Opinion: The rise and fall of great powers – by Andrew Preston (Globe and Mail – December 30, 2017)


Andrew Preston is a professor of American history at the University of Cambridge.

Conventional wisdom suggests the U.S. is in decline, and a rising China will replace it as the world’s superpower. But how realistic is this?

With the world on edge about North Korea, the U.S. President did what he usually does in these situations: flex America’s muscles. In October, Donald Trump deployed three aircraft-carrier groups to the western Pacific, under the command of the U.S. Navy’s mighty 7th Fleet.

Based in Japan, the 7th Fleet is more powerful than many national navies. Once again, the U.S. military was acting as the world’s cop, there to reassure the locals that criminals will be kept in check and that their neighbourhood will remain safe.

The 7th Fleet has had a difficult year, however: Since January, it’s suffered six crashes, five involving ships and one involving a navy transport plane. These incidents didn’t result from engagements with enemy forces, but from accidental collisions with less-menacing vessels: a fishing trawler, a merchant ship, an oil tanker and a tugboat. In one incident, a U.S. warship simply ran aground off the coast of Japan. The Seventh Fleet’s commander has been summarily dismissed.

Meanwhile, China has been busy building a new archipelago out of nothing in the South China Sea. The small islands, mostly built from reclaimed land in what Beijing claims are Chinese sovereign waters but are also claimed by five other Asian countries, will serve as a strategically critical base for China’s growing naval and air power.

From it, Beijing hopes to be able to enforce its writ throughout the western Pacific. It’s a mind-bogglingly massive project that’s as impressive as it is troubling.

It’s hard not to see all this as representative of contrasting U.S. and Chinese geopolitical fortunes today. While the 7th Fleet bumbles around the western Pacific, China is creating an immense military complex out of sandbars, submerged atolls and coral reefs.

For the rest of this opinion column: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/the-death-of-the-american-century-and-the-birth-of-the-age-ofchina/article37455459/