The surrender of Japan to the Allies (U.S. and China), circa 1945, via Wiki Commons


What will the world will look like when the United States is Number Two? Part I of a discussion among the Cosmopolitan Globalists about the ramifications of American geopolitical decline.

The debate was prompted by a reading of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, by the British journalist and academic Martin Jacques.

His writing is a warning to the West, not as an advertisement for the CCP, although it isn’t clear the CCP understands this. (They are so enthusiastic about his work that they’ve given him a column in the Global Times.) His premise is that the West has erred, fundamentally, in assuming that China’s form of governance imposes a natural ceiling on its economic growth and expansion. To the contrary, he argues; China’s global dominance is inevitable, and China will not change. Its success will create an alternative model for economic development, which will mean the end of Western dominance in every sphere—economic, political, and cultural.

Jacques is making striking claims, to wit, that 1.4 billion people do not believe in the ideal of liberal democracy; they are more satisfied with rule by the CCP than Westerners are with their own governments; and they will be exceptionally successful in exporting their governance model. He is either right about this or wrong. If he’s right, this poses a very different challenge to Western liberal democrats than a world in which these 1.4 billion people are yearning to breathe free.

Particularly interesting are his arguments about the continuity between dynastic China and China after 1949. Western antipathy to communism, he argues, has blinded us to the continuity in China’s political traditions and the degree to which the CCP has perpetuated ancient Confucian ideals—of the state as the embodiment of society, as an extension of the family, of meritocracy—that afford it legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.

He believes China’s form of government to be entirely sustainable, even though it has none of the features we would recognize as a liberal democracy. The widespread belief that China’s industrial revolution cannot mature unless it develops these features, he argues, is mistaken; he notes that they did not even mature in the West until its industrial transition was complete.

China’s rise is therefore inexorable, in his view, as is the relative decline of the West. We are now entering an era of contested modernity, one in which China’s economic success—and its imminent economic dominance—will give rise to a Western existential crisis. The pandemic, he now argues, has accelerated this process. The crisis is imminent.

Arguendo, let’s assume he is right. Beijing will succeed in creating the new, Sino-centric world order of its dreams. What will this mean to ordinary men and women around the world? What will it mean to Americans? What would it mean to the average European if the American umbrella has holes in it? What would it mean to the Indo-Pacific if America’s fleet in the oceans has limited relevance? We have already argued that Asian economies now draw less from America than they do from China. This process is well underway.

We asked our writers to debate.

CLAIRE BERLINSKI:  The discussion premise is worth exploring, because the stakes are so very high. They’re so high, in fact, that they compel a re-framing of the question: not what happens when America is Number Two, but what happens when America is no longer Number One. They aren’t quite the same, you see. When our own beloved United States of America, last best hope of man on earth, is not number one, then it is a very long way down for us—and for a great many peoples and places that depend upon us.

There is significant evidence that the dollar’s position is under existential, if quiet, threat even as we have this conversation. No one really believes in the steady fiscal management of the United States government, at home or abroad.

As the question asks specifically what will happen to Americans, I will not address here the latter group. Suffice it to say that places like Tallinn, Taipei, and Tel Aviv have an exceptionally high likelihood of existential straits in a world without American preeminence.

For Americans, loss of preeminence—being Number One—means above all else the probable loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency. Much of the specifics of this depend upon the circumstance. It could happen because we lose a major war. It could happen because we win a major war but, in the British fashion, mortgage our future in doing it. It could happen through plain systemic overstretch: who will say now that Redditors in 2028 don’t decide to mount a Soros-type raid on the dollar? 

There is significant evidence that the dollar’s position is under existential, if quiet, threat even as we have this conversation. No one really believes in the steady fiscal management of the United States government, at home or abroad, and no one really believes the Federal Reserve is a nonpolitical and sober steward of the currency. Those myths evaporated in late 2008, and we’ve been living on the borrowed time of a convenient narrative since. The saving grace for the dollar in the interim has been twofold: the total untrustworthiness of the Chinese, precluding the yuan from becoming a serious currency; and the inability of the Europeans to see their political project to logical fruition in a Hamiltonian integration of national finances, thereby elevating the Euro to heights of Gaullist ecstasy. Ruchir Sharma has argued that the rise of cryptocurrency can be interpreted as an implicit market search for a reserve-currency alternative to the dollar, and I think he is correct. The dollar is insufficient: the successor has yet to arise. 

But it will arise. 

When it does, and dollar holdings slip to just another piece in the portfolio puzzle, the outcome for the United States—and the average American—will be catastrophic. The United States government operates through stupefying levels of accumulating debt, piling upon itself year after year. In the last two major economic crises, the federal government chose to spike the annual deficits to truly dizzying heights: to about 10% of GDP in 2009, and to about 15 percent of GDP in 2020. Those were crisis years: even if the annual deficit hovers around 5 percent of GDP and all is calm for decades to come (which it won’t be), the interest alone will double or triple the size of the accumulated debt within a generation. 

Meanwhile the accumulated national debt of the United States is about 130% of GDP. 

Meanwhile the average U.S. state receives about one-third of its annual budget from the federal government. 

All this is possible only—only—because the entire rest of the planet has confidence in the United States. Humanity in aggregate holds on to the belief that we will remain Number One. So, to the original question, what happens when that belief is lost? Well, when the belief is lost, then the reality is lost.

Losing that reality means the United States effectively loses its line of credit. It then has two choices: it can go on a de facto cash basis, or it can continue to issue debt at terms increasingly ruinous to itself. It is an error to consider these mutually exclusive options, but we should consider each in turn. 

The cash-basis option, otherwise known as austerity, probably means the dismantling of both the federal and state social-welfare apparatuses. The political costs to this, in terms of office-holder jobs and civic stability alike, are tremendous, and no one will wish to bear them. (It probably also means the dramatic slashing of our stupendous military establishment, which will look drearily familiar to UK friends, but this has more external consequences than internal.) The federal cuts will affect, most visibly, three major items: the infrastructure of interstate travel, from highways to airports; Medicare; and Social Security. The follow-on cuts to state budgets, most forced to c.60 percent of current expenditures with the presumed loss of federal funds, will reach even deeper into individual Americans’ lives: county roads, local bridges, public schools, state colleges, hospitals, and more will enter into a state of material arrest at first, and then decay.

The debt-issuance option, as the terms of that debt become more unfavorable to the United States, eventually raise the specter of inflation, and given sufficient elite foolishness, hyperinflation. This needs no expansion or elaboration. 

One might at this point conceive a picture of a dethroned United States of America as something very much like 1970s Britain: down and out, in a state of visible decay, and exceptionally grim, but only awaiting the right leadership to see it to a revival. This is a mistake. The era when America could be perceived, mostly accurately, as essentially a European nation on a different continent—much as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are—is long gone. The United States is better understood as a loosely bound mega-population, mega-territorial nation of multiple peoples without a sufficiently robust common narrative to fully override centripetal forces. The mental model for America on the downswing is not any European state: it is other nations like that. Instead of Britain, France, Canada, Germany, think of the actual peer nations here being Brazil, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Indonesia, Russia, Mexico. 

The loss of primacy has been extensively exploited in the UK and Russia countries to create low-IQ discourse and nostalgia for a lost, sometimes imaginary greatness.

Life in a toppled America will look a lot like life in those places. Not uniformly of course. But close enough. Consider South Africa and Mexico. Both places are marked by extraordinary culture and wondrous diversity—and also shocking inequality, erratic infrastructure, concentrations of wealth with a broader mass of semi-impoverishment, and endemic violence at nearly every level. That last bit should raise flags: Americans are second to none in the promulgation of violence.

Oh, and lest it go unmentioned, in this scenario, America’s ace in the hole—the persistent desire of most of the world’s top talent to come here and join its fortunes to ours—wholly evaporates.

What would it mean for ordinary Americans if we become number two? Well, bad news: we’d be lucky to stay number two. We won’t. We are either Number One or, in our present circumstance—which is entirely our own fault—we descend down the ranks of nations for some time. The question for us now isn’t what we do when that time comes. The moment of the fall is too late. The question is what we do to stave it off.


TOOMAS HENDRIK ILVES: I would look both to the UK and Russia. Over time the US would become surly, nasty, and nationalistic, if not jingoistic. The loss of primacy has been extensively exploited in the UK and Russia countries to create low-IQ discourse and nostalgia for a lost, sometimes imaginary greatness. The obsession with victory in WWII as the last good thing to happen—and something to which the rest of the world must bow down—is a pathology that will infect the US in one form or another. A foretaste is to be found in the last four years. MAGA would finally have meaning as a rallying cry.

Other countries, too, have fallen for this. Mussolini, certainly, with Rome. Meanwhile, Greece during the debt and bailout crisis gives us the best example: When confronted with its bad behavior, lying about its spending, the hoi poloi responded: “We already had democracy when you were living in trees.” This didn’t really do much for its debts.

It would also be interesting to look at how France has handled its fall from greatness. It acts as if it never happened. 

We little guys, meanwhile just watch from the sidelines.


VIVEK Y. KELKAR: Is Britain is any parallel? What did the loss of empire really mean for the average Briton, what did the loss of the number one position in global affairs mean for the average Brit?

Britain lost a territorial empire, its economic leadership and influence. The US loses an empire of perception and influence. Whether the US economy loses its Number One status depends a great deal upon the policies of the next four years.

Does the ability to influence the institutions of the world, both institutional bodies and institutions in a political economy sense, change? And if so, does it change the way nation states act and interact with the US?

A key frame for the change is technology. Large eras in recent history have been dominated by technology leaders. Is China really gaining the edge in technology? Does that affect common-man economics? Common-man daily life? Do the now-clear shifts in technology lead to a different paradigm of economic and political order?

Another key economic frame is the primacy of the dollar. Realistically, how far away is the loss of primacy? Is there a parallel with the loss of primacy of the pound sterling?

Does all this really affect the average individual? I come back to the question: Did the loss of empire really affect the life of the average Briton, except in economic terms?

How did the fall of the Soviet Union affect the average Russian man in the street? Did it, really?


SHAY KHATIRI: The British-to-American transition is not a good comparison. (Read Kori Schake’s Safe Passage.) The first change is that if the US is no longer the world’s largest reserve currency, the government cannot borrow and print money at such a low interest and inflation rate. This means we will have high inflation and cuts in entitlements.

From the foreign policy point of view, the first change is rise of prices owing to China’s mercantilist trade practices. Then you have the Bob Kagan theory (read Backing Into World War III in Foreign Policy): expansionist, illiberal powers never stop asking for more if not contained. This means China will continue to expand territorially. At some point, China will annex an ally and we will have to enter a war (like World War II). If we don’t, China’s power will grow sufficient to at some point invade the United States.


CLAIRE BERLINSKI: When exactly in this scenario does the US go so broke it can no longer maintain its nuclear deterrent? I think that would cause China to think twice and three times again about invading CONUS. Being invaded by China is low on my list of worries. Nuclear weapons, alas, work very well as a deterrent. I’m much more worried that this thought—“nuclear weapons work very well as a deterrent”—will occur to everyone. And in a world of wildly uncontrolled nuclear proliferation, sooner or later, the worst will happen.

The only nation in history to give up an active nuclear deterrent was the Afrikaners, and they probably regret it. Nations will scrape and scrimp for nuclear weapons. America will always be able to afford at least enough to render the northern hemisphere broadly uninhabitable. I believe the PRC is the only regime, ever and anywhere, to regard a full strategic nuclear exchange as 1) an acceptable escalation option, and 2) winnable, so it isn’t clear to me that the ordinary deterrent value of a nuclear force is really present versus them.

VLADISLOV DAVIDZON: The Ukrainians gave up 3000 nuclear weapons to Moscow in 1994—Belarus and Kazakhstan did too, but they did not have the launch codes.

SHAY KHATIRI: The history of nuclear weapons is too short to be definitive on the effectiveness of its deterrence, and the balance of nukes could easily tip in China’s favor in a world where we can’t prevent proliferation by China. (In fact, we’re already failing at it with both China and Russia.) They could develop large enough an arsenal that ours won’t work as a deterrent. (Some nuke theorists suggest that a 4:1 ratio is large enough to make the inferior forces obsolete.) You should not worry about a Chinese invasion in the near future, but in a longer future. This is in addition to the possibility of a new weapons technology that’s far more lethal than thermonuclear weapons. That will recreate a 1945-48 scenario, where the US had a nuclear monopoly.

Ukraine didn’t have the launch codes.


OWEN LEWIS: While the average man may not notice much difference in his daily life as empires wax and wane, there should be clear statistical indicators. There will be economic implications, which will affect the average American, if the United States loses its top spot. How to untangle these from other trends, I’m not sure.

Pride, maybe? I don’t think that China is ahead of the U.S. technologically yet, but it’s catching up fast. It may not be long until it’s Number Two and within striking distance of the Number One spot. If China landed a man on Mars before Elon Musk and SpaceX, that would be a huge blow to national pride. Perhaps that would affect average Americans and galvanize them to do something. I’m not sure what that “something” would be. I don’t think China will beat SpaceX to Mars, but what if they crack general AI first? Or an economic fusion reactor? Energy, AI, space, biotechnology, and nanotech are the key areas to watch, maybe additive and autonomous manufacturing—3D printing—as well. America is ahead for now, but China could pull ahead in any or all of them.

If America does become Number Two in the world, the average American might either become more insular or start looking more seriously at the rest of the world. Not sure which—but the status quo would probably be disrupted. 


CLAIRE BERLINSKI: I’m not worried about China invading the US, period. What would the objective be—to enslave us? No, to destroy us you’d have to nuke us. Or set us against each other. Or destroy our infrastructure through cyberattacks. Or wreck our morale with biological warfare. But it’s obvious the world around that all of the latter would be highly effective, low-cost, and devastating. We’re as vulnerable to unconventional warfare as we’re invulnerable to invasion. Now everyone knows this. 

Since we’re inconvenient to China and Russia and many smaller states that don’t want to be overrun by either of them, my guess would be that the future will be defined by remorseless information operations against our wildly gullible population with the goal of setting us upon each other to the point that we invade ourselves. Perhaps, after we’ve reduced ourselves to something that looks like postwar Europe, China will clear the land for agriculture (it is very fertile, after all) by releasing SARS-CoV6 or some other germ to finish the job. That’s a tried-and-true method for colonizing the Americas, after all. But frankly, I don’t know why they’d bother with invasion. I don’t see that they’d really need the farmland.

Maybe the US is more like the late Roman Republic. It also survived interminable civil wars, but ended up even more dominant. Like the Romans, Americans are competitive, vicious and unforgiving of weakness.

The real cause for concern—we’re all converging on this—is the prospect of the loss of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If the world realizes there’s nothing but a man with a smoke machine behind the curtain, we’re in trouble. Much more trouble than the UK under comparable circumstances, because the UK effectively folded itself under our security umbrella, and we were willing, fairly seamlessly, to take over the role of benign global naval hegemon.

American social stability remains contingent on a widespread, realistic expectation of upward mobility. As soon as this disappears, we go berserk. Look how berserk we’ve already gone. Now imagine we’re twice as as poor. Or thrice.

That could be worse than nuclear weapons?

JON NIGHSWANDER: People might find Adam Tooze‘s recent piece interesting. His conclusion is that the dollar is likely to remain preeminent for several decades because there are still no good alternatives. In every major crisis, people still run to dollars. 

Maybe Covid19 will change that, but I’m starting to think the US, or the Anglosphere in general, may actually come out of this stronger in the short term—certainly better than the EU. It’s interesting how many dominant global brands are a) American (Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Tesla); b) less than 30 years old; and c) benefiting financially from the pandemic. Don’t forget Moderna. In terms of innovation and soft power. the US still doesn’t look like a country in decline—very much the opposite. Meanwhile, China is publicly humiliating Jack Ma.

Maybe the US is more like the late Roman Republic. It also survived interminable civil wars, but ended up even more dominant. Like the Romans, Americans are competitive, vicious and unforgiving of weakness.

The debaters are all a part of what makes The Cosmopolitan Globalist so exciting.


  1. Question: it appears to me that the Cosmopolitan Globalists frown upon China’s recent pressure on Jack Ma. Claire, is this true? And if so, how would CG respond to Facebook listing its new banking company on NYSE, and this bank is not regulated by the Fed?

    • Claire Berlinski | February 3, 2021 at 9:19 am | Reply

      Well, we don’t think a country that cracks down on its most successful and innovative businessmen is going to have quite so easy a time reaching Number One status. And since we aren’t thrilled with the way things look when China is Number One, I guess you could conclude we’d be glad China’s putting Ma under pressure. But really, we’d rather China flourished peacefully and without repressing *anyone.*

  2. Well an initial response to Toomas comment about France’s decline from Great Power status is obviously one solution for the US to preserve “Great Power” status would be to merge or become part of a larger entity such as the European Union. While this might seem a shocking proposal so was the idea of France in the 1940s and 1950s becoming part of the ECSC and later the EEC. The second thing France did under Charles De Gaulle was basically make the decision that technological advancement both in civilian and military spheres(in particular the use of Atomic energy as a weapon, a source of naval propulsion, and a source of civilian) electricity was more important to Great Power status than the French colonial empire. A video I linked to below from France makes this argument. I guess an American response to this would be to cut back on land forces permanently based in Middle East instead invest more in space and naval forces.


    • Claire Berlinski | February 4, 2021 at 8:47 am | Reply

      I’ve been angling for the Western Union, so to speak. (And a more robust defense and trade agreement could serve the same purpose.) But it’s obviously a hard sell right now. In this political climate, it can’t happen. Still, something may shock the West out of its reverie and the strategic imperative may make the idea more attractive. I really can’t see any alternative. Unless liberal democracies hang together we’ll all hang separately.

      • Well we technically already have the OECD based in Paris which is as good of an approximation of a “Western Union” as any.


        Obviously the inclusion of Turkey in the OECD might be a challenge(Turkey’s membership goes all the way back to the 1960s) but you are more of an expert on Turkey than I am. I think the issue with OECD is it tends to me a highly technical and technocratic institution focused on economic policy instead of being a counter example of a UN type organization that represents primarily the interests of small d democratic countries in an increasingly authoritarian world

        I think part of the problem is that many of those most concerned with America decline i.e. the WigWags and Eric Hines of the world are those most totally opposed to even discussion or contemplating such a merger or alliance into an EU style “Western Union” on the part of the United States.

        • I won’t speak for WigWag, but you might attend more to the difference between concern with American decline and concern with the possibility of American decline, and you might attend more to what I’ve written about ad hoc coalition vs union before you presume to put words in my mouth.
          Eric Hines

  3. Some additional comments of mine as follows:

    1. In response to Jon Nighswander: While I expect the US Dollar to continue as a “major” global currency I think the story of the Euro and EU capital markets is still yet to be written especially post Brexit. In fact I am myself working on possibly writing an article on what the future might hold in this department.

    2. In response to Jon Nighswander again: I hate when people use the term Anglosphere. What exactly are they referring to. Is Quebec part of the Anglosphere? Anyways I think usage of the term Anglosphere is way overdone as in most major crisis of my lifetime the performance of the different countries that make up the Anglosphere supposedly is all over the place. Canada, New Zealand and Australia did much much better than say the UK and US during the 2008 Financial Crisis(France was somewhere in the middle). Only Iceland and Greece were probably dead last behind even the UK.

    3. To everyone in general: I think the broader issue is not even so much Covid-19 related but the US has had an awful record of state failure now for almost 25 years(and perhaps going back even further). French people for example might like to complain about the poor performance of there government and rightfully so for example with Covid vaccinations but France for example I don’t think you can say has had this constant of one blunder after another. The French state stopped what would have been a 9/11 style attack on Paris back in 1994 during the Air France flight 8969 hijacking, stayed out of the 2003 Iraq War and while really didn’t do great during the 2008 crash probably performed as the best EU member state. To put it another way there is something very wrong when it costs 10 times as much to build a subway line in NYC as it does in Paris and this from perspective of Paris being city whose main airport CDG is hardly anyone’s idea of great efficiency.

    • My interpretation of “Anglosphere” is that the peoples of Britain are unusually ethnically diverse for a major European country (due to repeated invasions of the British Isles over the past thousand years and the British Isles invading others), and this extends to their former colonies. English-speaking countries thus practice separation of ethnicity and state in a way most other developed countries (with the possible exception of France) do not.

      Of course this comes at a price: English-speaking countries tend to struggle with issues of social class more then other developed countries (especially the United States). People forget, but Marx developed his theories while living in the UK.

      Anyway, I could be wrong about that, but I do think there’s something different about English-speaking countries.

  4. Some additional comments of mine as follows:

    1. In response to Jon Nighswander: While I expect the US Dollar to continue as a “major” global currency I think the story of the Euro and EU capital markets is still yet to be written especially post Brexit. In fact I am myself working on possibly writing an article on what the future might hold in this department.

    2. In response to Jon Nighswander again: I hate when people use the term Anglosphere. What exactly are they referring to. Is Quebec part of the Anglosphere? Anyways I think usage of the term Anglosphere is way overdone as in most major crisis of my lifetime the performance of the different countries that make up the Anglosphere supposedly is all over the place. Canada, New Zealand and Australia did much much better than say the UK and US during the 2008 Financial Crisis(France was somewhere in the middle). Only Iceland and Greece were probably dead last behind even the UK.

    3. To everyone in general: I think the broader issue is not even so much Covid-19 related but the US has had an awful record of state failure now for almost 25 years(and perhaps going back even further). French people for example might like to complain about the poor performance of there government and rightfully so for example with Covid vaccinations but France for example I don’t think you can say has had this constant of one blunder after another. The French state stopped what would have been a 9/11 style attack on Paris back in 1994 during the Air France flight 8969 hijacking, stayed out of the 2003 Iraq War and while really didn’t do great during the 2008 crash probably performed as the best EU member state. To put it another way there is something very wrong when it costs 10 times as much to build a subway line in NYC as it does in Paris and this from perspective of Paris being city whose main airport CDG is hardly anyone’s idea of great efficiency.

  5. Nukes are largely irrelevant. For one thing, there’s no reason to believe that the men of the PRC government think like we do and care about lives lost in the exchange, so long as they win the war. And yes, two things: nuclear war is most assuredly winnable in the near term, and second, even in a MAD scenario, who does anyone think would recover first and become the superior power between the two–the nation so dependent on its high economic and technology level, or the nation not so exalted?
    Aside from that, a nuclear war, or any sort of invasion–cyber or otherwise–of the US is unnecessary for the PRC to conquer us, which they’ve set out as their goal in the near- to mid-term. One flash point–and its breaking the wrong way eliminates all of the gradualism of the OP commentary–is the Republic of China.
    The PRC decides it will invade the RoC, does so, and wins, whether it defeats our Navy or we just sit by clucking and shaking our fingers very firmly at the PRC’s bad deed. What results is this:
    it will have destroyed the Republic of China and regained the island.
    With that, it will have humiliated us, driving us from the western Pacific, opening up the Republic of Korea and Japan—hated enemies—to tacit, if not explicit, control, and putting Southeast Asia, which it has failed repeatedly in invading, under its thumb.
    And gained control of the South China Sea shipping lanes, further strangling the RoK and Japan, and inflicting sufficient economic damage on us as to be able to control, in large part, our behavior.
    That evolution would occur over a short few years–well within the lifetime of one generation.
    Those may well be goals, in PRC eyes, worth spending a bit of political and economic capital, even lives, to attain.
    The PRC certainly is building, as fast as it can, a military capability designed for the purpose. The PRC, to repeat, also has the stated goal of replacing, in the near-to-medium term, us as the sole world power.
    The sole world power. Being number two is not materially different from a conquered territory of the PRC.
    Eric Hines

    • Claire Berlinski | February 4, 2021 at 8:43 am | Reply

      Eric, do you really envision a scenario in which we no longer have a secure second strike capability sufficient literally to wipe out every man, woman, child, animal, and insect in China? I’m puzzled by the argument you, Shay, and the algorithm are making: The magic ratio is 4:1? China could win a nuclear war? Explain how this works so long as we have a secure second strike force. (If the assumption is that we no longer have this–owing to some kind of technological advance on China’s part, or because we’ve gone so broke we can no longer maintain it, or we’ve become so stupid we say, “Why do we need so many of these things–or any at all, for that matter,” I understand the argument. Otherwise, I don’t.)

      • Claire, you’re operating from a false premise–that we have enough nuclear weapons to “literally to wipe out every man, woman, child, animal, and insect in [the PRC].” Nobody does. You’ve been reading too many doomsday scenarios by folks who, scientists that they claim to be, have too many axes to grind to be taken seriously.
        Second, to have a second-strike capability, there must be the will to use it, and there must have been a prior first strike. Here’s _one_ scenario:
        The PRC determines to invade the RoC and conquer them once and for all. In the brief period before the invasion goes in–hours with today’s technology–preplanted malware in the RoC and the US is triggered, isolating the governments from their military and shutting down our electric grid. This will be done in the depths of a northern hemisphere winter. This is followed by EMP strikes against our com and nav satellites and against our western Pacific fleet. Notice, no nuclear weapons are being employed. (The really angrifying thing about this is that it’s so easy and cheap to harden our electronics against EMP, but I’m seeing little more than clucking and “we oughtta do that” from our government–folks we keep hiring for the job. It’s the same globally, too, except possibly by those of our enemies seriously contemplating an EMP exchange.)
        The EMP strikes are followed within minutes by the arrival of anti-ship weapons on our fleet, and it ceases to exist as a combat force. Simultaneously with the destruction of our fleet, the invasion of the RoC goes in, and against a blinded, uncommanded, and uncoordinated national defense force, it succeeds in hours, virtually a coup de main.
        Now there are two considerations. One is the fact that, with modern tech and economic development, this, and most other wars of this magnitude will be fought with the forces in being–there will be no combat replacements of equipment or men coming out of the factories and training camps. Thus, it’ll be weeks before a replacement fleet can be assembled and transferred into the western Pacific much less the vicinity of occupied RoC. In those weeks, the PRC will have consolidated its occupation and control of what used to be the Republic of China.
        The other is that, even were our own malware damage reversed enough for our government to regain control of our military in those hours, we’d be faced with the fait accompli of the PRC already occupying the RoC. And our winter electric grid still shut down, and known to have been done so by the PRC. Recall how long it took power to be restored just from the localized northeast blackout and the from the power loss from a hurricane up the New Jersey coast. Our grid hasn’t gotten any newer since.
        What happens next? A conventional assault on the PRC mainland? A couple MOABs imposed on Three Gorges? A nuclear exchange?
        And who would support us if we did try to root the PLA out of the RoC? Possibly Japan and the RoK, but only if they thought we’d win; they won’t want to have angrified a victorious PRC. Certainly no one in Europe with the capability in Europe would. They’re too desperate to cozy up to the PRC–and Russia–to bother with liberating a nation they wrote off all those decades ago when they (and, shamefully, the US) agreed that the RoC was a nothing and should be kicked out of the UN altogether in favor of the PRC. And, in the decades since, they’ve shown themselves perfectly happy to watch us spend our blood and treasure defending them while they cheer from the sidelines. They’ve even been calling us liars–especially Germany–regarding our willingness to risk our own nuclear destruction in a war with the USSR/Russia over Europe.
        No, we’d be fighting with no allies at all other than RoC guerrillas for the freedom of the RoC.
        Again, I ask: What would our government do? A conventional assault on the PRC mainland? A couple MOABs imposed on Three Gorges? A nuclear exchange?
        I could hope for prompt first strikes against PRC military bases, cities, and those MOABs on Three Gorges. And follow-on strikes. But I have my doubts.
        In any event, who thinks an Air Force or Navy dependent on nav satellites can navigate by time and velocity or with a clock and a sextant? Or can deliver accurately weapons depending on GPS guidance?
        Eric Hines

        • First I want to emphasize there is a big difference between a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and say a Chinese invasion of Australia. You really can’t say you are dominating the entire Western Pacific unless you control Australia or can cut off the lines of communication between AUS and the US something the Japanese during the height of World War II were unable to do.

          Second while this might be unfair to the present generation of Taiwanese their past leaders brought this upon themselves. Charles De Gaulle in the early 1960s when France was the first “Western” country to recognize the PRC would have insisted on maintaining diplomatic relations with the RoC too except for the fact the RoC refused relations with France unless France recognized all of mainland China as being RoC territory and refused to recognize the PRC. Thus the RoC itself led to it’s own de-recognition.

          The third and final point I will make is obviously one outcome of a decline of American influence in the Western Pacific is the possibility that South Korea and Japan will seek nuclear weapons. This is fairly complex subject that I won’t get into the implications of but take an already existing hypothetical does Claire or anyone else think that if a sudden re-unification of the Korean peninsula was to occur and the ROK was able to successful locate and lockdown the DPRK’s crude nuclear weapons that a re-unified ROK even under enormous political pressure would ever give them up?

          • There’s not that much difference between a PRC invasion of the RoC and its invasion of Australia in this regard. A successful conquering of the RoC, with its attendant demonstration of the impotence of us, would make Australia seriously question where its interests lie vis-a-vis us and and ascendant PRC. Too, with no military force extant capable of the task, we could not prevent a PRC invasion of Australia, like we could a Japanese invasion in WWII short of a nuclear strike on the PRC.
            I doubt such an invasion would be necessary, though, given the outcome of the prior invasion: the PRC would be well situated to bend Australia politically; military tools wouldn’t be necessary.
            Second, the Kuomintang’s attitude–those first Kuomintang, not what the party has become–has been broken from long ago as successive political cycles of RoC government have moved increasingly toward enforcing their autonomy and then toward outright freedom from the PRC’s jackboots. “Brought this on themselves” hasn’t applied for decades other than to inform the beginnings of the current circumstance.
            Third, given the RoC invasion-demonstrated fact of American impotence–not just of our decline–neither Japan nor the RoK will seek nuclear weapons: that would dismay a PRC just proven to be willing to act forcefully against its perceived or manufactured threats.
            Regarding that last, two things about Korean peninsula reunification. One is that I doubt that the RoK really wants reunification with northern Korea–the nation couldn’t handle the economic destruction such a reunification would cause. This isn’t FRG-DDR reunification. The RoK government talk about reunification is just happy talk for the sake of a dying out, if still influential, generation that still has relatives in the north.
            The second point is that any such reunification, were it to occur in the aftermath of the PRC’s occupation of the RoC, would occur solely on PRC terms, in all respects.
            And, yes, with reunification–on RoK or PRC terms–the unified nation would destroy northern Korea’s nuclear warheads in a heartbeat. They’re more of a danger to the possessor than they would be to any putative target. They’re just plussed-up explosives made by some half-baked terrorist in his garage.
            Eric Hines

        • Claire Berlinski | February 7, 2021 at 9:08 am | Reply

          I find the scenario you’ve sketched out perfectly plausible. But it’s a scenario for invading Taiwan, not the United States.

          • Nor have I described an invasion of the US. I’ve only described how the US will be separated from the fight while the RoC is destroyed as an independent polity, and along the way demonstrating the irrelevance, impotence, and uselessness of the US.
            Unless we do something to correct the situation, to reverse what the USSR used to call the correlation of forces.
            Eric Hines

  6. In response to Claire and Owen Lewis: I have some additional thoughts on China’s space program. If you look closely beneath the surface I would argue China’s advances in Space are in fact weaker than they appear. China’s first manned space mission was back in 2003. This was in fact from a technological perspective essentially the same level of advancement for China as the US was at in 1962 during John Glenn’s orbital flight. Now for the US within 6 years of Glenn’s flight there was the Apollo 8 flight around the moon(which should have happened in 2009 if China was on the same pace as the US was) and within 7 years(2010) Armstrong had landed on the Moon. In fact on the US timeline at this point China should have gotten “bored” from going to moon too often and be moving on the first Space Shuttle launch THIS year. Again this isn’t taking into account that with all the advances in computers and technology this whole process should have been spread up considerably for China. So overall I wouldn’t get too excited about China’s “rapid” progress in Space.

    Now to be totally fair about this rate of technological advancement of mankind generally leading up to Armstrong’s landing. Remember we as a human race went from the Wright Brothers to Armstrong within the same lifetime of quite a few people or even more specially as Elon Musk’s top technical adviser Tom Mueller once said we went from Goddard to Armstrong in just a little over 40 years(Mueller was point out even a few years ago during an interview that more time has passed between the last moon landing and today than it took to get from Goddard model rockets to Armstrong landing on the moon. I will also add in the same timeline for the US we also launched the Voyager probes still in operation which are the first man-made objects to leave the Solar System.
    **Another aside is there are increasingly credible claims that the USSR was far closer to the US in getting to the moon first than has previously been reported but that is another story. There is actually a whole TV Show on Apple TV called For All Mankind based on this premise created by Star Trek writers Ron Moore and Mike Okuda along with former NASA Astronaut and another Elon Musk/SpaceX lieutenant named Garrett Reisman.

  7. We are in for a rude awakening when China is number one and we plunge to number two. China is far and away the single most racist nation in the world. Those woke academics who think that math is inherently racist (you would be amazed how many members of the Harvard faculty actually believe this) are in for a shock when China is the world’s hegemon. They will get to see what racism really is.

    The United States may still boast that the world’s greatest brands are ours, but we don’t actually make much anymore. When it comes to world power, software simply can’t compete with hardware. Forget about going to Mars; if China beats us in 5G (a foregone conclusion) and supercomputing, we’re toast.

    Cosmopolitan globalists don’t seem to be reflective enough to understand that the ideology they promote is as responsible as anything else for the decline of the west. The United States and Western Europe can’t survive the death of Christianity yet cosmopolitans and globalists eschew religion in favor of secularism. Cosmopolitan elites at western universities obsess about the politically correct usage of pronouns, the number of genders that characterize our species and where various races, creeds, sexual identities and disability status fall along the grim spectrum of oppression. Do our cosmopolitan friends really believe that Chinese students and faculty focus on the same obsessions or do they suppose Chinese educational institutions have more material concerns.

    Cosmopolitan globalists are centralizers who don’t realize that the more centralized a system is, the more fragile it is. While the Chinese, Russians, Turks, Israelis and maybe the Indians tend to be chauvinistic to one degree or another about their culture, globalists find this chauvinism both primitive and repulsive. Who do these globalists believe is more likely to thrive, societies that believe their culture is special and unique or societies that believe their culture is so racist, homophobic, transphobic and bigoted in numerous other ways that the only credible response is self-hatred? Sadly, cosmopolitan globalists mostly number themselves among the later not the former.

    The authors of this article are right; the United States and Western Europe are declining. Trump’s supporters may have been uneducated deplorables, but it’s not them who are killing the West, globalist cosmopolitans are doing that all by themselves. Sadly, the wounds are entirely self-inflicted.

    One last thing, Claire, there is one major difference between Taipei and Tallinn on the one hand and Tel Aviv on the other. The nation where Tel Aviv is to be found has a substantial nuclear arsenal and sophisticated means for delivering those weapons. The nations where the other two cities are located don’t.

    That means that while Israel is not facing existential risk, Taiwan and the Baltic nations are. If Taiwan is smart they will develop an independent and credible nuclear deterrent very soon; sheltering under the U.S. nuclear umbrella no longer passes the smell test.

    Of course, given their druthers, globalist cosmopolitans would never recommend that Taiwan develop its own nuclear deterrent and they would writhe with delight if Israel gave up its nuclear arsenal. It’s just one more example of how cosmopolitan globalists are their own worst enemy.

    • Claire Berlinski | February 4, 2021 at 8:49 am | Reply

      I’m not sure why you’ve confused the Cosmopolitan Globalists with the faculty lounge at Oberlin, but you are, indeed, confused on this score.

      • I don’t think “the Cosmopolitan Globalists” (the purveyors of this blog) should be conflated with the Oberlin faculty but I do think that those who self-identify as “cosmopolitans” and “globalists” tend to have the elite pretensions that characterize university faculty. I’d bet the house that if you asked the faculty at Oberlin whether they considered themselves to be “cosmopolitans” most would say yes. That they would consider themselves to be “globalists” is so obvious that it barely needs mentioning.

  8. David Eggleston | February 4, 2021 at 3:08 am | Reply


  9. Thomas M Gregg | February 4, 2021 at 7:14 pm | Reply

    Martin Jacques’s argument is very reminiscent of arguments once made on behalf of the late, unlamented USSR. Back then there were people called “Sovietologists”—learned scholars, eminent in their field—who preached a similar gospel. That they almost unanimously failed to grasp the true nature of the Soviet regime or notice the USSR’s gradual decline and decay, should serve as a cautionary tale for those who see China as the coming global hegemon.

    • The People’s Republic of China has a much stronger economy than had the USSR, and it’s showing itself much more willing and able to move out from the center of Heaven than was the USSR across the Vistula. And neither the USSR nor Russia ever were able to protect its Siberia from PRC penetration.
      The PRC’s primary conundrum today is what to do about its aging, and soon to begin shrinking population, and should that crisis appear to be beginning to become acute, what will the PRC–or the PLA on its own initiative–do to resolve that crisis. After all, if birth rates don’t replace or grow the domestic population, and immigration won’t fill the gap, the only way left to acquire more population is to…acquire it. That crisis is about a generation and a half away.
      Today’s PRC may be beginning a final flare, or it may be able to sustain its economy, which is a Critical Item for all else. In either case, it is a much more dangerous enemy than the USSR or today’s Russia.
      There’s another critical difference between today’s PRC and yesterday’s USSR. The USSR was very much Roman in its foreign policy: conquer and absorb. Today’s PRC is that, but it’s also willing to follow another, longer game path: propagandistic penetration of foreign politics and education systems, and economic dominance.
      Eric Hines

      • Thomas M Gregg | February 5, 2021 at 6:45 pm | Reply

        In my opinion, China has the same problem that brought down the USSR: economic imperatives are in conflict with political imperatives. Economic growth and long-term prosperity require political reforms that would undermine the credibility and stability of the regime. So like the USSR, China has cycled through periods of reform and repression. Think of the Cultural Revolution as War Communism, the turn to the market as China’s NEP, and recent developments as the advent of Stalinism. The parallels are not an exact match, but the pattern is there. How it will all play out is the great question.

        • And, of course, the USSR was well across the Vistula and butting up against the FRG, via its “client” states and “occupied Germany,” as some of my counterparts in the German Air Force termed it. (Some of them went further: “We killed the wrong pig,” they insisted, “we should have rearmed them and helped them drive back east.” My sloppy geography.
          One thing that makes me worry about the PRC is that pre-Xi NEP, which was much more economically successful than prior economic loosenings in the PRC, much more so and in the opposite direction from the succession of Five Year Plans of the USSR which performed steadily worse from Plan execution to Plan execution, and which doesn’t appear to be materially weakened by Xi’s Stalinist moves. At least not yet.
          There’s also a critical difference in domestic mobility policies. The USSR’s…serfs…remained largely tied to the land on which they originated. The Xi regime, and most of his predecessors, have had no such geographic mobility limit.
          Too, the PRC is having some success with its revived and broadened Silk Road effort, something the USSR never had.
          Eric Hines

          • “worry about the PRC” ==> “worry about the PRC as a threat to our security and freedom of action”

    • Claire Berlinski | February 7, 2021 at 9:24 am | Reply

      Jacques specifically addresses this in his book; he argues that the West over-learned the lesson of the collapse of the USSR and therefore fails to see the way the PRC is significantly different–both in the degree to which the Party is genuinely popular, the Party’s competence, and its continuity with thousands of years of Chinese imperial history. I don’t know if he’s right. I’m not a Sinologist, have never set foot in China, and can’t read a word of Mandarin or any other written language used there, so I wouldn’t want to venture a strong opinion. I do feel secure in saying it is *not* a communist regime in the sense the Soviet Union was. Not only is China a capitalist country, it’s the global center of capitalism. The lesson the CCP drew from the Soviet Union’s collapse was that communism as an economic system doesn’t work. Deng introduced market reforms–and the proportion of China’s population living on less than $1.25/day fell from 85 to 13.1 percent. Some 600 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty. Communism didn’t do that. Capitalism did. The Party still calls itself a communist party, but the word is meaningless. It’s an authoritarian, single-party state. Like the Soviet Union, it calls itself a communist state. But that’s really all it has in common with the USSR. North Korea can call itself a democracy all it likes; it doesn’t make it so. China can call itself a communist state all it likes; it isn’t so.

      • You might look at Michael Pillsbury’s _The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower_.
        Eric Hines

      • Thomas M Gregg | February 7, 2021 at 5:00 pm | Reply

        Yes, I agree that China is not really a communist state in the economic sense, despite the lip service paid to Marx and Mao. But it is an oligarchical dictatorship, just as the USSR became after Stalin. And to such a regime, a rising tide of prosperity is dangerous. As Mr. Orwell, noted long ago, dictatorships thrive on poverty and ignorance. But capitalism generates wealth and spreads knowledge: a problem for any authoritarian regime.

  10. From the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a grim premonition,


  11. Thomas M Gregg | February 7, 2021 at 6:06 pm | Reply

    One other point that bears mention: How much do we really know about political, economic and social conditions inside China? Recall that back in the Cold War era, Western intelligence on the economic condition of the USSR turned out to be quite wrong. Can it be safely assumed that we’re not simply “making a picture,” as Napoleon put it, that matches our assumptions?

  12. What would a post-dollar world look like? Would the U.S. collapse into a slightly-less-dysfunctional version of the EU? Or split into a bunch of separate countries Eastern Europe-style? For the former, how would the U.S. state legitimate itself? I can’t be the only one to have noticed that basically no one in America younger than 50 really believes the U.S. state is legitimate. How do we convince people (especially educated elites) that being part of a territorial liberal nation-state is worth the emotional sacrifices it imposes (e.g. why should e.g. pro-life and pro-choice people tolerate living in the same country, or secularists and people of faith, or so-called “creative class” professionals and old-style industrialists, etc)?

    We seem to in the middle of a “hateful awakening” where the greater contact engendered by social media is causing lots of Americans to realize that, actually, they really really hate each other.

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