Paul Kennedy's influential book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers came out in 1987 and captured the spirit of the age. As the Soviet Union crumbled, the cost to the United States of winning the Cold War would act as a millstone, and the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) decline that affected Imperial Spain, Napoleonic France, and nautical Britain would claim, inexorably, another victim.
Not so fast! Is there a legitimate challenger to the United States' New World Order (instituted under the first Bush presidency)? Japan's approaching economic dominance disappeared in a credit crisis that lasted over a decade. Germany reunified itself, and found the costs too great. Britain and France, members of the nuclear club, were never in a position to threaten American economic might. China had been a Yellow Peril almost a century earlier, but still was very much a potential Peril, and not anything real. That was about it, circa 1987. Subsequently, India has pursued a continuing bid for regional power, but has not yet shown any inclination to be a Great Power, one that might be invited to a Congress of Berlin or suchlike.
Furthermore, it's not really clear to those of us confronting the credit crisis in the trans-Atlantic economies just how much this problem has got worldwide ramifications. China's economic progress could be badly derailed by the current problems, especially if her economic leaders mismanage things as poorly as it is claimed Bernanke has.
Actually, I think Kennedy's underlying principle, that there are such things as countries that constitute Great Powers, was flawed at the outset; and thus isn't really much help in understanding history, particularly military history. In fact, while we're all fretting about what to do with the nation-state in a globalizing world, we're actually missing the point.
(to be continued)