The Rise of China and the Global Future of the U.S.

The United States will no longer be a superpower, but instead will share power with rising nations like China.


According to the National Intelligence Council, the global balance of power will shift significantly by 2030. China will likely become the largest economy in the world. Asia will surpass Europe and North America in population size, GDP, military spending, and technological investment. With the coming diffusion of power, the United States is expected to become "first among equals," rather than a superpower. Jonathan Moyer, interim associate director at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver, provided some of the forecasts behind the NIC's Global Trends 2030 report. Moyer recently spoke to U.S. News about the implications of the coming power shifts and how they might influence U.S. policy. Excerpts:

How is the understanding of power and influence changing?

Back in the day they would measure the relative capabilities of countries that would include things like iron and steel production, the size of the urban population, the size of the standing army. For the post-World War II era, they included things like income and overall GDP. Today, technology is a hugely important determinant of power. And it's not just having a really smart piece of hardware and software, you have to also have really well-trained people to use it.

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Why are technological shifts favoring the East?

Take what China's been able to do for the past 15 years. They opened up U.S. factories, started adopting U.S. technologies, and there's this massive leapfrogging that happens, where they don't have to go through the process of developing all these technologies on their own. They're able to leverage what other countries build.

Is the decline of the West inevitable?

It's the relative material rise of the East that's inevitable. I don't know if it's a decline of the West. Material power is only one component of what it means to be an active and important player in the international system.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

What will be the role of the United States, as "first among equals"?

[The United States] is certainly going to have to give more. Power is going to increasingly become focused on networks of allies around certain issue areas. So if you want to do something with global agriculture, there are certain key players to focus on, like Brazil. If you want to do something with global trade, there are other key networks of allies. So the important thing for the [U.S. leaders] is to move forward thinking about forming these strategic alliances, which they've already been doing. But these alliance networks are going to be much more important in 15, 20, 30 years.

[See 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

How much will international organizations change culturally?

China is going to be the most materially powerful country in the world, but it'll still have to deal with the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, all the other western institutions that have western values totally embedded within them. Classic liberal values of trade and cosmopolitanism and stuff like that. The rise of China just looks like China's becoming more western. It's not this contentious rise, it doesn't need to be.

How can these forecasts inform policy?

What the report does is it lays a foundation for [President] Obama to come in and say, here's the long-term context we're operating within and let's make our choices. These major transitions have a lot of inertia. You're not going to turn around global aging in the West, you're not going to turn around slow growth rates in Europe and Japan and the [United States]. Understanding that context, you can move the lines up and down based on your decision-making today.

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