Book review of In the Shadows of the American Century by Alfred W. McCoy



“Available economic, educational and technological changes indicates that, when it comes to global power, negative trends are likely to aggregate rapidly by 2020 and could reach no later then 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be battered and fading by 2025 and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030”

Alfred W. McCoy


The acclaimed US historian Alfred W. McCoy (AWM) has written a powerful chronicle of the rise, triumph and impending fall of Pax Americana. Many of the trends covered will be familiar to those who read Forecasting Intelligence (FI) or who have come across the writings of the American writer John Michael Greer. These include the erosion of American economic power, the decay of a once vibrant American civic and democratic culture, the disastrous post-9/11 military wars in the Middle East and the vulnerabilities of a hi-tech military to asymmetrical attack by the rising powers of the East.

The central thesis of the book is that as China replaces America as the world’s largest economy, the US governing elite will increasingly rely on their residual intelligence and military capabilities to maintain their edge into the 21st century. The author considers the mighty American military vulnerable to space and cyber-attack which will deepen once Beijing covers the world with a fully operational global satellite system with quantum-based communications by 2020. China’s quantum-based satellite system is far more secure then the American reliance on compromised radio waves and will provide the Chinese with the opportunity to severely disrupt American military communications in the event of a future war.

Once this satellite system is in place in the ether, Beijing will be able to launch, in the future, space, cyber and air attacks with the goal of “blinding” the US military. This is precisely what Greer outlined in his fictional near-future novel called Twilights Last Gleaming which I reviewed here.

Whilst a military clash is a likely future trigger for the end of the American empire, AWM also discusses how accelerating climate change will devastate US coastal cities, cause mega-droughts in the south-west and mid-west and lead to mass migrations from a disintegrating central Americas by the 2040’s. The multi-trillion costs of repairing and mitigating the chaos caused will inevitably lead to a pull back from military commitments overseas.

It is interesting to note that AWM writes, in the climate change scenario, that by 2040, the chaos caused will lead to “… millions of refugees trudging out of the dry zone across North Africa and the Middle East towards a well-watered Europe”. The majority of these refugees will be Muslim and the spectre of a mega-migrations into Europe within the next few decades could trigger the end of much of Europe as we know it today. I have discussed this in my recent post Islamic Volkerwanderung.

The growing fiscal costs to be borne by climate related impacts is an additional burden on the gigantic and growing US debt burden, currently over $21 trillion and rising by the second. Escalating costs of entitlement programmes like social security and Medicare to cater to an ageing population will soar by 2030. According to current trends, social welfare costs will climb from 4% of GDP in 2010 to 18% by 2050, with pressures escalating sharply from 2020 onwards as the baby boomer generation starts retiring in their millions. Some kind of fiscal crisis is highly likely within the next decade and a retrenchment from the huge costs of maintaining the US empire abroad is inevitable.

AWM concludes by stating that by the end of 2030, the American empire will be over. What will replace it will be a post-American world of regional great powers in which China will be first amongst equals thanks to its huge economy and formidable military assets. Brasilia will dominate South America, a reduced Washington D.C. will dominate North America, Moscow – Eastern Europe, Istanbul – Middle East, Beijing – East Asia and South-East Asia and Pretoria – southern Africa.

Where I partially disagree with AWM is his views of President Trump’s “America First” domestic and foreign policy agenda. AWM is clearly an admirer of the Obama Administration and the so-called “pivot to the East” in terms of global trade and military redeployments. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to Obama’s promotion of the now rejected Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), which would have isolated economically China within the region by developing a Pacific orientated free trade pact incorporating America’s key allies.

AWM rather blithely, in my opinion, notes that hundreds of thousands of Rust Belt workers would have lost their jobs if the TPP had been passed. The cost to America’s beleaguered industrial base would have been even worse, sharpening divisions between the Red and Blue states and weakening America’s ability to maintain industrial production in the event of a future war against China. The pro-globalisation policies of the Obama/Clinton camp would have fatally crippled America as it entered the next decade. The Trump Administration is attempting to reverse these trends, restore the once mighty industrial base where “Made in America” was a common and proud sign.

President Trump’s bravado hides a sophisticated vision of a partial withdrawal of US military personnel and bases from the imploding Greater Middle East and the free loading allies in Europe, South Korea and Japan. Right now, a staged retreat from the unsustainable business of empire and the deft handling of the rising powers, including driving a wedge between Moscow and Beijing, is the best bet in ensuring the “soft landing” the author writes off in his final chapter.

Whether President Trump can achieve this remains to be seen…

Book review of In the Shadows of the American Century by Alfred W. McCoy

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