US hegemony in decline

Drawing parallels between Iraq and Vietnam is now something of a cliche, even for those who predicted that the 2003 invasion would be a cakewalk. Future historians, however, will emphasize the systematic erosion of US hegemony following the tectonic shifts in the economy and technology. The International Herald Tribune yesterday featured an article on the end of the American monopoly in the field of navigation technology – a monopoly built during the Reagan administration on the Pentagon-controlled GPS system. Putin’s Russia is planning to launch eight navigation satellites. Russia’s system, Glonass, will be fully operational in 2009. Meanwhile, Europe and China are working on their own satellite systems, called Galileo and Baidu respectively. It’s not just about economics. The satellite battle also has a geopolitical dimension. The US monopoly on GPS technology allowed Washington to blackmail other states by threatening to paralyze their power grids, telecommunications and economic activities which, in the digital age, depend on satellite navigation systems. Similar developments are taking place in the news industry where CNN’s monopoly is already a thing of the past. Anyone with a satellite dish is able to watch international, round-the-clock news services from rival networks based in France, Russia, Venezuela and Qatar. A recent World Economic Forum report indicated that – contrary to what most people think – the US has dropped to seventh place in the global information technology rankings, while Europe is now leading the race. As of September 2003, America’s balance of trade in high-tech products has been in deficit. More than half of American patents are awarded to foreigners. Military stealth is the last resort of a crumbling hegemony. But the Iraq quagmire has exposed the limitations of that policy.

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