The (gradual?) decline of American empire

Written By: - Date published: 12:20 pm, October 6th, 2015 - 93 comments
Categories: colonialism, defence, Globalisation, International, kremlinology, leadership, Spying, us politics, war - Tags: , , ,

No empire lasts for more than a handful of centuries. Most, far less. Think French, Spanish, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, British.

The concept of the United States as an empire in decline is neither new nor novel. I first came across the idea via Dmitry Orlov‘s unique model of the “Five Stages” of superpower collapse, comparing the collapse of the Soviet Union to the collapse of the United States. His conclusion: that the Soviet Union and its peoples were far more prepared for collapse than the USA and its peoples are.

But what happens when the individual talking about superpower decline isn’t the ‘fringe’ voice of a former Soviet citizen and émigré like Orlov, but an establishment figure like Lawrence Wilkerson, former US Army Colonel and former Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell. ZeroHedge has a good write up on the presentation entitled “The Travails of Empire” that Wilkerson gave at Lone Star College. Apparently he has been delivering similar talks in countries all over the world, some of which are friends and allies of the USA, and some, less so.

Some of Wilkerson’s statements which grabbed my attention include:

– The purpose of empire is to maintain the status quo of imperial superiority. (Which puts the TPPA into an interesting light).

– The US supports countries all over the world with training, equipment and support which is sometimes used to oppress the ordinary citizens of those same countries.

– In the modern age we can see the accelerated progress and demise of empire – you might go to sleep on Monday night and everything is fine, but wake up Tuesday morning and it is all gone.

– Empires in decline prefer the use of the military instrument. The remaining resources of empire are poured into the maintenance of a massive military infrastructure and support capacity. Mercenaries and contractors become heavily used as ordinary citizens no longer fight for their own country.

– Empires in decline become financially and morally bankrupt as an elite class of financiers and bankers take over.

– Senior people are no longer held accountable to the founding laws and principles of the land.

– History tells us that the US empire is probably finished – the question is how do we pick up the pieces afterwards as a major power facing a field of equal powers.

– The United States is an empire in decline: it cannot even govern itself or look after its own people, but still decides to go involve itself in plenty of fights and distractions overseas.

– Only the Department of Defense within the US Government is taking climate change 100% seriously.

– NASA experts predict that by 2100 there will only be sufficient arable land left to feed 400M people.

– The climate stability of the last millenium has been especially conducive to the human race “but it’s going away.”

– No one in Congress, elected or professional staffer, has sufficient technical expertise to challenge or perform effective oversight on the largest defense contractors.

And remarkably:

– The rest of the world has already seen that “1) The United States is strategically inept and 2) Not the power it used to be. And the trend is to increase that.”

As well as:

We’re either going to change this country, or we are going to go down with it.

It makes you wonder what the real purpose of a Pacific trade agreement which excludes the major economies of China and Russia, is.

93 comments on “The (gradual?) decline of American empire”

  1. Bill 1

    A wee while ago I read a piece on the demise of the British Empire. (Don’t ask me exactly what it was or where I read it). Anyway, what struck me – it was a collection of contemporary writings – was that the ascendant power and its peoples (the United States) were treated with mixtures of disdain, fear and ridicule etc – and I recall as I read reflecting on current attitudes on display with regards Chinese peoples and China.

    Anyways…

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Yep – or Tony Abbott wanting to “shirtfront” Putin. Madness.

    • esoteric pineapples 1.2

      I don’t think China will end up supplanting the US as the major power as it is based on the same expansionist model that won’t be able to exist in the most likely future of the planet which will require careful maintenance and nurturing of existing resources. The alternative is rapid expansion and even more rapid collapse (possibly involving a nuclear catastrophe) The global super-power model is essentially unsustainable. Same goes for the TTPA coporate expansionist model.

      • Bill 1.2.1

        I’m inclined to agree.

        The market based economics that the British and US empires have been built on have kind of hit the wall. Coming decades are going to see any vestiges of such an economic model well and truly trashed by the impacts of climate change…or completely abandoned in an effort to avoid the impacts of climate change. (Any ratification of the TTPA would be suggestive of the former scenario playing out.)

        Maybe China’s possible or probable ascendancy might better be seen as the last puff of air going into a balloon that’s already burst?

        • marty mars 1.2.1.1

          “The market based economics that the British and US empires have been built on have kind of hit the wall.”

          yep and that approach has had the benefit of using up most of the cheap findable fossil fuels, any future ascendant civilisation will not have that luxury.

      • Colonial Viper 1.2.2

        I don’t think China will end up supplanting the US as the major power as it is based on the same expansionist model that won’t be able to exist in the most likely future of the planet which will require careful maintenance and nurturing of existing resources.

        China existed as a single sovereign state for a thousand years before the widespread use of fossil fuels (and market capitalism). Which suggests that after fossil fuels/market capitalism, they might be able to do it again.

        • McFlock 1.2.2.1

          Indeed. Much of that time locked firmly within its own borders as the world changed around them. If you can be largely self-sufficient within your own borders, that lowers the incentive to consider “supplanting the US as the major power”.

          • Colonial Viper 1.2.2.1.1

            interestingly, I think that both China and Russia are generally quite happy to let the US carry most of the burden of being the “world’s policeman.” Except in instances where their own regional and resource security is at stake, that is…

            • McFlock 1.2.2.1.1.1

              yep.

              I’m honestly not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s certainly a canny thing.

            • lurgee 1.2.2.1.1.2

              interestingly, I think that both China and Russia are generally quite happy to let the US carry most of the burden of being the “world’s policeman.” Except in instances where their own regional and resource security is at stake, that is…

              Obviously, that will change as they put more investment capital outside their borders. The USA used to be somewhat isolationist, you’ll recall. Expecting the Chinese and Russians to maintain a disinterested attitude when their money is at stake is the height of naivety.

              • Colonial Viper

                did you not read the bit about

                “Except in instances where their own regional and resource security is at stake”?

                • lurgee

                  Did you not read the bit about “as they put more investment capital outside their borders”?

                  As that happens more and more (and it will have to as capital demands return and it can’t be sated domestically) then the Russians and Chinese will become more and more policemany.

                  Have you managed to find the source of the “arable land to support just 400 million” claim yet?

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    NASA experts predict that by 2100 there will only be sufficient arable land left to feed 400M people.

    To clarify that:

    He says that the worst cases scenario projected by scientists is that the world will have enough arable land to support 400 million people.

    We presently have 7 billion people on the world. In other words, under the worst case scenario by the end of this century we’ll be able to support ~5% of our present population. And we’re probably on the path to that worst case scenario.

    That’s just climate change, we also have land degradation to consider.

    The rest of the world has already seen that “1) The United States is strategically inept and 2) Not the power it used to be. And the trend is to increase that.”

    It’s not so much that the US isn’t the power that it used to be, it actually is, it’s more that the rest of the world has realised that the US isn’t as powerful as they or the US thought. The world is learning that, even with it’s massive military budget, the US can’t project power around the world.

    It makes you wonder what the real purpose of a Pacific trade agreement which excludes the major economies of China and Russia, is.

    That was always obvious from the time that the US joined the TPP negotiations – it’s to try and keep the US as the top dog and receiving tribute from the rest of the world.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      It’s not so much that the US isn’t the power that it used to be, it actually is,

      Really?

      Based on what?

      The US has destroyed/offshored most of its own industrial base, the very same industrial base which allowed it to come back and win WWII against Japan. Then they’ve replaced it with “industries” and “innovations” centred on manipulating financial digits.

      Further, they’ve let what in the 1950s was arguably the world’s best infrastructure and education system run down into the ground.

      They aren’t the power that they used to be.

      • maui 2.1.1

        Orlov said this in a recent podcast on America offshoring jobs:

        Because you’re basically killing your own consumer. You’re destroying your base of operations, you may have some money but it’s now denominated by a country that is now defunct economically. So it’s like making a million shrinking dollars instead of making 100 dollars that hold their value. In the end it doesn’t really make sense at all.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2

        Based on what?

        It’s military capability – it still researches, develops and produces it’s own weapons. Sure, it tried to shift to a full financial model but that has left them weaker as you say but it’s the overt military capability that has been rammed home to the world over the last two decades.

        • Bastables 2.1.2.1

          It’s ability to develop and produce it’s own weapons competently can be called into question with the advent of cost overruns/incompetence in the F35’s and Zumwalt Destroyers.

          Even basic infantry weapons such as the assault rifle has seen units/corps variously selecting Beligian https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FN_SCAR and German https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heckler_%26_Koch_HK416 takes on the M4 carbine allied with existentialist fears that they need to return to 7,62mm rounds resulting in marksman rifles and return to FN GMPG (70s). All while handwringing that they’re still using the same basic (abit shortened) rifle from the 1960s and struggling to find a replacement.

          The structural failures in finding replacements for planes, ships and even assault rifles is evident in the similar stories of cost overruns limited deployment and eventual regression to older known weapons such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to the venerable M4.

          • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.1.1

            It’s ability to develop and produce it’s own weapons competently can be called into question with the advent of cost overruns/incompetence in the F35’s and Zumwalt Destroyers.

            That’s a good point. Crony Capitalism strikes again.

            • Colonial Viper 2.1.2.1.1.1

              As Sprey, one of the co-designers of the venerable F-16 said, the main mission of the F-35 is to transfer money from the Pentagon to defense contractors.

              • McFlock

                yeah – there have also been a couple of quiet scandals where generals and contractors used public funds and their offices to lobby the public to lobby legislators to support the F35.

          • McFlock 2.1.2.1.2

            GAO’s also laid into the management of the construction of their latest CVN the Gerald Ford.

        • Colonial Viper 2.1.2.2

          Huh?

          Where does almost half of the titanium the US requires for its advanced aerospace needs come from? Yep – Russia.

          How about where many major components of military systems are made? Yep – China. The new F-35 couldn’t fly without Chinese made parts.

          http://www.cnbc.com/2014/01/03/us-put-china-made-parts-in-f-35-fighter-program.html

          • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.2.1

            Where does almost half of the titanium the US requires for its advanced aerospace needs come from? Yep – Russia.

            And 95% of the Rare Earth Elements come from China. This despite the fact that all of them used to come from the US itself. The REE haven’t disappeared from the US – it just became ‘cheaper’ to import from China.

            How about where many major components of military systems are made?

            That’s amusing.

            The fact is that the US can make them from their present industrial capability.

            • marty mars 2.1.2.2.1.1

              I find this interesting because everytime anyone says to you draco – “what about xyz” You say it could be done – without apparently understanding the time and complexities of being able to and actually doing it.

              If it takes abc amount of time to rebuild industries, technologies, expertise as well as the will and political ability to do it – shouldn’t that be foremost in the response rather than just ‘could’.

              For instance we could mine asteroids

              it may take us 50, 75, 100 years to be able to based upon the stuff mentioned in my second paragraph – and that’s not really mentioned the big one – resources and money.

              • weka

                +1 marty. There’s lots of things we could potentially do but in all likelihood won’t be able to because of time, natural limits, and the paradigms that most humans are working within.

                • Colonial Viper

                  Yep there is a huge gulf between what could possibly be, and what likely will be. Looking at the trends in human society over the last couple of decades, I think we should definitely be tempering our optimism…

              • Draco T Bastard

                You say it could be done – without apparently understanding the time and complexities of being able to and actually doing it.

                I addressed the time factor – you seem to have missed it. The political will would most likely exist simply because the US politicians couldn’t possibly imagine that they wouldn’t have their high tech war toys.

                For instance we could mine asteroids

                it may take us 50, 75, 100 years to be able to based upon the stuff mentioned in my second paragraph – and that’s not really mentioned the big one – resources and money.

                2020s or somewhat later

                The resources and money are available – if the politicians tell the corporations to fuck off. Unfortunately, this probably won’t happen.

                • Colonial Viper

                  Did you not see in my link…”the time factor” is exactly what led to Chinese components going into the F-35.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    A read of the article indicates that it was a mistake in the purchase of $2 magnets and a few other cheap and trivial items that could have been provided by US companies.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      a lot of trouble to go get a congressional vote for.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      It did break the law even though unintentionally according to the investigation and $10.8 million price tag to retrofit the existing magnets so the waiver was the cheaper option with the magnets being sourced in the US for the ones to be produced after the first batch.

                  • McFlock

                    heh – only fair. F-35 schematics might have gone into one or two Chinese 5gen aircraft 🙂

                    • Colonial Viper

                      Yep the Chinese are pricks when it comes to military espionage. That’s how they got their MIRV nuclear warhead designs…

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      Well, the rumours floating about are that Russian 5th gen planes are better anyway. And, of course, China reverse engineered Russia’s.

                    • McFlock

                      lol that depends on whose rumours you listen to.
                      F35 has significant issues at the moment, but the F22 seems pretty solid.

      • Smilin 2.1.3

        Blame the American Dream propaganda the decline started in the Vietnam war

      • savenz 2.1.4

        I agree. In the US under Charter schools, excessive testing at the expense of creativity, poor nutrition and inaccessible health care, universities more about money and donations than brilliance and research, corrupt government that is paid for by lobbyists, it has made their population stupid and not able to adapt.

        The US have made stupid decisions. They are now trying to make a buck over these poor decisions by exporting the ideology to countries like NZ, where Dimwits like our current government are lapping it up. If you want the best educational outcomes look to the best countries like Finland, or indeed what we used to do in education in NZ.

        If you only care about money and not about the next generation of citizens – you will be in decline. Everything is about ‘short term’ gain.

        The sad thing, is that many politicians in the US recognise it, but can’t
        do anything about it as the obstacles as above are immense.

        Just watch their country wither (or expand into obesity) and decline. No wonder they now have to try to use technology and drones to fight, their own soldiers are to fat to fight and too stupid to actually hit the right targets. And too lazy to correct their mistakes like the continual rise of ‘friendly fire’ and now have to be careful they don’t end up in the Hague for war crimes. (of which many should be there now).

        • Lloyd 2.1.4.1

          Actually if you look at long term profitability and long term corporate existence the neo-liberal model doesn’t work. So it is “if you only if you care about making a quick buck and not the next generation of citizens or shareholders”. If you care about money as something for fair exchange, you will reject the basis of the neo-liberal ideology.

    • weka 2.2

      “We presently have 7 billion people on the world. In other words, under the worst case scenario by the end of this century we’ll be able to support ~5% of our present population. And we’re probably on the path to that worst case scenario.”

      Presumably the figures in CV’s quote are based on industrial agriculture. Regenerative and sustainable agricultures will probably be able to increase land fertility, including repairing land we have damaged.

      But yeah, population is still an issue.

      • maui 2.2.1

        Orlov again on future agriculture in hour long interview:

        The energy inputs might be missing, that happened in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union a lot, is that they grew bumper crops but they didn’t have the fuel to harvest them. So a lot of the harvest rotted out in the field. That may happen. And then the basic problem is without all this energy, growing food becomes a non-mechanical proposition, which means people have to do it largely by hand, with animal assistance from horses and mules. And there has to be people who will actually do it. Mexican migrants are not going to do it. So, lots and lots of Americans will be out there growing their own food, that’s the only thing that can plausibly happen.

        • weka 2.2.1.1

          which is why we’re lucky in NZ. It’s only been one generation since most people grew some of their own food, and there is a huge resurgence in younger people wanting to learn.

          Cuba is a good example as well. When oil imports stopped, people moved to localised food production. Half of all food eaten in Havana is grown in the city kind of thing.

          It’s about getting people to stop seeing mass fields of wheat and seeing small scale polyculture gardens (home and market). Not that we will stop monocrop grain production completely, but the more food we can grow in polyculture and locally the more resilient we will be in food.

          • Aaron 2.2.1.1.1

            The difference in Cuba was they had strong central control and were able to distribute food equally while the change over to organic happened. Everyone lost weight for a while there but they got through it.

            I’ll leave it to you to figure out how our current ‘leaders’ would handle such a situation…

            • maui 2.2.1.1.1.1

              Yeah that’s true, it looks like the Cuban Government was open minded at looking at genuine solutions to solve the food crisis, like offering citizens free land as long as they used it for food production. In NZ’s case we can look at how our Government has handled Christchurch if we want evidence of how they react during crisis. In other words, large top-down control, the rejection of innovative ideas and community decision making – looks a lot like a communist country doesn’t it, lol.

              • weka

                Our leaders might think differently if its their own children going hungry. Chch was a consequence of being a city under pressure while the rest of the country was well fed. It wasn’t a collapse or decline situation (although it may well lead the way in NZ once we’re all in that boat).

                • maui

                  I don’t see our leaders thinking of the common man or woman anytime soon. Those in power will also have the privilege of having the best access to fuel/money left in the system too. I see Christchurch as localised collapse with the Government able to throw more resources at it than if the whole country was in trouble. I can see the existing system being desperately held onto, we can’t just have people growing food anywhere for instance. I think it would be safer to be in Cuba during such a time.

                  • weka

                    Neither NZ nor Chch were in the situation that Cuba was though. Chch existing within a country that was still functioning according to capitalist norms. So it was ripe for disaster capitalism. If the people in Wgtn has been having to think about their own dinner plates, the situation might have been different.

                    It also depends on what you mean by leaders. In the context of the coming crises, the Green Party are leaders. The various people dotted around NZ that have been developping localised food systems without anyone’s permission are leaders. Likewise those developping sustainable agriculture. Likewise those working on systems of organising that are fair and resilient.

                    Key and his mates aren’t leaders, they’re power mongers. There’s a difference 😉 For sure if National were in power during a collapse it would be much harder. But I still think NZ is close enough to its cultural roots (Maori and Pakeha and other tau iwi) to be able to transition when it has to.

                    “Those in power will also have the privilege of having the best access to fuel/money left in the system too.”

                    True, and there are so many potential scenarios it’s hard to argue them out. I think money will be less of an issue than fuel, which is why we should be building resiliency around not having free and cheap access to oil/petrol. Not only because of the price, but because of who controls it.

                    For instance, if my neighbourhood grows most of its own food, we don’t need petrol to ship it to us. We can also have systems that use a higher level of tech than that, but we should lessen reliance on them as much as we can and build resiliency around the basics.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    +1

              • Draco T Bastard

                In other words, large top-down control, the rejection of innovative ideas and community decision making – looks a lot like a communist country doesn’t it, lol.

                Nope, it looks like a capitalist country. Top down, dictatorial control is always from a capitalist mindset.

            • weka 2.2.1.1.1.2

              The difference in Cuba was they had strong central control and were able to distribute food equally while the change over to organic happened. Everyone lost weight for a while there but they got through it.

              I’ll leave it to you to figure out how our current ‘leaders’ would handle such a situation…

              Fair points, although I tend to think that NZers would just get on with it and start growing food sustainably anyway (granted that depends on quick a decline we go through).

          • savenz 2.2.1.1.2

            +1 Weka.

    • Anne 2.3

      It makes you wonder what the real purpose of a Pacific trade agreement which excludes the major economies of China and Russia, is.

      ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  3. Imperialism is a zero sum game. US decline is Russia and China’s rise.
    The TPPA won’t rescue the US but it will make sure that its “partners” carry most of the cost of this decline.
    Geopolitics is about bosses using workers to fight their battles.
    We have our own battle to fight and we need a united proletarian army including US, Russian and Chinese workers.
    Lets fight the Third World War as a class war and turn our guns on our bosses.

    http://redrave.blogspot.co.nz/2014/12/usa-and-china-do-pacific-pivot.html

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      The TPPA won’t rescue the US but it will make sure that its “partners” carry most of the cost of this decline.

      This is my reckoning as well.

      The western 0.1% have just ensured that the rest of us cushion life nicely for them over the next couple of decades.

      • marty mars 3.1.1

        + 1 yep it is a straight fend to the face to create space for the elite to continue their selfish exploitative ways for a bit longer – if it works, it won’t work well – there is a reckoning coming…

  4. One Anonymous Bloke 4

    Kim Davis and Donald Trump certainly seem to think so.

  5. McFlock 5

    Collapse is defintely one way it could go, but also the US has had a relatively long period of supremacy (rather than just superiority). Long enough that many of its geopolitical mandarins have forgotten how to play with others, rather than dictate terms.

    The British Empire approached naval supremacy in the Jackie Fisher period, but great swathes of the globe were under the protection/rule (clients vs colonies) of other powers. What really fucked GB was war debt to the US. Now the US is indebted to China, while China and Russia are refocusing on expanding their spheres of influence (the former probably due to weakness in the US and the problems of AGW, the latter mostly for the sake of internal stability is my bet).

    The major problem for the US is that its investment in high-tech but obscenely expensive weapons systems (as a result of its own internal politics) will fail in the face of plentiful, cheapish and reasonably effective opposing systems. The Germans had a similar problem in WW2. And that’s if the F35 doesn’t turn into an expensive lemon.

    If China can maintain internal stability, then the best the US can hope for is to go back to 1930s-era great power game-playing. Worst case for the US is total economic and governmental collapse.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1

      That outcome necessarily requires <2° of warming. Much more than that, well, "world power ain't what it used to be".

      • McFlock 5.1.1

        Why do you think China’s buying up farmland across the globe?

        • shorts 5.1.1.1

          if things get real bad ownership is only as good as your power to enforce said ownership

          cue guns

          • McFlock 5.1.1.1.1

            That was largely Gwynne Dyer’s assessment, as well, only he seemed to bat more for the local rebels. I suppose the “winning” hit for the locals would be a scorched earth policy to make it unprofitable for the invader to stay and maintain their losses.

            edit: fuck – haven’t read his site in ages. I must play catchup.

          • Colonial Viper 5.1.1.1.2

            On that point, some reckon China might have 3 aircraft carriers in the next 10 years…

            I see the things as highly sinkable boondoggles though.

            And China just leased 115,000 hectares of farmland from Russia…the Russians being more clever than us, we would just have sold it off…

            http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2015-07/09/content_21229700.htm

            • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1.1.2.1

              With an annual operating cost of $2-4 bn, no wonder they’re drowning in debt. Why sink them when you can just wait for the fire sale?

              • Colonial Viper

                and that’s how exactly the Chinese got their first aircraft carrier from the former USSR!!!

            • McFlock 5.1.1.1.2.2

              Funnily enough, they can still be a bit hard to find.

              But yeah they’ve just gotten one online and are looking at two more in ten years (although the heat might be off what with the Indian carrier programme being dogs balls). And they’ve got a nice new plane to go on the carriers, too.

              • Colonial Viper

                One interesting detail is that the Chinese are still well behind on jet engine tech for their military planes – still having to rely on Russian engines for the best performance.

                Scary thing is, even commercial observation satellites these days have a potential optical resolution of 25cm or less. Of course, at that kind of resolution you can only see a window of approx 10km2.

                But set at a 10m resolution – more than enough to pick up a carrier or an escorting destroyer – a modern satellite can potentially survey tens of thousands of square kilometres of ocean in moments, day or night, in all weather conditions.

                • McFlock

                  Well, yes and no – constant tracking requires ubiquitous surveillance, and there’s a distance factor between geostationary and the LEO most “spy” satellites operate at (that’s how they manage small resolution). So you’ve got a more complicated version of the old game of “peekaboo – quick duck to the right” in a decent-sized area.

                  Then there’s the difference between approximate and exact locations, so you might have a general area but tactically an attack is more difficult to finalise than against a fixed land target like a runway, especially after transit time by the attack platforms.

                  Anyway, offline for a couple of hours

                  • Colonial Viper

                    Yep good points, and the moment the carrier group is aware an attack is underway they can engage in some pretty high speed evasive maneuvers.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1.2

          To try and catch up, probably. The West had a head start after all.

          • McFlock 5.1.1.2.1

            You don’t spend millions or billions just to “catch up” for the hell of it.

            • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1.2.1.1

              What makes you think a large country like the US or China will be viable enough to be a “power”? They’ll have enough problems maintaining their own infrastructure let alone ours.

              • shorts

                pretty much explains why China has never had a policy of expansion (outside of its sphere of influence), until recently one could argue they have enough on their hands maintaining what they have

              • McFlock

                Sorry, yeah, for a moment I forgot we’re all doomed. /sarc

                Funny thing about people – we managed to fight a war over nutmeg on the other side of the planet when all we had were wood boats and scurvy. The nature of the scraps might change, but the fight over them will last as long as people.

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  Yes, I’m sure there’ll be fighting, more’s the pity. However, remote interests won’t so much be “doomed” as “marooned”.

  6. Thanks cv

    of course JMG has also been writing of the collapse/gradual decline for many moons

    The decline and fall of a civilization isn’t a single event, or even a single linear process; it’s a complex fractal reality composed of many different events on many different scales in space and time. If it takes one to three centuries, as usual, those centuries are going to be taken up by an uneven drumbeat of wars, crises, natural disasters, and assorted breakdowns on a variety of time frames with an assortment of local, regional, national, or global effects. The collapse of US global hegemony is one of those events; the unraveling of the economic and technological framework that currently provides most Americans with electricity and running water is another, but neither of those is anything like the whole picture.

    …There are, very generally speaking, five broad phases in the decline and fall of a civilization. I know it’s customary in historical literature to find nice dull labels for such things, but I’m in a contrary mood as I write this, so I’ll give them unfashionably colorful names: the eras of pretense, impact, response, breakdown, and dissolution. Each of these is complex enough that it’ll need a discussion of its own; this week, we’ll talk about the era of pretense, which is the one we’re in right now.

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.co.nz/2015/05/the-era-of-pretense.html

    The series of essays he has written are worth a read.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Cheers for pointing to the great material at the archdruid report, MM!

      Of course, one of JMG’s most insightful points is that being an imperial vassal state has its costs – but also its benefits. NZ continues to get many benefits from being closely tied to the US block, but of course those benefits are disproportionately weighted towards the elite.

  7. RedLogix 7

    Great Post CV. Good to see you in the fray again.

    Personally I think we are at Peak Empire. In historic times an Empire might last a minimum of several hundred years and might well last several thousand with luck. But the last handful, the Spanish, French, British and American (being Eurocentric I accept) have all reached their peak and decline in notably shorter intervals.

    And while I think the Chinese will attain a real dominance – I doubt they will ever be seen as an uncontested unilateral power the way the Americans were. For no other reason than the fact that the world can longer support or tolerate empire in the conventional sense of the word.

    It’s reasonable to argue that we may well see the break up of the larger power blocs such as the USA, Russia and even China in the longer run. The world may well see more smaller nations of more comparable size and stature than at present.

    All this is consistent with my standing assertion that we are in the middle of a dramatic transition, away from the supremacy of dominant nation states and towards a federalised global governance. Combine this argument, with the simple facts that nuclear weapons render military hegemony virtually unsustainable and the exhaustion of free resources to plunder – and I argue that Empire is a dead letter.

    History may well ascribe something entirely unexpected to the notion of ‘American exceptionalism’ – they were the only Empire in history that was not overtaken by yet another. That in fact they gave way to something wholly new.

  8. Ad 8

    I have always enjoyed the Shell Scenarios because they seek to take a mix of energy, politics, internationalist dynamics, environment, social order, and other stuff into account, rather than say just climate change or just one country.

    They have being doing this kind of thinking for well over two decades now. I think they make a reasonable effort not to be normative, and have reasonable resource applied to this thinking rather than one author.

    Prior to 9/11 one of their scenarios proposed a strengthening global cohesion and strongly managed economic stability. After 9/11 that went out the window. At the moment they consider two kinds of scenario; go to the link for the more detailed analyses of current trends and their likely trajectories.

    The scenarios also highlight areas of public policy likely to have the greatest influence on the development of cleaner fuels, improvements in energy efficiency and on moderating greenhouse gas emissions.

    1. MOUNTAINS

    The first scenario sees a strong role for government and the introduction of firm and far-reaching policy measures. These help to develop more compact cities and transform the global transport network. New policies unlock plentiful natural gas resources – making it the largest global energy source by the 2030s – and accelerate carbon capture and storage technology, supporting a cleaner energy system.

    2. OCEANS

    The second scenario describes a more prosperous and volatile world. Energy demand surges, due to strong economic growth. Power is more widely distributed and governments take longer to agree major decisions. Market forces rather than policies shape the energy system: oil and coal remain part of the energy mix but renewable energy also grows. By the 2070s solar becomes the world’s largest energy source.

    http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/new-lens-scenarios.html

    In this context it’s useful to contrast the successful TPPA (across I think 12 nations), with the upcoming Paris Climate Change talks. TPPA will be viewed in hindsight as either a building block to increased international cohesion that the global GATT couldn’t cope with …
    …or, if Paris fails, TPPA will be seen as a hyper-commercialised limit to international law-making which was only possible with massive commercial force applied.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      New policies unlock plentiful natural gas resources – making it the largest global energy source by the 2030s – and accelerate carbon capture and storage technology, supporting a cleaner energy system.

      We can’t afford to burn those gas supplies and we probably don’t have the energy available to run carbon capture. By the 2030s the entire world needs to be off fossil fuels.

      Reads like the wishlist of a hydrocarbon selling company.

      • marty mars 8.1.1

        yep – at least they’ve fucked off from the arctic for the time being.

      • Ad 8.1.2

        Have a look at the full thing. Take a moment.

        If someone wants to stretch their legs on the decline of the state, of the idea of policy, and the rise of the interests of the corporation, they will see why thinking through the interests of a top 10 corporation makes as much sense as looking through the lens of the interests of the USA.

  9. joe90 9

    The perils of the concentrated wealth and power of elites – and intolerant Christians.

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/02/mary-beard-why-ancient-rome-matters

  10. Smilin 10

    The interest in colonizing Mars is a reference in stupidity as it represents the demise of this planet that will come so long as fuckwits (kiwifruits according to Google) like Key run the country
    the article is a very sane view of reality, that you would have to be a moron not to accept it which is what we are getting from this Key dick and his edicts
    The land of milk and honey will be no more as we accept these corporat (Google cant change that one) stooges replacing our democracy and sanity with their bs
    Get a brain Kiwis this is a totalitarian regime run by corporations, that plunder the shit out of every place on this earth and leave them stripped of their sustainability and resources, it is the height of this hypocrisy and stupidity that runs this country and its what weve signed up to with this TPPA

  11. lurgee 11

    NASA experts predict that by 2100 there will only be sufficient arable land left to feed 400M people.

    Is this a real thing that real NASA experts have said or is it made up?

    It smells suspiciously like the latter. At best, I’m betting it is a wild exaggeration of a Most Extreme Worst Case Scenario.

  12. It’s always fun to see wishful thinking developed into such an elaborate construct.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 12.1

      Murphy’s Law plus serendipity make a stopped clock tell the time: be careful what you wish for.

    • cogito 12.2

      Seems to me that this post is really just a thinly veiled promo for China.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 12.2.1

        If this is the best promo China can muster there’s a chasm in the market.

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