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The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century Hardcover – October 29, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
The title alone makes it clear how controversial this book promises to be in the present climate. That all great nations must fall is a historical fact of central importance to Kupchan's distinctive and provocative version of 21st-century geopolitics. A former National Security Council staffer and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kupchan eloquently describes the historical trends and long-term patterns within European and American foreign policy that help reinforce his projections detailing the end of the American era. He devotes much of his book to explaining and subsequently refuting alternative views of the future from other famed political analysts such as Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington and Thomas Friedman. Kupchan unequivocally states, "Each of the visions has its merits, but all of them are wrong." According to Kupchan, most of these accounts subscribe to an unrealistic worldview that has America remaining the sole power in a "unipolar" world. Kupchan asserts that the rise of the European Union coupled with the emergence of a strengthened Asia will create a serious challenge to America's primacy, and that new fault lines will emerge around these multiple centers of power, creating a new cycle of history. With a belief that America will contribute to its own demise with the current "go-it-alone impulses" of American policy makers, he warns the U.S. to shy away from an isolationist policy that could alienate potential partners. Given most recent foreign policy developments, Kupchan's book should be more relevant-and more roundly criticized-than ever.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
While the author was working in geopolitics for the Clinton administration, his academic peers were musing on the subject, trying to map the world's new fault lines after the cold war. After critiquing high-profile books by Francis Fukuyama, John Mearsheimer, and Samuel Huntington as inaccurate (calling them either unduly grim or unduly sanguine), Kupchan declares the school of thought he hails from: realism. This would warm the heart of Henry Kissinger, who thought the U.S. should accommodate an allegedly increasingly powerful USSR; now Kupchan assigns the role of rising power to the European Union (China is secondary to the EU in his view). Provocatively embedding his argument in examinations of historical power shifts, like those provoked by the unification of Germany in 1871 or the British Empire's adjustment to America circa 1900, Kupchan argues that American preeminence is dangerous to sustain, because it is in fact unsustainable. Given his insight about the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy, public policy types will want to weigh Kupchan's wonkish warnings. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Author of 'Tracing the Eagle's Orbit: Illuminating Insights into Major US Foreign Policies since Independence'.
A wise nation does a simple SWOT analysis - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats - and formulates a strategy to ensure that it holds on to power. Kupchan reminds us of Churchill's policy in response to the German threat prior to the First World War when, over much opposition, he brought the British fleet back to defend the homeland. But the British leadership was not so enlightened prior to the Second World War; fortunately Churchill was there waiting in the wings. "The End of the American Era" is primarily about the lessons from history applied to present day America and as you might imagine from the title the author gives a thumbs down on the degree of enlightenment of the American leadership today. The author points out that there are already signs that American preponderance and the stability it breeds are slipping away. American internationalism was at its high-water mark during the last decade but is now on the wane despite that fact that today's problems require a multilateral approach and reliance on international institutions. Terrorism poses a collective threat and requires a collective response. The tragic events of September 2001 served as a wake up call to America, alerting the country that the homeland is no longer inviolable and that the US would be wise to take greater interest in crucial foreign policy issues. The central challenge of the future will be the same as the past - managing relations between contending centers of power. Other concerns will pale in comparison to the dangers that will emerge if America believes that its primacy is here to stay. The US has unparalleled potential to shape what comes next but lacks a grand strategy; America is a great power adrift. Unfortunately, the intellectual initiative and institutional creativity of 1815, 1919 and 1945 are missing in Washington today. In addition, we do not have a clearly identified enemy but a much more elusive enemy in terrorism - an enemy schooled in guerrilla tactics where patience and tact are more useful weapons than military power.
Think tanks turn out work with a short shelf life while universities generate scholarship of little relevance to policy. What should America's new map look like? Is Fukuyama in The End of History right in that liberal democracy is taking the world by storm? Is Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order right that a struggle among Judeo-Christian, Islamic and Confucian civilizations is in the offing? Is Thomas Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree right that globalization has changed the rules for good? In Kupchan's opinion each vision has its merits but all are wrong. The defining element of the global system is the distribution of power, not democracy, culture, globalization, or anything else. As the US withdraws from multilateral institutions in favor of unilateralism the vacuum will be filled by a new era of geopolitical rivalry. If history is a guide, the end of US primacy will bring with it a more unpredictable and unpleasant world.
It is impossible to predict your opponent's next move in chess, let alone predict moves and counter moves on the international scene. However, Kupchan has presented a convincing argument of how the future might unfold. Homeland security must not stand in the way of efforts to address the more dangerous challenge of the return to rivalry between the world's power centers. All this comes together in the final chapter with the closing sentence "It is now the task of those convinced by the warnings to get on with the difficult, but essential, duty of preparing for the end of the American era." This book has as its prime audience policy makers and decision-makers. Personally, I think every American voter should read this book and understand that voting for the person who blows his trumpet loudest is not going to put the most enlightened leader in the White House and without enlightened leadership we will most certainly see the end of the American era soon. Then it is likely to be a very ugly world.
Although this may be so, his book gains more of its worth in his criticisms of past theorist of "grand strategy" then it is for his dubious prediction of the "next" superpower (the EU). I picked this book up around Christmas/New Years 2002. I was away from school and I had nothing to do, so I thought some light reading was in order.
Kupchan first discusses the "grand strategies" of past years, covering over all the favorites, from Nye, Fukuuyama, and Huntington. Of course, all these visions have something wrong with them and Kupchan points out some token things durring his first chapter. The United State will not have the ability to behave in a 'hegemonic' manner forever, thus, why not shape the world in a manner we would like it to be run when we're old feeble men (and women).
This is essentially Kupchan's theme throughout the entire text. It may very well be a wise course, however, I fail to see how Kupchan can determine accurately, in which manner the US is to lead its declining hegemonic power. It seems a bit absurd to criticize past grand strategies and then toute one yourself.
The grand strategy is really one thing, that is state planning. However, whereas we know state planning of the economy is a bad thing, it seems state planning of politics is not. Many times Kupchan discusses the "confusion" of the Clinton adminstration and then the even greater confusion of the Bush 2nd adminstration. This is all well and good, but confusion presumes that these administrations were behaving in some sort of grand strategic manner.
It would seem more likelly that these administrations behaved on a case by case basis. Kupchan points out how Bush 2nd at one point demanded Israeli withdrawl from the West bank, only to then state some time later that Ariel Sharon was a man of peace (p. 17).
Well, although what precise event Dr. Kupchan is referring to I am unsure, it seems that Bush's second response was prompted by some lack of resolve on the Palestinians side to prevent suicide bombing. This pattern is familiar to anyone who observes middle east politics.
Getting back to the main critique, one should observe that no wonderfully pre-planned grand strategy united the US, USSR, China, UK, and France. Certanily, if one were to ask a political "scientist" of the 1920s or 30s, I doubt he would have envisioned that such a grand alliance of nations would have ever formed.
The same goes for NATO, these institutions were reactions to events (many cases unforseen) and were not engineered institutions. If we look at history of certain planned institutions/agreements, we see that such entities rarely work properly and ultimitly fail. A good example is the Gold Standard/Bretton Woods peg systems. The Gold standard cease to work almost immediatly after it was implemented...,and the Bretton Woods system did not even last 30 years.
It seems that men rarely possess the facaulty to forsee all the possible changes that may occur in 10 year, much less 30 - 40 years. Thus, these grand strategies almost become inconsequential after several years their published.
Anyways, although Kupchan falls into this trap, one should not ignore some of the keen observations he makes in this book. He was one of the first that predicted the tran-atlantic rift would become more or less permenant. He was stating this at a time when Neo-cons were stating the "europeans will fall in line if we push hard enough."
Also, Kupchan's historical deconstruction and analysis is very intresting. Kupchan seems to believe we can use past events in history and sort of "graft" them onto contemporary politics. Although I doubt this is true, it makes for great reading. A wonderful analogy Dr. Kupchan makes is comparing the trans-atlantic rift to the split between Rome and Constantinople. I thought that his historical analogy was at the very least insightful as a paradigm if not in policy use.
Ultimitly, I don't agree with Kupchan's views on Europe (recent events with regards to the EU constitution lays credence to the skeptics), yet I can't say taht the book is horrible, thus, I give it 3/5. Its most certainly better then reading some of the ideological garbage comming out of some authors these days.
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