America has made the world freer, safer and wealthier
March 14th, 2012
01:54 PM ET

America has made the world freer, safer and wealthier

Editor's note: Robert Kagan is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings. His most recent book is "The World America Made." He is the featured speaker at "Election 2012: The Global Challenge for the Next President," which will be streamed live at CNN OpinionThursday, March 15 at 1 p.m. ET.

By Robert Kagan - Special to CNN

We take a lot for granted about the way the world looks today - the widespread freedom, the unprecedented global prosperity (even despite the current economic crisis), and the absence of war among great powers.

In 1941 there were only a dozen democracies in the world. Today there are more than 100. For four centuries prior to 1950, global GDP rose by less than 1 percent a year. Since 1950 it has risen by an average of 4 percent a year, and billions of people have been lifted out of poverty.

The first half of the 20th century saw the two most destructive wars in the history of mankind, and in prior centuries war among great powers was almost constant. But for the past 60 years no great powers have gone to war.

This is the world America made when it assumed global leadership after World War II. Would this world order survive if America declined as a great power? Some American intellectuals insist that a "Post-American" world need not look very different from the American world and that all we need to do is "manage" American decline. But that is wishful thinking. If the balance of power shifts in the direction of other powers, the world order will inevitably change to suit their interests and preferences.

Take the issue of democracy. For several decades, the balance of power in the world has favored democratic governments. In a genuinely post-American world, the balance would shift toward the great power autocracies. Both China and Russia already protect dictators like Syria's Bashar al-Assad. If they gain greater relative influence in the future, we will see fewer democratic transitions and more autocrats hanging on to power.

What about the free market, free trade economic order? People assume China and other rising powers that have benefited so much from the present system would have a stake in preserving it. They wouldn't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. But China's form of capitalism is heavily dominated by the state, with the ultimate goal being preservation of the ruling party.

Read on here.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Perspectives • United States

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    Such is to be expected from a right-wing fanatic like this Robert Kagan with all this bla-bla-bla! For one thing, where is this "unprecedented prosperity"? Quite the contrary, the Western world in lavishing in a depression except for the wealthy elite! Take Egypt and Tunisia, who got rid of their tyrannical leaders without one American soldier anywhere in sight!!! Enough said!

    March 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • Travis

      May I add George, by mentioning the horrific damage that we did while we were in Vietnam? What irritates me here is that this bozo Kagan had the nerve to write about all the "good" that America did! I only wish that this bozo Kagan would try telling that to the Vietnamese who suffered greatly from that war!

      March 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  2. MerlinX4

    The truth is that though far from perfect, America has been a powerful force for good and progress in this world. It is easy to criticize America from an ivory tower, but remember: you have the right to vocalize that criticism because America existed.

    March 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • Anna

      we cannot criticism because America existed, we can do it because Democraty exist, and not speccially thanks to America ! America is not a worldheroes !
      They say : "But for the past 60 years no great powers have gone to war", maybe they forget themselve no ? America is in war !

      March 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Reply
  3. Lee

    These imperialist scholar formulates policy which help rich person greed . No war among world major power since 1948 ? What a foolish arguments . What about Cold war ? There is no major war among global power due not to USA. Because there was no power which was able to face USA injustice . Moreover No war among major power is development ? USA killed millions of Iraqi as they were not ready to sell oil in exchange of Dollars . In Syria , USA is not protecting Human rights but USA is protecting Israel rights . Now writter accuse China and Russia of supporting dictator . It is also too much arrogant and foolish argument . USA has long supported dictator in Middle east . Without USA support Dictators in Soudi Arab , Egypt , Tunisia , Bahrain can not stay in power . It has too much . Stop your babbling arguments that A child in non western society can understand .

    March 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Well put, Lee. I agree with that. Like other people here, I get annoyed at people touting us for all the "good" that we purportedly did around the world without mentioning any of the harm that we also did. For instance, remember back in 1991 when two American pilots flew over the city of Baghdad one night and dropped one or two "underground busters" on a civilian air raid shelter, killing more than 414 civilians who only wanted to live? That still makes me want to puke to this very day!!!!!!!!!!

      March 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    The author is paranoid! Yes, the American power might decline slightly due to power-sharing as a result of the emergence of other newcomers. Yet it doesn't necessary have to see the collapse of the American order, as it – according to him – has been the pillar of international peace, It's highly doubtful that the world would change so drastically after all these six decades of stability. We human beings are known to be creatures of habit.

    March 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  5. tms

    We've certainly floated a lot of paper world-wide to "cure" a few ills.

    If, and when, legitimate free market capitalism comes to fore, expect imbalances in power "sharing".

    March 14, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  6. Daniel

    A tip from a former CBS news paeotgrhphor:Intern for a few years with the big guys , like CBS New York, or NBC (I don't consider Fox to be news, more of infotainment imho).Top three markets by size: NY, Los Angeles, Chicago.After a couple of years, pay your dues by getting producer, reporter and (eventually) anchor jobs in small markets. See link to ADIs following.Once you've refined your presentation and marketability, then you can use the contacts made in the bigger markets to help in getting in !Good luck and enjoy the journey.

    April 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply

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