PROFESSOR JONATHAN ADELMAN
After the United States and its allies won the Cold War over the Soviet Union after a 40 year struggle (1947-1987), scholars like Francis Fukayama famously declared that democracy was the wave of the future. Yet, the opposite has occurred with the rise of authoritarian anti-democratic and anti-capitalist powers like Russia, People's Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran and Communist North Korea. More than 25 years after the end of the Cold War this seems strange indeed.
With the world's sole global superpower having a massive advantage of more than 10 times the GNP of Russia, 60 times the GNP of Iran and 600 times that of North Korea, only China at less than 2:1 GNP seems reasonably competitive. And that comparison wanes when the vast difference in population between China and the US means that the United States has a greater than 7:1 advantage in GNP/capita and less than 2% of its population in agriculture compared to 48% of Chinese working at various tasks in the countryside.
Historically the US had relied on its allies, mainly European, in major wars. In World War I it officially entered the war in the spring of 1917 and was only ready in the last three months of the war. In that war the United States had major allies in England, France and Russia who bore the great majority (97%) of casualties and deaths. In World War II its major allies--Russia, England and to a lesser extent France—suffered almost 28 million deaths far more than 300,000 on all fronts for the United States.
But, today all this is a distant memory. While the Big 4 in NATO are England, France, Germany and Italy, they rarely deploy more than a small number of soldiers and planes abroad. The first three formerly great powers barely deploy 800 main line battle tanks for a battle. None spend even 3% of their GNP on the military and lack power projection capability. Their native populations are declining and much money is spent on promoting the lagging countries in Southern and Eastern Europe. Their economies have been growing barely 1% a year in recent years. The conservative political move, reinforced by massive immigration from the Middle East, reinforces the culture that sees the rise of Marianne Le Pen (France), Theresa May (England), Victor Orben (Hungary) and the like.
Other potential allies for the United States also are not available. In particular Japan, with the third strongest economy and 125 million people, is seriously restricted from doing any but minimal intervention in foreign affairs. China, the most populous state with the #2 GNP in the world, is now a Communist state often hostile to the US. And India, with over a billion people and democratic from the beginning in 1947, is so poor that its GNP is smaller than that of France which has less than 6% the population of India.
Furthermore, at home the domestic problems so evident in the election of Donald Trump as President--sluggish 2% per year economic growth, decaying infrastructure, aging population, problems with the 1991, 2001 and 2003 adventures abroad, likely climate change, growing problems of the lower classes and minorities and decay of industrial production--have reinforced the calls by none other than President Trump for "America First" before dealing with other countries.
In this climate the mood has shifted towards negotiation and caution which has allowed each of the rising authoritarian countries to find success. Russia has taken parts of Georgia and Ukraine and all of Crimea, China is making progress in the East China Seas, Iran is creating a Shiite crescent in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and North Korea is threatening South Korea and even the US with atomic bombs. Russia has a powerful nuclear arsenal, China and North Korea are increasing their nuclear and conventional capabilities and Iran is not far away from becoming a nuclear power.
The United States still retains a massive edge in military capabilities, spending more than 600 billion dollars a year. But, only time will tell whether the new authoritarianism will be a brief interlude before the resumption of a democratic tide or lengthy transformation of the international scene.