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Comments by JT Michcock...

Superpower No More?

Societies rise and fall.  The greatest and wealthiest nations 200 years ago have either died or been substantially diminished.  Britain once ruled the waves, Spain before it and the ancient Phoenicians in the earliest historical period.  Nothing stays the same geopolitically and there's no reason to believe that the future will likewise be different from the present.

In the year 2000, there is no question that the pre-eminent nation is the United States of America.  It has held this position arguably since the early part of the century, achieving superpower status after the close of World War II.  After more than half a century, it cannot be argued that the United States stands as the paramount world power.

Or can it be argued?

Time Magazine recently ran an article noting America's primary position among the world's powers, economically and militarily.  But the same article questioned how long that could continue.  After all, everyone guns for whoever is number one.

There are some rather disturbing signs that indicate the end of American supremacy may be either here or right around the corner.  Forces are at work on the other side of the Pacific Ocean that may spell the end to American hegemony.

I want to be the first to go on the record that the United States has only about twenty more years before it is eclipsed as the paramount superpower.  There is still time to do something about it, but this likely will not occur due to the numbers that are quickly becoming apparent.  

These reasons are varied, but the most salient development of late has been related to demographics.  I believe these demographics will conspire to make China the next superpower by the midpoint of the 21st Century.

China Ascendant

In 1979, the Chinese government sought to maintain population through a one child per family policy.  This policy was later incorporated in the nation's constitution in 1982.  As a consequence of this, the nation's birthrate has fallen from 5.93 children per woman in 1970, to 2.66 in 1979, and 1.94 in 1984.  The overall growth of the population growth has continued upward, however, with more than 1.3 billion of the planet's six billion inhabitants living in China.  

The "One Child" policy has had an interesting demographic effect.  Based upon the overall preference of the Chinese population, there are substantially more males than females being born.  How many more males to females?  The latest statistics place this number at 120 males being born for every 100 females.  

How the Chinese express that preference for boy babies is also a source of concern.  This is being accomplished through the means of selective abortion and female infanticide.  

The respected London Telegraph reports that the overabundance of males in the population is creating "an army of bachelors."   At present, there are some 70 million young Chinese men entering marriage age who are going to find themselves without a reliable source of female companionship.  The Telegraph predicts that "a severe breakdown in social order, including the abduction and sale of women, and a huge rise in prostitution will be among the consequences."  Sounds like a bad Lifetime movie to me.

Neil Wiener, an associate professor of psychology at York University, recently authored a study of what pushes societies toward war.  The simple response that he provides is that it is based upon the number of unmarried males in the population.  

Aggression is principally the province of men.  Time after time, it has been demonstrated that evolution-based outcomes have created a world where men dominate statistically in areas of governance and gender relations.   This is no more or less a "natural" observation than considering that women tend to give birth.  Certainly there are exceptions, but on a world scale, men will dominate.

If there is any nation that has been regarded as respectful of its own borders, it has been China.  By and large, the China located on modern maps has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.  Excepting incursions into Tibet, China has not had a reputation of being an aggressive force.  Nonetheless, China also happens to be in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom that is creating increased industrial output output that can potentially be used for the purpose of making war on others.  

But Chinese men are no less vulnerable to their biology than are their counterparts in the rest of the world.

The Future

China's historically nonaggressive posture is likely to change, with the numbers demonstrating more forcefulness on the world stage in the very near future.  Ominous signs are already pointing to a more militaristic world view, with the heat on neighboring Taiwan being only the most recent sign.  The use of military exercises in the surrounding straits separating the breakaway island republic began in 1996.  A stream of aggressive behavior has continued and, with the election of a pro-independence President in Taiwan, the flames have risen again.  

With the annexation of Hong Kong, China has acquired a means to become a true economic powerhouse.  With the intercession in Taiwan likely to occur within the next few years, this will further direct momentum outward.

The future is always difficult to predict.  But one thing that consistently holds true is the reliability of statistics as predictors.  In looking around the world, one has to focus on those areas that appear ripe for aggressive activity.  Some 70 million bachelors are going to be looking for wives soon.  What will the world offer them?

In the next column, I will be looking at the flip side of the rise of China the fall of the United States as a superpower.  Can anything be done to stop it?  Or is it inevitable that America is destined to fall?

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