There they were in the flesh: wizened veterans of the Spanish-American War from 1898 marching a few feet away from me at the Memorial Day parade on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn in 1958. It is one of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories. The Spanish-American War, which began in Cuba and led to a bloody and drawn-out American occupation of the Philippines, announced the arrival of the United States as a world power.
The basis of that power was starkly geographical. Hans Morgenthau, a founding father of “realism” in international relations, called geography the most stable component of national power. America is a vast and wealthy continent densely connected by navigable rivers and with an economy of scale, accessible to the main sea lines of communication, yet protected by oceans from the turmoil of the Old World.
Stories about American decline are overrated.
And that geography still matters, despite technology having shrunk the globe. Notwithstanding the pathologies of this tighter, more interconnected world—terrorism, viral pandemics, ransomware—America, unlike China, is self-sufficient in hydrocarbons. It has abundant water resources and no powerful and hostile neighbors. The southern border, which American conservatives wail about, involves only poor migrants, and not the soldiers of two armies facing each other like on China’s southern frontier with India.
That geography helps explain why America can miscalculate and fail in successive wars, yet completely recover, unlike smaller and less well-situated countries which have little margin for error. Thus, stories about American decline are overrated. Geography has bequeathed America such power and with such protection that, integrated into an increasingly smaller world as it is, the country cannot help but remain in an imperial-like situation, with far-flung economic and military commitments around the world.
Read the full story and more from The Economist.
More from CNAS
How Ukraine Can Help Itself
The challenge is not how to innovate but how to scale up production, given skilled labor shortages, supply chain bottlenecks, corruption, and Russian attacks....
By Franz-Stefan Gady
Evolution Not Revolution
This report concludes that drones have transformed the battlefield in the war in Ukraine, but in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary fashion. While tactical innovation a...
By Stacie Pettyjohn
Foreword By Richard Fontaine Rapid technological change touches virtually every aspect of life today. This includes defense and national security, and for good reason: To main...
By Douglas A. Beck
Is The U.S. Navy Ready For The Red Sea Threat?
In the Red Sea drone and missile attacks by the Houthi rebels are stemming the flow of commerce in a critical part of the world. The U.S. Navy has deployed numerous ships to h...
By Tom Shugart