There has been much talk and discussion both in editorials and on various internet forums about the pending decline of the supposed US “empire” or the USA itself. I was thinking about this on the way back from dropping my wife off at work this morning and the more I think about it, the more I think it could only possibly happen if America lets it happen. The USA is not comparable to the UK prior to their fall from Great Power status post WWII. The disparity between the size of the two nations both physical and in population is too great for their to really be a valid comparison.
The USA has no choice in the modern world but to be a maritime power. This is especially true given the importance of trade to the future prosperity of the country. By virtue of the size and education of the US population it is inevitable that any military fielded by the US that is even half-way competently led will be a player on the global stage. America may have to share the world stage as one of the Great Powers with the rising giants of Asia such as China and India, but America will not lose it’s status as a Great power as quickly as did Britain and the European powers of the 19th century. Or, is there anyone willing to say that Britain, France, and Germany are all still Great Powers. I think their inability to sustain a small air campaign in Libya this past spring without significant American logistical support shows how far these nations have fallen. The problem with the countries of Europe is that they still think they matter on the world stage and while they may have some soft power they have none of the hard power they were able to use 100+ years ago.
China is an up and coming power, they are already an economic power although the amount of US debt they hold is a two edged sword that can cut both ways if they are not careful. They are rapidly engaged in upgrading their military and especially in trying to build a blue-water navy that at a minimum will be able to challenge America for control of the Chinese littoral. That they want to project power beyond the littoral is evident by their purchase and upgrading of an aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are only used to project power, they are offensive platforms not defensive. Submarines, destroyers and frigates are primarily defensive platforms.
The Chinese army has also been in a rush of modernization in recent years with a reduction in the number of soldiers in uniform but a concomitant increase in the quality of the troops that are left. There is also the simple fact that with a population of over a billion, of which the majority are males, they have a huge reserve of unused manpower they can draw on in any future conflict that stayed conventional but involved large land armies.
India must be reckoned on as well. The saving grace there is that India is a friendly power to the US and has increasingly adopted western ideals of government and freedom as it rapidly modernizes both its society and economy.
The US looks set to maintain its ability to project hard power for the foreseeable future at least. As long as America can put a carrier battle group off someone’s coast, they are a power to be reckoned with. America may be in decline, but despite the current economic difficulties, a fall is quite a ways off.