The Problem of the US: A Failing Superpower in a Changing World Order


The United States has long been esteemed as the foremost champion of the liberal world order, a sophisticated framework of regulations, standards, and institutions that materialized in the aftermath of World War II and proliferated following the cessation of the Cold War. The US has wielded its formidable military, economic, and diplomatic prowess to mold and preserve this order, which has engendered relative tranquility, affluence, and collaboration among a multitude of nations. Nevertheless, in recent times, the US-led world order has encountered many internal and external challenges, eliciting inquiries regarding its durability and legitimacy.

Internal Challenges: Political Decay and Social Division

One of the paramount challenges confronting the US is its own domestic tribulations, which have diminished its credibility and capacity to guide the world. According to Francis Fukuyama, a distinguished American academic, the US is afflicted by “political decay,” a process of institutional deterioration and subjugation by influential interest groups that impedes efficacious governance and responsiveness to public necessities. In the same vein, the US political system is beleaguered by polarization, stalemate, corruption, and dysfunction, which have corroded public trust and confidence in democracy.

Another formidable challenge is the escalating social division and inequality in the US, which have incited discontent and animosity among numerous American. The US has witnessed a burgeoning chasm between the affluent and impoverished, as well as racial, ethnic, and cultural tensions that have ignited violence and extremism. The US has also grappled with social and economic repercussions of globalization, technological innovation, migration, and health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors have contributed to the emergence of populism and nationalism in the US, which has repudiated multilateralism and international cooperation in favor of “America First” policies.

External Challenges: Rising Rivals and Shifting Alliances

The US faces various challenges in the international system, which have changed its position and role. The US has two competitors: Russia and China, with diverse interests and values in different regions and domains. The latter has grown as a global economic power and developing military forces, aiming to expand its influence in Asia and beyond. It has also offered a model of governance and development, such as the BRI, which seeks to link Eurasia through infrastructure and investment projects. Similarly, Russia has also shown its power and interests in Europe and the Middle East by taking over Crimea, participating in Syria, and interacting with Ukraine. Russia has also taken actions that some perceive as an attempt to undermine the US-led order by influencing elections, spreading information, and forming partnerships with authoritarian regimes.

The US also encounters difficulties from allies and partners, who have grown more autonomous and varied in their interests and inclinations. The US has found it hard to sustain unity and consensus among its allies in NATO and other regional organizations, as they have differed on issues such as trade, climate change, Iran and human rights. The US has also faced disapproval from its allies for its unilateral actions and decision, such as exiting international agreements, imposing tariffs, killing foreign leaders, and deserting allies in conflict zones. The US has also lacked adequate leadership and coordination in addressing global challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a void for other actors to occupy.

In the interim, the US also endeavors to reinforce its universalist notion through force if persuasion proves unfeasible. Thus, it is striving and will persist in its effort to preserve its dominant position in the world – in order to defend its interest, the US has dubbed these interests “the interest of the world community,” which alludes to a free world under democracy. Concurrently, the US does not hesitate to integrate the Rest into its economic policies, human rights discourse and principles while maintaining its hegemonic position and interests in the global arena.

A New Equilibrium or a New Disorder?

Thus, the world order led by the US is experiencing a deep change as the US confronts multiple difficulties from inside and outside. The US can no longer presume its role as the unquestioned leader of the world, nor can it enforce its will on others without repercussions. The US needs to adjust to the shifting realities of the world order by reforming its domestic institutions, restoring alliances, interacting with its competitors, and investing in international institutions. The US must also acknowledge that it is not the only one shaping the world order; it needs to collaborate with other countries with common interests and values. The alternative is a world of growing disorder, conflict and instability. Moreover, rather than making accusations, the US should appreciate the international system led by other emerging power, which offers a more democratic, multipolar, and peaceful option to the world.

Asad Ullah
Asad Ullah
Majoring International Relations at Shandong University, Shandong Qingdao China