The economist and demographer Alfred Sauvy, in an article published in the French magazine L'Observateur, August 14, 1952, coined the term Third World in referring to countries currently called either "developing" or "under-developed", especially in Latin America, Africa, Oceania, and Asia, that were unaligned with either the Communist Soviet bloc or the Capitalist NATO bloc during the Cold War (1945–1989). Today, Third World is synonymous with all countries in the developing world, regardless of their geopolitical alliances.
Third World was a reference to the Tiers État, the (Third Estate), the commoners of France before and during the French Revolution, opposed to the priests and nobles who composed the First Estate and the Second Estate
Power is moving away from the traditional centers of the global economy—the Western nations—to the emerging markets. To put it more bluntly: the United States is in the beginning of a period of relative decline. It may not be steep or dramatic, but the fact that it's happening is clear. Even if one assumes a slowdown, the other big economies will still grow at two and three times the pace of the West. Over time they will take up a larger share of the global economy—and the United States and Western Europe will have thinner slices. This is not defeatism, it's math.
The math has political consequences... consider George W. Bush's trip to the Middle East last week. After making several pleas that Saudi Arabia act to ease oil prices, the president had to accept a hard new truth. He was the supplicant; power lay with the king. (In fact, it was the oil minister who brushed off the president's entreaties.) What a contrast to the 1990s, when the price of oil hovered under $20 a barrel and the Saudi economy was teetering.
On the American campaign trail, the candidates talk about a world utterly unrelated to the one that is actually being created on the ground. The Republicans promise to wage war against Islamic extremists and modernize the Middle East. The Democrats deplore the ills of globalization and free trade, and urge tougher measures against China. Meanwhile Middle Eastern fund managers and Asian consumers are quietly keeping the U.S. economy afloat.
"If you have twelve aircraft carriers and two thousand nuclear missiles and your creditors don't, then they'll refinance your debt. In fact, having twelve aircraft carriers and two thousand nuclear missiles, may be the reason why they are loaning you money in the first place."
"Ok, the US has 2,000 Nuclear Warheads and the Chinese have between 400-500, but isn't 400 Nuclear warheads still enough to destroy the entire North America continent. In the past decade, the Chinese Nuclear force based on two ICBM missile platforms, has been completely modernized with a survivable second strike capability. The vulnerable, liquid fueled Silo based DF-5 missile have been replaced with the mobile, solid fueled DF-31 land missile system. The single Type-092 SSBN submarine has been replaced by a fleet of Type-094 SSBN with the JL-2 missile, each missile with 3 independent multiple re-entry warheads." etc.
twofish: "...And in any case, the PLA can't put three divisions of troops in Iraq."
DC: "True, but 3 US Aircraft Battlegroups won't survive for long in the Taiwan Straits..."
twofish: "That's why the US did a naval exercise last year to see that it could get nine battle groups in the western Pacific in 30 days..."
DC: "...With the recent Singapore-China defense agreement, Southeast Asia is rapidly integrating into the Chinese sphere of influence while the US will remain distracted by Middle East events for decades to come. With the notable exception of Aircraft carriers, the China PLA Navy is now larger in Western Pacific than the US Navy with 60 Destroyers and Frigates, 50 Attack Submarines, 45 Corvette patrol ships, 40 Amphibious Assault transports. A new unsinkable Naval Airbase has been constructed in the Spratly Islands in Southeast Asia."
twofish: "...It would be a total disaster for ethnic Chinese in SE Asia if the PRC pushed the Spratlies issue, which fortunately, it really isn't doing. China's best course of action is to 'agree to disagree' about the Spratlies and talk about joint exploration of oil."
However, in the interests of sobriety it's worth flagging two important caveats. One is that one shouldn't understate the extent to which the US/EU/China "big three" is still an unequal triad. The United States is a lot richer than China. We have a much larger and more competent military establishment. And while China is beginning to play a global role, we have much more deeply entrenched relationships with countries in every region of the world -- including places like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan in China's back yard.
Meanwhile the EU, were it a cohesive nation-state, would be an extremely mighty power. But it isn't one. When Europe acts with common purpose, it's a very influential player, and it's every bit America's equal in certain commerce-related aspects of international relations where this happens, but Europe simply has much less institutional capacity to act in this way than does the United States.
On top of that, the big thing to keep in mind when considering any particular "declinist" thesis about American hegemony is that we've actually been on the decline for a good long while. In 1945-46 the U.S. economy completely dominated the world, contributing some absurdly high share of total output. Every other significant country on earth had been completely destroyed by war, and we had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. Over time, this dominant position unraveled and Robert Keohane's After Hegemony, a study of America's efforts to forge a diplomatic system to continue to get bye in this new world actually came out decades ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a kind of illusion of a return to hegemony since international politics had been organized as "USA or USSR" for so long, but all along throughout the postwar period other countries have been gaining in importance.
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