy in the world, with the highest national GDP according to the World Bank. The problem is that America’s relative position has weakened. Americans used to be responsible for ⅔ of the consumption of all international goods, which is no longer the case. The rise of other international markets, namely China and India, has challenged the United States’ absolute dominance across the global markets. Another factor to consider is that India and China’s market presence globally is still growing, whereas America’s presence is arguably at its apex. This makes investment in the east more appealing, as there is still potential for growth. Weiler argues that India and China are catching up to the U.S. economically, which is a major factor in the end of the Pax Americana.

Demographically speaking, the composition of the population of the United States is another contributing factor. Although America is a large country at close to 320 million citizens, it pales in comparison to the combined 2.5 billion of India and China. The end result is a larger volume of qualified professionals coming out of China and India than the United States, even though the proportion of qualified citizens in America is larger. China and India can also afford to produce cheaper goods than the U.S. as they can afford to employ citizens at a lower wage, making them a stronger economic contender. Finally a large population leads to an increase of military strength, due to sheer number of potential soldiers. These demographic challenges that the U.S. faces, as argued by Weiler, are the final nail in the coffin of American supremacy.

Now how this plays out for the European security is quite interesting, especially with the rise of China and India as key powers. The United States has traditionally been able to use its ‘big stick’ to exert its will over other countries. Now, however, other countries have big sticks and the U.S.’s stick isn’t as scary. Russia’s swift annexation of the Crimea is proof that the U.S’s ability to restrain Russian power on the doorstep of Europe has weakened since the end of the Cold War. Weiler also argues that the Bosnian genocide was an extreme failure of American foreign policy, as the U.S. only intervened after thousands of minorities died as a result of ethnic cleansing. Weiler argues that the future of European security depends on how willing EU countries are to increase their military spending, and unless they do, they may not be able to defend themselves in the event of conflict. It is a critical time for Europe’s future.

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