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World Leadership
December 12, 2005 7:55 PM   Subscribe

THE EVOLUTION OF GLOBAL POLITICS. University of Washington Professor George Modelski is credited with developing the concept of world leadership. There have been five world leaders: Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain I, Great Britain II, and currently the USA. Some scholars in political science and history are pointing towards U.S. decline and a takeover by a United States of Europe...
posted by j-urb (46 comments total)

 
Haven't had a chance to read the linked articles yet, but it seems way more likely that China will be the next world leader as opposed to Europe. This feels like China's century to me.
posted by willnot at 8:04 PM on December 12, 2005


To summerize Modelski:
World leaders or hegemons have 5 characteristics:
(1) favorable geography
(2) a cohesive, open society, that is able to build coalitions
(3) a lead economy
(4) global military reach
(5) a willingness to lead

There have also been 5 previous world leaders as noted above. The current being the USA, however, hegemons are suseptible to decline in the long cycle theory after roughly 100 years. Its been argued that the US has been in decline since the 1970s (Arab Oil Embargo, allowing the dollar to float, and Vietnam). A United States of Europe would fit most of the criteria and some are making the case for the Europeans to be the next world leader.

*Spell check isn't working, if i messed up sorry about that.
posted by j-urb at 8:09 PM on December 12, 2005


China-fear is a fad right now. It sells copy, for some reason, but they've got a lot of issues to work out still. If their economy continues to grow, either their citizens will get richer, in which case the power of the central party will decline, or their citizens will remain poor, in which case there will be lots of unrest. China is getting good press now, but wait ten years; I don't think there will be as much awe. Economically, India has a lot more going for it, I think.

Europe isn't unified enough, and they're in for a rough spot soon too, becuase of their demographic (age) imbalances.
posted by gsteff at 8:14 PM on December 12, 2005


Some of the problems that are keeping the US from contunuing as hegemon are (1) poor education, (2) imperial overstreach, and (3) defecit spending.

There's a huge question whether the US economy will have the innovation needed to compete on the global market. An example of this is what's been happening to US auto companies.
posted by j-urb at 8:36 PM on December 12, 2005


Europe isn't unified enough

Bingo. Barely a union, by any conventional sense of the word. They have a common bank and fewer border controls. Hardly the centralized authority and direction required to be a world leader in the sense of the other examples noted. I think the demise of the global position of the US is grossly overstated. 30, 40, 50 years from now who knows, but it doesn't look like anybody, China and "Europe" included is in any rush to overtake the US militarily, economically, or in terms of geopolitical importance and influence anytime soon.
posted by loquax at 8:55 PM on December 12, 2005


Economically, India has a lot more going for it, I think.

Yeah, but they've lost the last, what, three with China? They don't have the muscle.
posted by hob at 9:02 PM on December 12, 2005


Modelski did not develop this concept--note the first page of his article:

"Scholars of diverse orientations, including Robert Gilpin (1981), Immanuel Wallerstein (1984), Paul Kennedy (1987), and Joshua Goldstein (1988) each present such a list."

These ideas go back decades, if not centuries.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:07 PM on December 12, 2005


When the list of world leaders consists only of European and European-descended trading nations, you have a strongly Eurocentric interpretation of "World Leadership"? Notably, all the 'leaders' cited have worked hard in the Getting-rich-through-enslaving-others business for many a long year. While Modelski's work clearly is about the modern world, you could easily put the Chinese and Ottoman empires on the list of 5 just for the sheer number of humans they have influenced, not to mention their superior histories of enslavement and conquest.
posted by owalt1 at 9:16 PM on December 12, 2005


you could easily put the Chinese and Ottoman empires on the list of 5 just for the sheer number of humans they have influenced, not to mention their superior histories of enslavement and conquest.

Well, I don't mean to compare relative merits of the mega-empires, but neither the Chinese or Ottoman empires stretched around the world. They were regional powerhouses, and certainly influenced hundreds of millions if not billions of people, but that doesn't compare to the way that the US military has carved the world into zones of control projecting force at will, or the way the British conquered territory from Hong Kong to Zimbabwe. Even the Netherlands and Portugal went far beyond their small European countries to conquer and hold Indonesia and Brazil as parts of vast trade empires. For what it's worth. Also, are you saying that the Ottomans and Chinese didn't enslave and exploit other people and cultures?
posted by loquax at 9:23 PM on December 12, 2005


They were regional powerhouses, and certainly influenced hundreds of millions if not billions of people, but that doesn't compare to the way that the US military has carved the world into zones of control projecting force at will, or the way the British conquered territory from Hong Kong to Zimbabwe.

But one can make the point that the difference between, say, the Ottoman Empire's and Portugal's influence is less than the difference between Portugal and the United States. The US can drop bombs anywhere in the world, send troops anywhere in weeks, and so on. Portugal had a bunch of bold sailors who took years to work their way Africa. The Ottoman Empire, on the hand, was a small country that essentially colonized much of Southeastern Europe and the Near East. They controlled more land than Portugal did, and they were the central hub of Eurasian economic activity for years. So I don't see why the arbitrary cut-off point is "Portugal," beyond "has open-water ships."

(Which, okay, is a decent arbitrary cut-off point.)
posted by thecaddy at 9:52 PM on December 12, 2005


Europe ascendant?! Biggest laugh ever.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:56 PM on December 12, 2005


I'm not necessarily arguing with you. Comparing Portugal in 1517 and the US in 2005 (or China, for that matter) is like comparing Babe Ruth with Barry Bonds. That said, the conditions for being a global leader according to the article are:

1. A nation-state accedes to global leadership by

1. successfully undergoing a four-phased process of selection (or learning) consisting of Agenda-setting, Coalition-building, Macrodecision, and Execution; and
2. acquiring or exhibiting the qualifications needed for selection to that position, namely politico-strategic organization for global reach, lead economy, open society, and responsiveness to global problems.


China and the Ottoman empire never satisfied those two conditions. Neither did the Soviet Union, Germany, France, or Japan (off the top of my head, probably the closest, along with the aforementioned two). Conquering territory and being strong economically isn't enough to automatically ascend to global leadership (according to these metrics). Europe could, I suppose, but they can barely agree amongst themselves (ignoring for a moment, that they were all at war with each other a scant 50 years ago, share no common religion, language or culture, and have very different individual and regional priorities and agendas). Maybe Europe will be in a position to be a global leader by these metrics in many decades, barring unforeseen circumstances, but I cannot see how one could even quantify Europe at this point, let alone "follow" it in the near future.
posted by loquax at 10:03 PM on December 12, 2005


Must ... resist ... pandering ... to groupthink ... Nooooo!

Anyone else struck by the fact that j-urb's list (poor education, imperial overstreach, and defecit spending) were all brought about by the people who are most interested in maintaining American hegemony?
posted by bjrubble at 10:06 PM on December 12, 2005


(poor education, imperial overstretch, and defect spending)

All are a matter of degree anyways. Poor education compared to who in a position to challenge American hegemony? Imperial overstretch relative to what? Deficit spending to what end?
posted by loquax at 10:09 PM on December 12, 2005


Michael Howard's review of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy. (In retrospect, Kennedy perhaps focuses too much on material factors, to the exclusion of intangible factors such as leadership and morale; but I'd still recommend it.)

I found Modeski's list of "world leaders" to be somewhat peculiar. Why Portugal and the Netherlands, but not Habsburg Spain or France?

Imperial overstretch relative to what?

Relative to your resources. Successful foreign policy requires balancing your ends and your means. If you don't, you'll deplete your resources.
posted by russilwvong at 10:19 PM on December 12, 2005


I found Modeski's list of "world leaders" to be somewhat peculiar. Why Portugal and the Netherlands, but not Habsburg Spain or France?

The reasons for Modelski not listing Spain or France as world leaders stems from the fact that they were continental powers who never developed an oceanic perspective. To be a global leader sea power is extremely important (today nukes, ballistic missles, and an air force apply). Sea power is important for trade mostly, but it also has defensive and offensive military advantages. Paul Kennedy argues that Spain would apply as a world leader, however, Spain didn't have a functional economy and was much more concerned with continental wars in defense of the Catholic church than world trade.

(Spell checker still not working...)
posted by j-urb at 10:36 PM on December 12, 2005


Could you not write in all-caps next time. Thanks dude.
posted by holloway at 10:42 PM on December 12, 2005


To be a global leader sea power is extremely important

I see. (I was thinking primarily of European domination rather than world domination.) It's still a rather peculiar list. I don't know what "world leadership" means with premodern transportation and communication technology.
posted by russilwvong at 11:27 PM on December 12, 2005


It seems possible that this century won't have a leader, in the same sense as previous eras, because there may not be any more of those stupendously rich situations for a particular nation to stumble onto. ("Hey, let's discover a whole new continent where the natives have lots of gold and no firearms!") If there is such an un-innoculated economic petri dish to explode into it seems likely to be in China or Siberia. Russia is certainly not poised for a great leap forward--just the opposite, very likely. Maybe China's next G. L. F. will turn out better than its last, but it's a big maybe. Or maybe after a few decades of climate change Canada will be able to exploit its Great Northern Jungle.
posted by jfuller at 4:28 AM on December 13, 2005


I don't know what "world leadership" means with premodern transportation and communication technology.

I don't either, and I think most people in 1516 would have found the idea that Portugal was some kind of world hegemon both hilarious and inexplicable. It seems to me his list says more about his choice of definitions than actual history. A few colonies across an ocean does not equal world leadership.
posted by languagehat at 5:27 AM on December 13, 2005


There are 5 world leaders: Vivendi-Universal, Sony, Time-Warner, EMI, BMG.

Nah, there's 500 of them.

National leadership is so ancient.
posted by funambulist at 6:08 AM on December 13, 2005


russilwvong: "world leadership" meaning; being the no. 1 raving-madman-bastard-country in the world and make others green off jealousy with the richness gained by it.. In that period (Golden Age) the NL's ruled all the sea's; war and tradewise(slaves/spices). Economy and population (newborn and immigration) were booming untill....it wasn't anymore (regression)..

What is the UN's function in this case?

loquax: it doesn't look like anybody is in any rush to overtake the US militarily, economically, or in terms of geopolitical importance and influence anytime soon.
Why would they? US is digging it's own grave at the moment losing streetcred. day by day.. It wouldn't supprise me if, at this rate, US 'll be isolated within a decade, sadly (I'm Dutch; we'll be under 2 meters of water by that time)
Revolution!, Revolution! Revolution! get rid of those lying asshats Bush&Co!
posted by borq at 6:28 AM on December 13, 2005


I don't either, and I think most people in 1516 would have found the idea that Portugal was some kind of world hegemon both hilarious and inexplicable.

That's what most would think, however, they were the ones making and enforcing international law. The Treaty of Tordesillas for instance. Also Portugal had the worlds largest navy at the time.
posted by j-urb at 6:57 AM on December 13, 2005


Why would they? US is digging it's own grave at the moment losing streetcred. day by day.

Problem is these things are not measured by days, or even decades. If you want to think that the last 5 years have harmed the American global position, fine, but in order to depose the US from its hegemonic position, the trend has to continue long enough for somebody to overtake them. Let's check back in about 2050.

Relative to your resources. Successful foreign policy requires balancing your ends and your means. If you don't, you'll deplete your resources.


Yes but there still needs to be someone who can challenge the empire before you can say that the empire is overstretched. Even at it's most overstretched, even if the US is forced to withdraw from several of its "imperial" commitments, there are no serious challengers to them in terms of global reach or influence. Until there is, overstretch is a matter of perspective, and is easily cured by a change in strategy and resource allocation without the pressure of another power breathing down your neck. Of course, it can still be bad for the nation, and negative in other ways, I just don't see the modern US as a parallel to Rome, or even turn of the century Britain, where in both cases, there were many actors eager and able to fill the void left by retreating empires.
posted by loquax at 7:10 AM on December 13, 2005


owalt1: The linked paper does speak directly about the Mongols and Ottomans and their important place in this framework hypothesis seems to be important. Unfortunately, none of the charts to go along with that part of the paper seem to be showing up.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:37 AM on December 13, 2005


-1 important.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:59 AM on December 13, 2005


I think a case could be made that Great Britain I, Great Britain II and USA are all one leadership block. It is not without precedent to have a sprawling empire with a center that moves geographically and evolves in governing structure. Think of Rome- the expanding empire, the split into the eastern and western empires, the move of the capital to Constantinople. During the reign of Rome, though, there were several peak periods of influence with periods of stagnation in between.

The Roman Empire is generally viewed as being a dominant culture that lasted roughly a thousand years. The foundation of the British/English-speaking empire began in 1215 with the Magna Carta and the resulting English-speaking culture has been dominant since. The English world, though, seems to be in decline.

So maybe GBI, GBII and USA are in fact separate historical leadership blocks, but I think history will tend to group them together in a category of English-speaking domination.
posted by Doohickie at 8:13 AM on December 13, 2005


Apologies for whomever thinks this is a credible article, but I think it's a pretty poorly written paper and does not support its own arguments even half-decently. How could the Netherlands be considered a global power and not France? How was Portugal a remotely 'open' society in the 16th Century? It was an absolute monarchy. The author doesn't explain much of that. Both the Dutch and the Portuguese had very few conquests around the globe. The Dutch conquered islands in the East and West Indies, and not much else. They made few if any closer to themselves. Likewise, the Portuguese conquered Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and got a foothold in India (Goa). In contrast, the Russian/Soviet Empire conquered or brought within its sphere of influence huge swathes of land (from Kamchatka to Czechoslovakia, Finland to the Caucusus, Yugoslavia to Tadjikistan--not to mention the leadership it demonstrated in far-flung places like Cuba and Angola), and it's influence had much greater impact around the world. I could go on, but won't. ... Incidentally, the tables in the article illuminate little.
posted by Azaadistani at 8:25 AM on December 13, 2005


Azaadistani- but I think it's a pretty poorly written paper -

The points could be either good or bad, and the paper may be well or poorly written; the two do not necessarily have a correlation. I've read books that were very poorly written indeed but still managed to convincingly carry their points home... even if they weren't elegant prose.
posted by Doohickie at 8:54 AM on December 13, 2005


The only way the USA will remain a world power is if it finally grows up and becomes fully civilized.

As-is, it is a third-world country with over-abundant natural resources. I am mostly serious: compare stats on things like income disparity, incarceration rates, the death penalty, worker safety, environmental laws, and so on. The USA has attribute far too often associated with third-world nations, not first-world nations.

I think the first important step will be to create a national health-care system that provides excellent healthcare for all citizens. You just can't call yourself a civilized nation if you don't have that.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:11 AM on December 13, 2005


How could the Netherlands be considered a global power and not France?

It goes back to France not having naval domination. France was a continental power, not a world leader.
posted by j-urb at 12:35 PM on December 13, 2005


five fresh fish
Wow. That is a remarkably odd way of looking at things.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:59 PM on December 13, 2005


And yet, as odd as it is, it is very useful to look at things that way. Not all the time, of course. But certain elements of the US's behaviour, both internal and external, make one helluva lot more sense when you pretend it's a third world nation.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2005


"poor education, imperial overstreach, and defecit spending"

These are canards that have been going around at least since the 1960's. The reality is that while the US education system may be uneven, it still has the best schools in the world; and the US deficit is no larger than it was ten years ago.

FOS.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:05 PM on December 13, 2005


> The only way the USA will remain a world power is if it finally grows up and
> becomes fully civilized.

Why? It became the world power it is without being either.

> I think the first important step will be to create a national health-care system
> that provides excellent healthcare for all citizens. You just can't call yourself
> a civilized nation if you don't have that.

Heh. You can't call yourself a fish if you don't have a bicycle.
posted by jfuller at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2005


"> The only way the USA will remain a world power is if it finally grows up and becomes fully civilized.

Why? It became the world power it is without being either."

Yes, and God-willing, we will never become "fully civilized," if that means becoming a sheepish society like France or Germany.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2005


PP, may the US set an example of Aristotelian moderation for the world: neither too much barbarism nor too much civilization.
posted by jfuller at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2005


The USA is the only modern democracy that does not provide national health insurance.

Your infant mortality rate is 50% higher than in other democracies.

For all your expenditures on healthcare (about twice as much as most other first-world nations) your life expectancy rate is remarkably low and your infant mortality rate disturbingly high.

The USA has more people locked-up in its jails, both in total number and per-capita.

The USA has twice as many prisoners as China.

The USA is the only modern democracy that has the death penalty... and it has the third highest number of executions of all nations.

The above are all factual statements.

In all these ways the USA operates in a manner comparable to that of third-world nations, not modern democracies.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:18 PM on December 14, 2005


While those are all factual statements (and I was surprised that the infant mortality rate was correct), you still are cherry-picking stats. I'd bet that there are a set of selective metrics by which any "first world" nation would be comparable to a "third world" nation. I'm not denying that the US has problems, but I don't think that these particular problems preclude them from being a world leader or a dominant power by the metrics listed in the article.
posted by loquax at 1:06 PM on December 14, 2005


By what metrics would you choose to measure the civility of a nation, if not by the way it cares for its citizens?

And what on earth has "world leader" or "dominant power" got to do with anything I've mentioned?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2005


Come to think of it, there are other metrics: external instead of internal. How does the USA perform on the world stage? Does it war against other nations? Does it engage in subterfuge to overthrow other governments? Does it respect its trade agreements? Does it negotiate in good faith? Can it be trusted?

On these metrics, too, the USA largely fails to act as a civilized nation.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:48 PM on December 14, 2005


FFF: The only way the USA will remain a world power is if it finally grows up and becomes fully civilized.

The thread is referencing a paper that discusses world leadership according to a set of criteria, none of which have to do with the relative material well being of a country's citizens. Which is why Portugal in 1516 or even the Soviet Union can be included in the discussion.

By what metrics would you choose to measure the civility of a nation, if not by the way it cares for its citizens?


I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your post, just that civility wasn't being measured here, "global dominance", for lack of a better term, was.

Come to think of it, there are other metrics: external instead of internal. How does the USA perform on the world stage? Does it war against other nations? Does it engage in subterfuge to overthrow other governments? Does it respect its trade agreements? Does it negotiate in good faith? Can it be trusted?


From the linked paper:

1. A nation-state accedes to global leadership by

1. successfully undergoing a four-phased process of selection (or learning) consisting of Agenda-setting, Coalition-building, Macrodecision, and Execution; and
2. acquiring or exhibiting the qualifications needed for selection to that position, namely politico-strategic organization for global reach, lead economy, open society, and responsiveness to global problems.


Your external metrics are valid in terms of measuring the "performance" of a country on a global scale, but only in so far as their merits relative to achieving the objectives outlined above (of course, if you agree with the paper's position). The position put forward aside, I would argue that a country doesn't need to be civilized by your definition in order to be dominant. The USSR certainly was quite dominant for roughly 70 years while being quite uncivilized. China is continuing in that vein. The British empire was also guilty of many of the charges you make against the US during their time at the top. "Civilization", or more broadly, playing by the rules, is something that a true empire can transcend, at least for a while. In many cases transcending those rules may be the reason that the position of dominance is maintained. Until there are challengers that are strong enough to take serious exception to the actions of a hegemon, the hegemon in effect sets the criteria for civilization and the rest are left with two global frameworks - interaction with mid-level or equivalent powers (say France, Germany and Japan) and interaction with the dominant power.
posted by loquax at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2005


I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your post, just that civility wasn't being measured here, "global dominance", for lack of a better term, was.

Skipping the comments about whether the US is civilized or not (my comments last round)....

Against the idea that there's usually a world leader, I would suggest that there's usually a balance of power between multiple states. The pattern in European politics from 1500 onward is that when a single state tries to dominate, a coalition forms against it: Spain under Charles V and Philip II from 1519 to 1659, France under Louis XIV and Napoleon from 1660 to 1815, Germany under Wilhelm II from 1914 to 1918 and under Hitler from 1939 to 1945, the Soviet Union during the early Cold War.

I would suggest that the dominance of the United States since the end of the Cold War is unusual historically, and unlikely to last.

I doubt a single challenger to the United States will try to dominate the world. Rather, as the US weakens (in relative terms), I would expect regional challenges to US power: from China in East Asia, perhaps from Iran in the Middle East. If such potential conflicts aren't managed carefully, they could ignite wars, which would be disastrous.
posted by russilwvong at 4:18 PM on December 14, 2005


I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your post, just that civility wasn't being measured here, "global dominance", for lack of a better term, was.

You're right. My derail, my bad.

I was thinking along the lines that the USA won't continue to dominate if it doesn't get its shit together re: healthcare, prisons, education, etcetera; and honouring its trade agreements, global treaties, etcetera.

But as long as China doesn't become a modern democracy, I doubt we'll see the utopian situation of a country's "global dominance" being measured by how good it is, instead of how bad it is.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 PM on December 14, 2005


russil mentions balance of power. im impressed and at the same time suprised more people haven't talked about balance of power in contrast to hegemonic leadership... i guess not many people on mefi have taken international relations courses.
posted by j-urb at 9:09 PM on December 14, 2005


i guess not many people on mefi have taken international relations courses.

I certainly haven't, but that didn't stop me from writing up an FAQ for alt.politics.international.
posted by russilwvong at 11:07 PM on December 14, 2005


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