President George W. Bush's trips to Europe during the month of June attracted significant anti-American demonstrations. At the same time, the United States announced troop withdrawals from Europe and Korea as the handover in Iraq took place. Analysts speculate what would happen if America withdrew from its international role.
British historian Niall Ferguson is one of the most prolific historians writing today. He is Herzog professor of history at New York University's Stern School of Business and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.
In addition to these responsibilities, he has been writing more than one book a year and countless articles for different magazines. He is also refreshingly perceptive about the world in which we live. As an atheist he does not see things through biblical eyes, but, without realizing it, much of what he writes confirms Bible prophecy.
In an article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy (July-August, 2004), Mr. Ferguson writes of "A World Without Power." His introductory paragraph says this: "Critics of U.S. global dominance should pause and consider the alternative. Who would replace America if it retreated from its current role? Not Europe, not China, not the Muslim world—and certainly not the United Nations. Unfortunately, the alternative to a single superpower is not a multilateral utopia, but the anarchic nightmare of a new Dark Age."
Mr. Ferguson gives three reasons for the imminent fall of the American superpower. As he puts it: "The United States suffers from at least three structural deficits that will limit the effectiveness and duration of its quasi-imperial role in the world.
"The first factor is the nation's growing dependence on foreign capital to finance excessive private and public consumption. It is difficult to recall any past empire that long endured after becoming so dependent on lending from abroad."
America is overdrawn
As if to emphasize this point, the same issue of Foreign Policy carried an article by Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard University and former secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration. In the article, titled "America Overdrawn," Mr. Summers highlights a simple fact: "There is something odd about the world's greatest power being the world's greatest debtor...Much has been made of U.S. dependence on foreign energy, but the country's dependence on foreign cash is even more distressing. In a real sense, the countries that hold U.S. currency and securities in their banks also hold U.S. prosperity in their hands. That prospect should make Americans uncomfortable."
Whereas Mr. Summers looks at the economic consequences of American profligacy, Mr. Ferguson looks at the geopolitical consequences.
Mr. Ferguson continues with his second and third reasons for the end of American supremacy. "The second deficit relates to troop levels: The United States is a net importer of people and cannot, therefore, underpin its hegemonic aspirations with true colonization. At the same time, its relatively small volunteer army is already spread very thin as a result of major and ongoing military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Emphasizing this fact, the Pentagon in June announced troop withdrawals from Europe and Korea, significantly reducing its presence in both areas.
"Finally, and most critically," writes Mr. Ferguson in explaining his third point, "the United States suffers from what is best called an attention deficit. Its republican institutions and political traditions make it difficult to establish a consensus for long-term nation-building projects. With a few exceptions, most U.S. interventions in the past century have been relatively short lived. U.S. troops have stayed in West Germany, Japan and South Korea for more than 50 years; they did not linger so long in the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Haiti or Vietnam, to say nothing of Lebanon and Somalia. Recent trends in public opinion suggest that the U.S. electorate is even less ready to sacrifice blood and treasure in foreign fields than it was during the Vietnam War."
So who then will replace the United States?
Mr. Ferguson's conclusions about the decline of American power are not new. Professor Paul Kennedy, another British historian who is now lecturing at Yale University, wrote his monumental bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in 1987. In his book, Professor Kennedy studied "Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000" and concluded that the same trends that brought down the British, French and Spanish empires, would inevitably also bring down the Soviet and American superpowers. The Soviet Union was to prove him correct very quickly, leaving the United States as the world's only remaining superpower.
If history shows that America's decline is unavoidable, then the question all should contemplate is, who will replace the United States as the world's dominant power?
Mr. Ferguson, having already stated, "certainly not the United Nations," in his introductory remarks, looks at three possible contenders. Each is dismissed for various reasons. The three are: Europe ("too old"), China (about to go through a "coming economic crisis") and Islam ("the Muslim world is as divided as ever").
He then presents a credible alternative—the idea of a power vacuum around the world. In effect, that nobody will replace the United States as a superpower.
Nobody alive today can remember such a time. We have to go back a long way in history to see a time when there was such a vacuum, where no single power was dominant. In fact, we have to go back over 1,000 years to the ninth and 10th centuries, part of the so-called Dark Ages, when there was universal anarchy.
However, Mr. Ferguson makes the case that there was a more recent time when the world was in a transition period from one superpower epoch to another. That was the period between the two world wars.
At the end of World War I, the great continental European empires that had lasted for centuries had all collapsed, as had the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The British and French Empires remained intact but had been greatly weakened by over four years of intensive conflict. The United States at this time could have taken over as world leader, but the mood of the American people was to withdraw from the world stage. The British Empire was left to manage the world as best it could. The result of this relative power vacuum two decades later was the rise of national socialism and a second major conflict that finally finished off the British Empire and left the United States sharing global leadership with Moscow.
American empire not the same as the British
In his latest book, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (2004), Mr. Ferguson shows that the American empire suffers from limitations with which its predecessor, the British Empire, did not have to contend, mainly because of the third reason highlighted earlier in this article: "Most U.S. interventions in the past century have been relatively short lived."
Whereas the British would conquer a country and then rule it indefinitely, imposing upon it a variation of the British political system, Americans prefer to go into a country with an "exit strategy" already in mind. This does not put down roots of democracy nor does it ensure long-term American interests.
On Britain's empire going before the American empire, consider the prophetic statement of Genesis 48:20, "He set Ephraim before Manasseh." (This biblical connection is explored in detail in our free booklet, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.) The American empire took over Britain's international role at the end of World War II. Instead of directly ruling other nations as the British did, the Americans have military bases all over the world and try to enforce the Pax Americana through its military might. This has effectively delayed the total chaos that would have engulfed the world if the U.S. Congress in 1945 had taken the same approach as at the end of World War I, turning its back on international responsibilities and commitments.
Writing in 1940, America's preeminent historian James Truslow Adams said this of the consequences of the fall of the British Empire, at that time fighting for its life against Hitler's Third Reich: "Different peoples may have different ideals of government but for those who have been accustomed to freedom of person and of spirit, the possible overthrow of the British Empire would be a catastrophe scarcely thinkable. Not only would it leave a vacuum over a quarter of the globe into which all the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression could rush, but the strongest bulwark outside ourselves for our own safety and freedom would have been destroyed" ( The British Empire, 1784-1939 , p. 358).
What Mr. Adams did not foresee was that the United States would take over from Great Britain, not the role of international caretaker, but rather that of international policeman. Consequently, the full repercussions of the fall of the British and other European empires have not yet become apparent. However, into many parts of the world where the British once ruled, "the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression" have definitely rushed, including large swaths of the Middle East, which the British once dominated. An American withdrawal from the rest of the world would likely lead to universal chaos and confusion, a return to the Dark Ages not seen in over a thousand years.
Another superpower in the wings
The picture Mr. Ferguson paints fits in well with the overall picture presented in Bible prophecy. Scripture shows us that at the time of the end there will be a union of 10 kings, which is a final resurrection of the Roman Empire. No mention is made of the United States at this point in time, but the Beast power prophesied to come clearly does not have the characteristics of the United States or Britain. It would appear that by this time the United States is no longer a major player on the world scene. Perhaps following the demise of American power we will see anarchy and despotism spread around the world, leading in a short period of time to the rise of the Beast power, purportedly to save the world from itself.
Mr. Ferguson rules out Europe as the next superpower because it's "too old." He is referring to demographics: The white population of Europe is aging rapidly. There is a very low birthrate and there is a corresponding influx of immigrants from Third World countries to make up the deficit. This is all very true, but even experts cannot see the unexpected twists and turns of history.
The June 19 issue of The Economist carried a three-page article comparing the economies of Europe and the United States. Comments have often been made of how moribund the euro-area economies are and how much better the American economic system works. But The Economist article looked more deeply into the two areas and concluded that they are on a par. This means that the EU economies could sustain a military on a par with that of the United States, if they really wanted to—or needed to.
We believe a colossal crisis or crises are coming that will impel Europe to coalesce into that superpower form. For more information, see our booklets, Are We Living in the Time of the End? and The Book of Revelation Unveiled . WNP