Mark N. Katz*
Oakton, April 21, 2014 (Alochonaa): Various scholars have sought to identify what the objective criteria are for a state to become and remain a great power—especially a dominant great power or hyperpower. These include Paul Kennedy (The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, New York: Vintage Books, 1987); Amy Chua (Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—and Why They Fall, New York: Doubleday, 2007), and Richard Jackson and Neil Howe (The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century, Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2008). What I will do here is discuss the model of how a great power rises and falls that each of these set forth, and then discuss what each of these models implies about what great powers are likely to rise and fall at present.
In his classic book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, historian Paul Kennedy described how the rising economic strength of a state not fully engaged in international relations allowed it to gain politico-military strength vis-à-vis those that were more engaged and overextended, but then how its own subsequent politico-military overextension would in turn result in this state becoming weaker versus rising economic powers that were not (yet) overextended.
I well remember how when this book came out in 1987, it received tremendous publicity in the United States for forecasting the decline of the US as a great power. Kennedy, though, also forecast how it would be difficult for the Soviet Union, China, Japan, and Europe (then still in the form of the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union) to remain (or become) great powers.
In 1989-91, of course, it would be the Soviet Empire that would collapse. In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published his famous article, “The End of history?” in The National Interest, where he argued that this event would result in the inevitable triumph of democracy worldwide. Since Kennedy’s forecast of decline did not seem to apply to the US, Kennedy’s book was quickly forgotten back then.
Looking back at Kennedy’s forecasts now, what is interesting is that all but one of those countries or international groupings whose future potential as a great power that he discussed then still clearly has the potential to become or remain a great power now. These are China, Europe, Russia, and America. Japan is the one country that he forecast could not be a dominant great power that appears unambiguously accurate. Candidates for great power status that he missed back in 1987 include India (definitely) and Brazil (at least potentially).
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