by Carla Zapata




As the second decade of the XXI century prosper, international policy experiences an important transformation in different aspects such as economic, political and social; likewise the deterioration of the U.S. economy has provoked the simultaneous growth of China as a new center of economy; these two powers has changed and modified radically the international system of the Cold war, dominated by the United States.

With the financial crisis of 2008, many scholars argue that China would become the dominant power of the twenty-first century; opposing that statement Charles Dumas (BBC) maintains the idea that China is only an unsustainable house of cards while the U.S. is showing signs of recovery.

Moreover, as a consequence of the inevitable decline of the United States, since 2009 to the present, China has avoid the financial crisis and emerge as an increasingly strong economy; if its growth rates are still maintained it could become an economy of first order, besides, it could convert a player more predominant in the emerging international system.

During this century, it subsists a modern foreign policy debate about which state will be the dominant; on the one side is China and for the other one is United States, for this reason immediately appears a question; which of these two states will be the most powerful in the future?.

When talking about the United States is important to take in count that USA still holds a great soft and hard power over the world despite the decline that it has suffered; there are many theories about its power, growth and obviously its current decline; for that reason it emerges a new question: during the 21st century can the United States be considered as a hegemon whose competences are eroding?.

 “Power today is distributed in a pattern that resembles a complex three-dimensional chess game. On the top chessboard, military power is largely unipolar, and the United States is likely to retain primacy for quite some time. On the middle chessboard, economic power has been multipolar for more than a decade, with the United States, Europe, Japan, and China as the major players and others gaining in importance.” (Nye, 2010, 5).

The bad distribution of the power resources in the twenty-first century and the crisis of 2008 are the immediate causes of U.S decline; that is why The National Intelligence Council has projected that in 2025, “the U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished.”(Nye, 2010, 1)

Under this situation, the political and economic rise of China poses significant challenges in a globally form, but especially at the regional scale. The projections of it political, economic and energy or security growth generate large benefits, but at the same time a lot of uncertainties because there are certain factors that inhibit it total development.

Moreover, according to the data base of the World Bank China has been rising rapidly, at the point that now is the second strongest economy in the world; even though the economic and social crisis that USA has been suffering, it still being the first economy.

The concerns about the power of China expose the fears of the United States about the military and economic implication of the emergence of this country.

On the other hand, after the post-Cold War, international system was clearly unipolar because the expenditure of military defense of the United States was “almost half of the global military spending and the budget for investigation and development of defense was the eighty percent of the total defense spending of China” (Jervis, 2008: 195).

Historically, United States has been considered as a great power, for that reason it surges the concept of unipolarity which means the distribution of power in which a State wields the most part of cultural, economic and military influence, furthermore Wolhforth (1997) argues that unipolarity is a peaceful system which survive the absence of war between big powers and the relative low levels of competition for prestige and security.

“Unipolarity is the foundation of United States hegemony and if it ends so will U.S primacy” (Layne, 1993:37); also Monteiro (2011) clarifies that unipolarity cannot be focused on how strong it is going to be, he explains that the system works only in a peacefulness way because unipolarity have an structural mechanism of strategies respect to protection and supremacy in order to maintain the status quo of that particular period of time.

American grand strategy represents a seeming puzzle, where the Soviet Union’s collapse changed the international system radically, but there has been no corresponding change in U.S. grand strategy; in terms of ambitions, interests, and alliances, the United States today is following the same grand strategy that it pursued from 1945 until 1991, the strategy of preponderance this means that “U.S. led world order based on preeminent U.S. political, military, and economic power, and on American values” (Layne, 1998, 9)

Furthermore, the strategy of preponderance can be controversial because the preponderance hegemony is a realist strategy that aims to preserve America´s post-Cold War geopolitical dominance. Supporters of preponderance believe that because international politics are extremely competitive.

“The strategy of preponderance rests on the assumption that states gain security not trough a balance of power, but by creating a power imbalance in their favor, that is by seeking hegemony.”(Layne, 1998, 10), additionally the strategy of preponderance assumes an economic interdependence because that is the principal factor to endorse preponderance, also the instability produces threat; exist two types of threats the first one is the rise of a new super power, and second one is the instability in the region of interest.

 On the other hand, Layne argues that “is strewn with the geopolitical wreckage of states that bid for hegemony: the Hapsburg Empire under Charles V, France under Louis XIV and Napoleon, Victorian Britain, Germany under Hitler” (Layne, 1998, 10), this historical lesson shows that states that bid for hegemony always fail; the principal reason of it is because when a state is becoming preponderant on the international system, it affects to the security of other states, because they only response for their interests.

In the case of U.S, it always has success as a hegemon because it used its soft power as a kindly hegemon that not only worried about itself.

Likewise, the rise of China has created a debate among international relations theorists; for one way it is the optimistic liberals, and for the other one is the pessimistic realists.           The liberals discuss that because “the current international order is defined by economic and political openness, it can accommodate China’s rise peacefully. The United States and other leading powers, this argument runs, can and will make clear that China is welcome to join the existing order and prosper within it, and China is likely to do so rather than launch a costly and dangerous struggle to overturn the system and establish an order more to its own liking”(Glaser, 2011).

In contrast the realist view predicts an intense competition, because it argues “that the China´s growing strength will lead it to pursue its interest more assertively, which will in turn lead the United States and other countries to balance against it.” (Glaser, 2011); this will generate a hegemonic war.

“The problem inheres as much or more in elite and societal beliefs, policy choices, and political will, as in economic, technological or manpower limitations at home, or the rise of peer competitors abroad” (Lieber, 2011, 510)

U.S. is in decline, because its national capacity is decreasing, for this reason it is disappearing, also with the increasing number of emerging powers in the different regions his power is progressively reduced; but many scholars, experts say that U.S continues having some significant advantages such as economic, technology, weapons, demography, among others, that is why some political strategists argue that this overreacting to mention that United States will lose all its hegemony, however is important to mention that every day the national capacity of U.S is decreasing; at the same time the number of emerging powers in the different regions are increasing.

An example of this is China, an emerging country that advance every day in all the aspects; China has been considered as a new power for its: population, which is the first in the world, also for its GDP (second in the world) and land area (fourth in the world).

As well as its position on the major international political and financial organizations, also because it is a permanent member inside of the Security Council of United Nations; furthermore its diplomatic effectiveness, competitiveness and its size and economic growth have helped China to be considered today the factory of the world, this important set of economic and political variables play an important role on the international system because all that parameters contribute to generate an image of a country that has everything needed to be a great power.

Without a doubt, the United States challenges serious problems at home and abroad, nevertheless, the history of United States has shown that it can conserve it power for its robustness and adaptability as a society and as a leading power, furthermore China has a great population, that make it powerful, also its internal dynamics and its extraordinary financial capacity could make that China displace the eternal super power “United States.”

“Time and again, America has faced daunting challenges and made mistakes, yet it has possessed the inventiveness and societal flexibility to adjust and respond successfully.”(Lieber, 2011, 515).

On the other hand, it also exist the decline debate, in which the “Declinists contend that history tends to repeat itself and that the history of world politics can be characterized as a succession of hegemonies, as their current rise and fall of the great powers, as an observable pattern of great power emergence, or as a series of long cycles.” (Beckley, 2012, 44)

 They focus in two theories; the first one is “declinists fuse hegemonic stability theory with traditional balance of power theory; weaker states not only free-ride on these services, but also engage in sabotage, erecting diplomatic and economic obstacles, the second theory is “the convergence and its claim that, in an open global economy, poor countries tend to grow faster than rich countries.”(Beckley, 2012, 44, 45)

Furthermore, U.S. suffers the hegemon´s dilemma, for this reason it pays the higher maintenance costs of the international system, in order to maximize theirs absolutes profits; while the hegemony profitable argues that hegemony benefits outweigh the costs.

In addition, “Over the last two decades, globalization and U.S. hegemonic burdens have expanded significantly, yet the United States has not declined; in fact it is now wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991” (Beckley, 2012, 43), for that hegemony and globalization do not abolish U.S power, they support it, U.S originates competitive compensations from its hegemonic position and globalization because it pays the  higher maintenance costs of the international system, in order to maximize theirs absolutes profits, therefore it can manipulates international system from their own benefits.

On the other hand, China has its economy as the cornerstone of its growth, its exports of goods, services and technology have permitted it to achieve higher levels of competitiveness inside its economy; as a consequence these indices confirm that the level of development of this Asian giant is enormous. However the hegemony of China as an emerging power has provoked several obstacles especially internal issues that not permit their entire development.

“China is growing, but it is not catching up”. “(Beckley, 2012, 43) for that the progress of China is considered partial because it still does not have strong alliances with all the world, also because it is confronted with many of its Asian neighbors.

Furthermore in the international system, especially in the international organizations, China is almost always in abstention; never takes the lead as a power that can make global proposals and changes and rarely it  proposes initiatives of mutual benefits or proposes that can improve new countries.

Additionally, China is part of the Security Council of the United Nations, however it does not use correctly its status of great power in many international institutions, because China does not lead, moreover China is not involved in trying to solve any of the major global problems, it only worried about its internal problems or difficulties that affect it; these can be the reasons why China at it economic sphere is still being second of the world.

In addition, “Power is not good or bad per se. If a country has too few power resources, it is less likely to obtain its preferred outcomes. But too much power (in terms of resources) has often proved to be a curse when it leads to overconfidence and inappropriate strategies.” (Nye, 2010, 12)

The main benefit that a great power has is that the system eradicates the problem of the hegemonic rivalry inside of the international system, for this is important to mention that United States has been at war during the thirteen of the twenty two years since the end of the Cold War; in the same historical background the hegemony of American always was extraordinary; for that U.S. is not afraid about the rise of emerging powers.

Lastly, many experts discuss that  China is the possible successor  of U.S., because it would be the only one to balance or overcome the traditional power, but, China still has a long way to tour before this occur, only doing that it can challenge for the position of  U.S., East Asia and eventually the world.

Finally, United States has another problem that have to faced, if it wanted to still being a power; it has to solve the confidence of the government; this means that it has to reorganized its internal programs. “Despite these problems and uncertainties, it seems probable that with the right strategies, the U.S. economy can continue to produce hard power for the country. The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies.” (Nye, 2010, 8)

“Power is not good or bad per se. It is like calories in a diet: more is not always better. If a country has too few power resources, it is less likely to obtain its preferred outcomes. But too much power (in terms of resources) has often proved to be a curse when it leads to overconfidence and inappropriate strategies.” (Nye, 2010, 12)

In conclusion, China and the United States are in a predominant place, and also play an important role inside of the international system, both China and United States have different problems and adversities that hinder their development, these are often caused by internal problems due to the different policies that they use to govern their country, also that in some cases  produce externally effects; its means  that international system is affected by certain differences that impede the total development of theses powers.

In addition, around the world exist a huge perception that think that United States was in the past, is at the present and will be in the future the unique power that can dominate international system because it has suffered a lot of issues even though it can solved in the best way by itself; that´s why 80% of scholars, academics and others are in favor of U.S; while China face strong perception worldwide; this is because United States use the soft power as a form of gain all the support of the countries, so in any way it implements its ideology in a smooth manner, gaining all the maintenance of the different states; In contrast there is also academics that think that China is the unique successor of U.S because it has all the necessary aspects to become a super power like its population, land, technology and the most important economy; and recently documents and statistics have shown that China is growing in a rapidly form; that is why during these day more countries of Europe or Latin America prefer make trades whit this emerging power, because they know that China economically is stable; the only problem that it has is that China has internal problems that makes difficult their absolutely ascends, but if China reorganized their policies and implements new ones can be the best power, because it is important to take in count that the power is always changing, it is not stable in the time because there are a lot of external factors that modifies the system so in some days one countries will have more resources or opportunities to stay leading the international system, but then a new power will emerge even a traditional power will return to its place; this is a this is a vicious circle.





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Autora: Carla Vanessa Zapata Toapanta


Graduada de la carrera de Ciencias Políticas y Relaciones Internacionales de la Universidad de las Américas (UDLA) Quito-Ecuador. Actualmente, escribo para la Revista Acontecer Internacional de Argentina temas relevantes para el contexto internacional. Conjuntamente, redacto artículos de carácter cultural, histórico, actualidad, opinión, entre otros  para el Journal de la Alianza Francesa Quito.


 carla_25z @hotmail.com









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