Thursday, November 16, 2006

Post-American Geopolitics

/ empires in upheaval /
There has been ample discussion of the USA's decline as a superpower, other than as a military superpower that is. Immanuel Wallerstein has been arguing as much for a long time, most recently in his essay "The curve of American Power". Dennis Redmond chips in, in a piece in MRzine titled "Post-American geopolitics", about the emerging multi-polar world, a world of "three metropoles and four peripheries", as he puts it. Excerpt:

Many of us on the Left have pondered what would replace the Cold War division of the planet into the First, Second, and Third World. Though the three worlds thesis was arbitrary at best -- the social divisions within nation-states are often more significant than the distinctions between nation-states -- it did have the merit of emphasizing the primacy of the US Empire. From 1945 to 1985, the US was the reigning global superpower. It had the richest economy in the world, the most advanced technology, and the most productive workforce on the planet. While it did have significant regional challengers, e.g. the Soviet Union and China, and suffered local defeats everywhere from Cuba to Vietnam, it had no truly worldwide economic or cultural competitors.

Times have changed. Today, the European Union and the East Asian region have caught up and surpassed their erstwhile mentor. The EU and East Asia are self-financing, autonomous economies, endowed with world-class technologies and some of the highest productivity levels on the planet. They dominate world trade and financial flows the way the US once did. Both are the leading creditors in the world-economy, and control most of the key levers of the world financial system. Today, the US is not only the world's biggest debtor, it is also shockingly dependent on capital inflows from East Asia and Europe.

Perhaps the best way to think of the contemporary world-system is to see it as "three metropoles and four peripheries." Contrary to what you may have heard, most global trade occurs within each metropole and its corresponding semi-periphery, and only secondarily between metropoles or semi-peripheries. The four peripheries, by contrast, have the blessing (or curse) of not yet being fully integrated into any single bloc. They do have significant trading links with one or two metropoles, but they are not structurally integrated into any single metropole. This makes it more difficult for them to access metropolitan markets, but also gives them more freedom to maneuver.

The article contains some interesting data, notably on world banking shares and "cultural production" world-wide.

Also interesting, and related to this whole discussion, is Jerome's commentary in Eurotrib, on an Economist article regarding Asian technological ascendancy. Note the graph on published articles in Phys.Rev. - an unimaginable inversion since the early nineties, to be sure.

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