Is America an empire in decline?
“The size, strength, and sophistication of an armed force is ultimately dependent on two factors: (1) a nation’s economic resources and (2) its population (more specifically, those between the ages of roughly 18 and 40.”
This is troubling on both counts. The United States is clearly in trouble financially. Our official debt is around 14 trillion dollars, about the same as our total economic output in one year. If our debt were calculated using the same accounting principles that private companies are required to follow by law, it would include unfunded liabilities that are currently off the books. Our true debt would then be at least 70 trillion, with some estimates as high as 202 trillion. This, the largest debt in the history of the world (http://www.businessinsider.com/charts-of-the-debt-bubble-2010-11), is unsustainable, and it has real consequences. Previous empires (e.g., the France of Louis XVI, the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire) have all collapsed due to excessive spending, and America is not immune to the laws of economics.
The other troubling aspect is demographics. The United States, like Europe and Japan, has a declining birthrate. We have more and more elderly who expect to be supported by a smaller and smaller number of young people. The pool of native-born young people for our military to draw from is declining. The only growth in the younger population comes from immigration, which leads to a third concern, patriotism.
After pointing out the weaknesses of an army dependent on conscription or mercenaries, the Britannica points out that “[i]t is obvious that an army of volunteers bound together by ideals such as patriotism would be an exceptional fighting force.”
The concern is this: Is there a net increase or decrease in patriotism in the long run? In our native population the trend since the Watergate era has been toward more cynicism regarding government. The upsurge in patriotic sentiment after 9/11 seems to have waned. It’s hard to argue that the public schools and media are doing anything to increase patriotism.
What about our immigrants? We have abandoned the “melting pot” model of immigration whereby immigrants give up their ethnic identities and become truly American in their language and customs. We now have an ideal called the “tossed salad,” whereby immigrants keep their languages and customs and live near Americans but do not become Americans. The result is Balkanization, with diversity becoming the fatal weakness it was always destined to be rather than the strength that we were always told that it is.
The future, unfortunately, portends a weaker U.S. military and hence a weaker country, I’m sad to say. The only solutions are a reduction in government spending that would border on the miraculous and a return to sensible immigration and acculturation practices. Brief periods of budget surpluses and Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback have shown that we can take the steps necessary, but it is unlikely that we have the political will to take such steps at the magnitude and for the duration required today.