Students of International Relations like books that ‘talk big’,
such as Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last
Man, Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilization and the Re-
making of the World Order, and Henry Kissinger’s latest book
World Order. In a similar vein, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former Dean
and now professor at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of
Government has just published Is the American Century Over?
As a small volume, it is one of the best short reads about global
geostrategic power shifts. Leading International Relations schol-
ar Joseph Nye, famous for his “soft power” concept, addresses
the debate over the posited decline of America, presenting a clear
argument that “the American Century is not over”.
He comes to this conclusion by analyzing the prospective chal-
lengers: Europe, Japan, Russia, India, Brazil and China. Nye be-
gins the book with a general synopsis to present the concept of
the American century. In this chapter, he tries to explain what
he means by “the American century,” and traces its origins. As
the readers will nd, Nye concludes each chapter with a declara-
tion underscoring that the American century is not over. In this
sense, the very rst chapter ends as follows:
The short answer to our question is that we are not en-
tering a post-American world… The American century
is not over, but because of transnational and non-state
forces, it is de nitely changing in important ways (pp.
In chapter 2, Nye discusses the notion “American decline”, ex-
ploring America’s historical positions in comparison with other
prominent powers over the same periods.
Chapter 3 consolidates the argument that the United States is not
in absolute decline, but that the rise of other powers stands un-
contested. In this regard, Nye assesses the potential challengers
to the United States, nding that they all suffer from structural
limitations that will prevent them from becoming hegemons in
the global world order. He submits that while Europe is always
changing, it is unlikely to surpass the United States: The prob-
ability of a united Europe becoming more powerful than the
United States and helping to cause the end of the American cen-
tury is very low. He adds, the same can be said for Japan. Three
decades ago, many Americans feared being overtaken after Jap-
anese per capita income surpassed that of the United States. In-
stead, Japan’s economy suffered two decades of slow growth and
Japan faces severe demographic problems. Consequently, Nye’s
view is that Japan is unlikely to become a global challenger to
the United States, either economically or militarily.
Within the same chapter, Nye continues these comparisons with
an examination of Russia, stating that
in the 1950s, many Americans feared that the Soviet
Union would surpass the United States as the world’s
leading power. However, it did not happen and it seems
unlikely that Russia would again possess the resources
to present the same sort of balance to American power.
When it comes to India, Nye argues that population alone is not
an index of power, unless those human resources are developed.
In this sense, India remains very much an underdeveloped coun-
try, with hundreds of millions of illiterate citizens living in pov-
erty. According to Nye, another competitor is Brazil. However,
Brazil’s infrastructure is inadequate, its legal system overbur-
dened, it has a very high murder rate, and serious corruption
problems. On this basis, Nye argues that it is unlikely that Brazil
will aspire to compete with the United States as a peer.
Nye alleges that the only potential competitor is China. Among
the BRICS, China is by far the largest, with an economy equal to
those of all the other countries combined. It has the largest army,
the largest military budget, the highest rate of economic growth,
and the most Internet users. Yet, he emphasizes that the rise of
China globally is a long process that is still some way from sig-
nifying the end of the American century.
In the next chapter, Nye compares the United States with Rome,
American culture has cleavages, but they remain man-
ageable and less dangerous than at times in the past.
Vol. 5 • No: 2 • Summer 2015
Social problems abound, with some getting worse and
some better. The society remains open to the outside
world and better able than most to renew itself by immi-
gration. The American economy is growing more slowly
than in the past, but it remains innovative at using and
commercializing technologies because of its entrepre-
neurial culture, the most mature venture capital indus-
try and the world’s top ranking universities. It leads
the world in research and development, and is at the
forefront of new cyber, nano, bio, and energy technolo-
gies… America has many problems and they raise many
questions, but they are not creating an absolute decline
that gives us a clear answer about when the American
century will end.
All in all, the book is well-written and most readers will nd
it both engaging and insightful. Nye assesses America’s place
in the world and tries to correct the pessimism about America’s
future. He brilliantly articulates the issues around the challenges
and challengers. Whether or not his assessments are correct is
another question. However, Nye argues strongly that American
geopolitical superiority or hegemony is still rmly in place and
far from declining, and that the biggest threat is not China, India,
Japan, Russia or Europe but America itself.