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Admiral Gorschkov goes to India

India has closed the deal for the purchase of the ‘Admiral Gorschkov’, a Cold War era Russian aircraft carrier. It is expected this ship will come into service with the Indian Navy around 2008, just in time for the retirement of the INS Viraat, their current aircraft carrier.

Gorshkov

It is quite interesting that there is a continuing armaments relationship between the Russians and India, despite the seismic geopolitical changes of the last decade. An untutored alien landing for the first time on Earth would make no sense of it. The roles of the US and the USSR in that region should be reversed, Russia should be partnered with the alternating military dictatorship and semi-democratic kleptocracies of Pakistan and the US with India, the oldest liberal democratic state in Asia.

Relations between nations have layers within layers and oft-times deep and conflicting historical roots, I am aware of some of the public history of the region, but cannot help wondering if there is a bit more to it, an unspoken geopolitical undertext.

India has centuries of liberal European traditions behind it. It is also not likely to change very much even under severe pressure. Generations would come and go before the paperwork for change was properly submitted, checked, authorized and filed. In a Cold War world the risk of India actually going Red was rather slim and thus of less worry than perennially unstable Pakistan.

Pakistan borders China and is within spitting distance of Russia across a ultra thin panhandle of Afghanistan. The region is wild and uncontrolled and right in the hotspot is the contested Kashmir Province. Given the location and the consistant interest in access to the oil and southern oceans shown from Tsarist through Soviet days, Northern Pakistan was absolutely ripe for fun and games with the KGB. It seems obvious checkmating this move was of far more Realpolitik value than telling the Indians how much we admired their history.

With the end of the Evil Empire, much of Geopolitics changed, but the full extent of the re-alignment of interests in this part of the world did not really click into place until September 11th, 2001. Islamic fundamentalists were already a clear and present danger to the Russians. Nutcases don’t even have to board an airliner to get to Moscow. They can drive there. After 9/11 they were also top priority to the US.

Over the last century or so, the Russians have ticked off a lot of people on their borders and they know it. They’ve done a far better job at this than the US… so it is somewhat in their interest for the US to take the brunt of whatever direct ire is caused by sorting out the problems. Otherwise they would have to deal with it, and given their level of success in Afghanistan and Chechnya, I would not have much hope for solutions from that direction.

From the Russian viewpoint, it is ideal if the US stabilizes Pakistan and acts as the lightning rod for fundamentalist ire; meanwhile they help arm India so that in the worst case, a fundamentalist takeover of Pakistan, India can keep Pakistan occupied and looking away from Russian territory.

The Russians see the regional problems up front and personal; they are damned pretty much whatever they do and aren’t very good at building stable liberal democracies. They haven’t even worked the bugs out of their own yet. The US is somewhat less at risk from the downsides of action in the region since it is far, far away and bordered by oceans and democracies. Not that such is a total protection. It just means the crazies have to expend more energy and more resources to carry out their attacks. To put it bluntly, the US stands to lose a smaller number of cities to the fundies than would Russia.

So there is method to this madness. You just have to sit a moment in everyone’s chair and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’

29 comments to Admiral Gorschkov goes to India

  • Richard Cook

    This should be interesting. The Gorschkov is not an aircraft carrier but is a helicopter carrier unless the Indians want to purchars VSTOL aircraft from the Russians also. It also has no ski ramp to give the VSTOL aircraft additional lift on take off. This may be a peg down for the Indians since it cannot fly high performance fixed wing.

  • Lulu

    A weak argument: I’m not sure what the least convincing bit is, but I think I’ll settle on this — ‘India has centuries of liberal European traditions behind it’. Um, would that be centuries more, or centuries less than Pakistan? Which of course has and had exactly the same number of such centuries behind it too.

  • Jacob

    You see too much meaning in this.
    The USSR has been India’s arms supplier since Nehru went socialist in the 50 ies. India is acutstomed to Russian hardware; it is also a lot cheaper than Western merchandise.

  • Euan

    Russia is not concerned about Pakistan posing a threat to them. Russia’s abiding strategic concern is to secure a year-round warm water sea port with open ocean access, and it has been so for at least 200 years. This was one of the reasons the USSR invaded Afghanistan (the others being “fraternal assistance” to a Socialist government and a need to break some heads overseas before the Moslems in their southern republics started causing too many problems). Some would say they have this on the Black Sea, but you need to get through the Bosporus which isn’t necessarily easy. A digression, but I sometimes wonder what the world would be like today if the West had encouraged the annexation/occupation of Afghanistan. Perhaps militant Islam would be a much lesser threat.

    Yes, I know Afghanistan is not noted for its sea ports, but it is on the road to the Indian Ocean. Deterrence of the Russian threat was the reason Britain three times tried to invade and occupy Afghanistan in the 19th century.

    Strategically, Russia’s game will be (as it has been for decades) to back the likely winner in a serious Indo-Pakistani war. This will make Pakistan less unfriendly in peace, and in the event of all out war will maximise the chances of permanent naval access to the Ocean (assuming their good guys do actually win).

    As for the Gorshkov herself (himself??), the Indian plan is to extend the flight deck forward & fit a ski-jump. MiG 29 planes can then use it, and India gets a cheap carrier capable of deploying supersonic aircraft.

  • Dale Amon

    I would point out that going through Afghanistan does not get you much closer to a warm water port. Pakistan would have been a hole in one.

    As for the present situation, all of the bordering countries are now independant, the ‘stans. Russia is farther away than ever from a warm water port and given their military situation and the fundie terrorist problem which is not just on their doorstep but in making noises the house at night, I think they are more than happy for the US to clear out the problem while they make friendly noises so as to position themselves for whatever comes after.

    While India may have leaned socialist under Nehru, it was not leaning Communist any more than the UK was. I can’t see that India was that more left than the UK of the time, the difference being that the UK was closely tied to the US historically and at threat from Russia; whereas India was at threat from China (they fought a little border war if you remember) and Russia was at odds with China at the time. Very at odds by the end of the sixties.

  • In the comments, Mr. Amon emphasizes that Russia is no much farther away from Pakistan than the USSR was, thanks to Central Asian independence. In the post itself, however, Mr. Amon writes that only a narrow Afghan panhandle separates Russia and Pakistan.

  • Rahul

    Err… gentlemen,

    There is an obvious missing piece to this solution. And that is the fact that the Russians had no scruples about selling armaments to India, whereas the Americans routinely got their panties in a bunch over the same issue.

    Most of the 80s and 90s (from the Indian perspective) saw battles between the Russians and Americans over whether or not Russia was allowed to sell certain arms to India (the cryogenic engine being the most prominent of these disputes).

    At the end of the day, it is the Indo-US relationship that is forging ahead (not to mention the Indo-Israeli) of the Indo-Russian. Gorshkov is just the last gasp of a byegone era – the Indians are not stupid. They realize that the long run cost of Russian systems is far greater than that of American systems, not to mention quality. But it is only now (since 9/11) that the Americans have changed their leftist proliferation-to-India-oh-what-shall-we-do mindset.

    My 2 cents.

  • Dale Amon

    No, you missed it entirely. An earlier comment suggested Afghanistan was the chosen route to warm water ports; I pointed out that controlling Afghanistan itself did little good. You still had to take Iraq, Iran or Pakistan to get to warm water ports. Of these chocies, Pakistan was perhaps easier because there would be no need to take all of Afghanistan. All they would have needed is to seize a small (perhaps 30 miles wide?) panhandle before taking on Pakistan. They would of course have arranged to have a strong Communist front organization waiting for them.

    Look at the map. Which is easier? Hundreds of miles of mountains in Afghanistan and *then* Iran or Iraq, or a few miles of Afghanistan and then Pakistan? With the additional advantage of an India on the Eastern side. India would not likely have complained much and would certainly not have allied with Pakistan. Iran and Iraq were also both US allies at the time, which from the map should be obvious blocking moves.

    In the post cold war, post-USSR world, the warm water parts are farther away than ever because the areas bordering Afghanistan are not part of the Russian empire any more.

    Just look at a 1970 map and compare it with a 2000 map.

  • Dale Amon

    ACtually I mis-spoke. Iraq would not even be on the menu as it doesn’t directly border Afghanistan or any part of the old USSR, and in addition as I thought about it, getting a warm water port via the Persian Gulf is really not a very bright idea. It’s a complete bottleneck. So the *only* choices are Pakistan and Iran, and Pakistan is easier to get to and has friendly (to the USSR) neighbors on one side.

  • Dale Amon

    And yes, there is an alternate non-Afghan route into Iran. But Iran is a tough nut to crack as many have discovered…

    Everything else goes through Turkey and touching Turkey would have started WWIII then and there. NATO you know…

  • Excellent discussion.

    One extra point.

    US/India relations got off to a pretty bad start, in spite of the history of US sympathy for Indian independance for what one might call personal reasons.

    Nehru was a socialist aristocrat , he was comfortable with Mountbatten a real aristocrat, and with Khruschev a real ‘socialist. With Truman and Eisehower however he was dealing with men he regarded as capitalist peasants.

  • Euan

    The other thing about Russia is that it tends to play a longer game than the West. Although 5 years is the distant political future in the West, for Russia it’s the day after tomorrow.

    Russia is slowly trying to reassert its control over the now independent republics. Given that some of them are basket cases, that at least parts of the population do recognise that Russian civilisation wasn’t all bad (although far from all good) and that Russia plans to doubler her GDP by 2010, it is probable that in the medium term this plan will work – Russia will have greater control over the republics, will be closer to exerting influence over Afghanistan and will be in a pretty good position to profit from disruption over Kashmir.

    Russia will feel that she needs to assert authority in this region. China is a potential serious threat, and has been for decades. A greater Russian presence in the area will help to counter this & is no doubt part of their strategy.

    Historically, Russia (and the USSR) has not particularly cared who they deal with as far as ideology is concerned, as long as the Motherland is in a winning position. Socialist doctrine never came into it, strategic interests did.

    Talking of maps, look at a map of the world centred on Russia (or the USSR if you like). You will see a large, distended country surrounded on every side by actual or potential enemies, zealots, fundies, and assorted disruptive elements. Makes their geo-political viewpoint a little clearer, no?

  • Jacob

    I think the “warm water port” is 19th century terminology. It was terribly important then, but isn’t so important now. Also colonialism was fashionable then, and nationalism, and states aquired colonies possibly by conquering them from other powers.
    Times have changed. Now states don’t seek global dominance, and have no ambition to aquire new colonies, and that includes Russia. They seek stability and freedom from threats. (Maybe only some Islamist nuts have expansionist ambitions).
    So the whole debate seemed a little bit off the mark.

    As for Nehru – I didn’t comment on his degree of communism, though he was a pretty solid supporter of the USSR. I just said that India has bought all her military hardware from the Russians for several decades, so another buy is not surprising, and might not have far reaching geo-political implications.

  • Euan

    Times have changed. Now states don’t seek global dominance

    Well, that’s brightened up my day with a giggle. Of course states seek dominance. Perhaps not directly via colonial acquisition (which is inefficient), but my maximising their marginal advantage they seek and acquire de facto dominance over less advantaged states.

    The advantage of a year-round warm water port is not a 19th century factor. Naval power is very important even today, and until it is cheaper and easier to project force from space it will remain so. If it wasn’t, why would the US have such a large fleet? Why would Britain persist in maintaining an expensive navy – or splurge billions on a couple of big carriers and a flotilla of light cruisers to protect them? Why would India want a large carrier? Believe me, it is just as important now as it was in the 19th century.

    If you’re going to run a navy, you need to know it can fight, retire and repair itself without undue disruption, and hence you need this kind of port. Because the western Indian ocean is strategically important, has been for centuries and will be for some time to come, acquiring a facility there has long been a Russian desire.

    They do not need to colonise Pakistan. They just need a suitably disposed regime which will let them maintain a naval base, or alternatively deny such facilities to potentially hostile powers. To keep the hosts “persuaded” of the benefits of such an arrangement, it is useful to have sufficient military force close enough to act if needed.

    Hence, increasing Russian influence in the republics, gradual assertion of influence in Afghanistan (watch this space, it will happen), and maintenance of a reasonably amenable state nearby makes good strategic sense. They also need money, so why not sell a carrier they don’t need at this time? Notice they sold the big nuclear carrier to China, on condition it was never used for military purposes and after stripping out the high tech stuff.

    I suspect that Russia will rise again as a major military and economic power. The old preoccupations have not gone away, although the methods may change.

  • Jacob

    “Of course states seek dominance. ”
    Over whom, prey, does GB seek dominance ? Can you compare this to the 19th century ?

    “Why would Britain persist in maintaining an expensive navy – or splurge billions on a couple of big carriers and a flotilla of light cruisers to protect them?”

    I have no idea. Must be nostalgia or inertia. Or maybe they want to keep company to the US in the next gulf war, though from the political reaction to this one, it seems obvious it is the last British military enterprise for a very long while.
    Or maybe the carriers are needed as response to the “Charles de Gaule”…

    Every country needs some self defence force. Like all government spending – spending on military hardware is usually way too big, and spent in a dumb manner on hardware for the last war, i.e. outdated.

  • Euan

    though from the political reaction to this one, it seems obvious it is the last British military enterprise for a very long while

    Wouldn’t bet on it.

    I agree that in theory nations should have only moderate self-defence forces. However, in practice, that’s not a wise strategy because it assumes everyone else will be relatively high minded. This is unlikely, as history shows (repeatedly).

    Many states, Britain included, have a variety of commercial interests throughout the planet, and some (again Britain included) depend heavily on maritime trade. In certain areas of the world, notably West Africa and the South China Sea, piracy is a large and growing problem. In other areas, vital strategic interests (i.e. oil) are potentially threatened by fundie zealots. If you wanted to be paranoid in the case of Britain, you might argue that imminent French economic collapse may result in utter chaos in Europe, leading potentially (worst case) to continental war. There is one thing that prevents war, and that’s a balance of power.

    In the middle east, there is no balance, and that’s an area the whole developed world finds “interesting”. If, or more likely when, things go bad there someone needs to restore balance. In such a case, the threat of force may be enough (after the invasion of Iraq, it probably will be), but the threat needs to be credible – and that needs (a) military power beyond self defence level and (b) a willingness to use it to break some heads until people start paying attention.

    It may not be ideal, and it certainly isn’t morally uplifting, but it’s strategic reality.

  • lucklucky

    Transformed Admiral Gorshkov conceptual designs here

    http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/NAVY/Gorshkov.html

    USA is very restrictive selling this kind of hardware unlike Russia and usually came with a lot of strings attached. Also USA is known to be nasty for 2nd level allies that are some bad situations or have adventurous nature.

    About the deal the new Mig-29 will have some comon hardware with IAF Mig -29´s so thats a plus btw India wants Barak Israeli anti-missile system installed but Russia are resisting it.

  • Quentin

    Forget Russia, think China. The two are going to compete – just look at Pakistan / Kashmir. And if it comes to war, both sides would yawn at the use of nuclear weapons – with a billion people apiece, they can afford to yawn at the concomittant population losses. Indeed, both sides would benefit from losing the odd 100M or so.

  • Jim M

    Of course states seek dominance.

    Em… how else can I put this… in real-world 2004, the United States already has world dominance, not least with its (what is it— six or eight?) full-scale carrier task forces sailing the ocean blue, to say nothing of the B-52s that can arrive without warning and bomb the bejeezus out of any 2nd or 3rd world nations’s ground forces.

    I believe the strategic planning behind the Anglo-French carrier building programme is so that Europe (a) can be seen by the US to remain able to pull its weight as America’s principle ally or (b) will have enough muscle to stand on its own feet if it falls out with the Americans.

    Of course, (a) is British (AKA ‘New Europe’) thinking and (b) is French (AKA ‘Old Europe’).

    Oh, and before I forget…

    Russia plans to double her GDP by 2010 which will raise its GDP to about the same giddy heights as Mexico. Anyway, it’s just a plan. Don’t hold your breath. (Really, it’s more like a pious hope.)

  • Euan

    Em… how else can I put this… in real-world 2004, the United States already has world dominance

    And this has what to do with it, exactly? The US is currently the the world’s dominant (by far) military and economic power. So what? How long do you think that is going to hold? The US will turn inward over the next 20-30 years as it deals with increasing demand for welfare and a lack of interest in and unwillingness/inability to pay for overseas adventures. It’s current position is somewhat akin to Britain 100 years ago – rich, powerful, essentially unchallenged but with fundamental weaknesses becoming ever more apparent.

    I don’t agree about the carriers. France would build them anyway for purely selfish reasons, and has shown a willingness to pay for a reasonably powerful navy on a steady basis over the past decades. They are replacements for their current fixed-wing carriers, but for Britain they are a major step up from the crappy little Invincibles we’ve had since the demise of the last Ark Royal. So much the better for Britain if France bears part of the design and construction cost. I think it’s bugger all to do with European influence, more British strategic needs and French aspirations.

    As for Russia, economic growth in the region of 6-7% over the past three years is not to be sneezed at. OK, so the current GDP is about 1/3 or so that of Britain, but if it’s growing at three times the rate… Russia is also a big country with a large population, many of whom are well educated, and stupendous natural resources. It isn’t going to be economically small for long.

    It isn’t a spectacularly free or liberal country, but although political and social liberty are greatly advantageous for increasing prosperity, and will generally come about anyway as propserity increases, they are not essential to start the process. Indeed, given Russia’s recent history and current plight, one might suggest that a more forceful government is probably needed to bring order and get things moving. Russia has never reached its full potential. I think this time it has the best chance yet of doing so. As far as timing goes, the coincidence of simultaneous American relative decline and Russian relative rise is a happy one for Moscow. How wealthy and powerful will Russia be in 20-30 years?

    The other potential economic and military big power is China. How interested they are in the world outside the Pacific remains to be seen. For myself, I’d prefer to see Russia win that particular contest. And it will be a contest, they despise each other.

    (Old Russian joke – what was Leonid Brezhnev’s worst nightmare? That he would see Finns eating matzo in Red Square as they spoke Chinese)

    History is a pattern of rising and falling marginal advantage, and war is a history of what happens when people forget that what goes up must inevitably come down.

    Poka, gaspadin :)

  • Jim M

    The US is currently the world’s dominant (by far) military and economic power. So what? How long do you think that is going to hold?

    The US is in a far more dominant position over the whole world than any power has ever been before in history. At peak, Britain ‘owned’ about 15% of the world’s military power.

    At its greatest power, the Roman Empire ‘owned’ maybe 20% of the world’s military strength, once you take India and China into account.)

    Today the US ‘owns’ about 40% (and growing) of the world’s military strength. Its military spending is much greater than that of the rest of the planet put together— and the cost to the US is quite bearable as far into the future as anyone can see. If we look at all NATO as a sort of extended version of US power, that 40% grows to about 55%. Add in Japan and other clear allies like South Korea, Australia , etc., and it becomes about 65%.

    There has never been a power with such a massive preponderance of military power in the world before. We have here something entirely new in history, and it’s not going to disappear anytime soon. The whole planet is under the hegemony of the United States, and (1) we better start getting used to the idea.; (2) just thank our luck stars that it was the Americans who won the Cold War, not the Soviet Union.

    Already the Americans are fairly far along the way to having a military-industrial-technology complex that can wage a war anywhere in the world with victory a virtual certainty and American casualties almost trivial when compared with what was normal a generation or two ago. Their plan and my expectation is that within another 20 or 30 years, America will be able to wage an almost 100% automated war, with zero casualties on their side.

    That is why the American position is quite different from the British one 100 years or so ago. The US is going to become more and more dominant for maybe another 100 years at least. By the time China grows to be an economic-military power as powerful as today’s US (which will take about 50 years at least, as its growth rate starts to slow as it inevitably will) the US will by then be some five or six times more powerful than it is today.

    My guess is that American planetary hegemony could last anything between one century and forever. Unless we are French, we should not despair; American hegemony is going to deliver the best realistic world outlook we could hope for in the present circumstances.

    Indeed, given Russia’s recent history and current plight, one might suggest that a more forceful government is probably needed to bring order and get things moving.

    As I read history, they have never lacked forceful governments in Russia. They resulted is today’s mess, did they not?

    Russia has never reached its full potential. I think this time it has the best chance yet of doing so.

    The whole of Africa, South America, India, the Middle East, and plenty other places have never reached their full potential either. Why should Russia be the exception? (Someone once described Russia as ‘Upper Volta with rockets.’ I’m afraid that’s just about right.

    As far as timing goes, the coincidence of simultaneous American relative decline and Russian relative rise is a happy one for Moscow. How wealthy and powerful will Russia be in 20-30 years?

    Upsides with Brazil, maybe, if it has some lucky breaks?

    You’re whistling in the wind, my friend.

    Get used to living under Pax Americana.

  • Euan

    Whilst I have to admire your optimistic forecast of potentially unending American dominance, I think it just that – optimistic.

    America’s relative might will decline, for perfectly good historical reasons. The same trends that led to British decline (and the decline of other European powers) are evident – decreasing relative superiority of general education, increasing share of GDP devoted to unproductive expenditure (welfare, military), loss of social cohesion, loss of economic dominance as others catch on, greater state control of economy, greater regulation, etc.

    Britain reached its peak of marginal advantage over other nations about 1850, and was in relative decline thereafter. In the early 19th century, Britain dominated the global economy because of its unsurpassed ability in machine tool manufacture and general high (for the time) technology, coupled with efficient manufacturing and distribution processes (sound familiar?) By the middle of the century, other nations that had previously simply bought British goods started making their own, frequently in an environment of lower production costs. Britain’s marginal advantage declined.

    It is in principle possible for a nation to retain indefinitely a position of stable or even increasing marginal advantage. This would be done by finding a new thing at which it is better – for example, Britain could have lead the world in computers by the late 19th century, but it didn’t. No nation has ever done this sort of thing, and there is no sign whatsoever that America is about to buck the trend of 3000 years of history.

    In the military sphere, and recalling that military expenditure is fundamentally wasteful beyond a certain low point, it no longer holds unchallenged sway. Sure, it has a huge navy and a strategic reach that no-one else has – in traditional military doctrine. Even then, who 50 years ago would expect India to be a nuclear power with just-about-strategic reach? Just because the US is relatively more powerful than any other nation has ever been does not mean it will stay that way. And, of course, to have a powerful military you need a strong economy to fund it.

    Both economically and militarily, although easily dominant in absolute terms, America is in relative decline. This is a natural process, it happens to every country for the same reasons, and there is no reason to suppose something is suddenly going to change in the US.

    Of course, in the 1890s many people thought of Britain exactly as you think of the US now – permanent global hegemon. They were wrong, and I’m afraid I think you are also wrong for exactly the same reasons. The idea – Anglo-Saxon liberal society – is important, not the identity of the state that defends or promotes it. I’m not knocking America, but you need to be realistic and look at history.

  • Euan

    Hmm, forgot to add that if:

    within another 20 or 30 years, America will be able to wage an almost 100% automated war, with zero casualties on their side

    don’t you think other nations could do exactly the same thing? America does not have a monopoly on the technology required to do this. Don’t forget, even if it is 5 or 6 times stronger than it is now, a lot of other countries will be several times stronger than at present.

    Relative strength is the key, not absolute strength. Britain’s Royal Navy has more firepower and destructive ability (by far) than it ever had before, but it hardly has the world at its knees.

  • Jim M

    America’s relative might will decline, for perfectly good historical reasons. The same trends that led to British decline (and the decline of other European powers) are evident – decreasing relative superiority of general education, increasing share of GDP devoted to unproductive expenditure (welfare, military), loss of social cohesion, loss of economic dominance as others catch on, greater state control of economy, greater regulation, etc.

    But as I have already said, there are no historical parallels with the present situation. The same trends that led to British decline are precisely NOT evident today*: that is what I was pointing out earlier. American’s technological and general economic leads continue to grow, both relatively and absolutely, and there is absolutely no evidence of this situation changing in the foreseeable future.

    Both economically and militarily, although easily dominant in absolute terms, America is in relative decline.

    Where do you get such funny, inaccurate notions? Economically, militarily and (very important) technologically, America is on the contrary in both relative and absolute growing ascendancy.

    American military technology is in a particularly strong position to continue to grow and draw ahead of everyone else for very many years ahead. And as its technological advantage enables a more and more hi-tech war where actual (American) human beings are not in harm’s way, and the strain on America’s financial resources become more and more bearable, there is no reason to forecast any change in the geopolitical position for very many years to come.

    *In any event, America more closely resembles the Roman Empire than the British one. However such comparisons are odious, and tend to be more misleading than useful. There has never been anything like current American dominance. Indeed this is why some have argued that nowadays we are seeing the end of history. That is absurd, but we are living through something unique.

  • Euan

    Jim,

    A couple of readily found factoids which may be of interest to you:

    In 1970, the 10 largest banks in the world were American. In 1991 none of the 20 largest were American.

    In 1960 US share of global GDP was 31%. 35 years later it had fallen to 26%.

    Now, America is hugely wealthy and powerful, and it’s wealth and power are growing. That is not in dispute, and I think you’re missing the point.

    The point is that the wealth and power of other nations is also increasing, in several cases at a higher rate than in the US. It has been estimated by several economists and economically-minded historians that America has been in relative decline since around 1960. I can’t give you precise references, I’m afraid, because my soon-to-be-ex-wife made me dispose of most of my books a few years ago & I can’t look it up :(

    This is not the same as saying that America’s absolute wealth and power are in decline, which I think you may believe I am trying to say.

    These are not “funny and inaccurate notions”. Read some history books and find out just how widely held and well-supported these MAINSTREAM ideas actually are. Furthermore, there is NOTHING unique about America’s position today. Differences between that and the positions of earlier great powers such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, Spain, China, England, France, etc are only differences of degree, not kind, and it is, I submit, hubris to suggest otherwise.

    America has been good to the world, and I do not dislike it’s heritage. But really, it won’t be dominant forever.

  • I think that America’s increasingly automated military force will be what eventually causes us to become serious about space and driving costs down.

    21st Century American military dominance requies that the satellites not be shot down. The increasing technological multipliers (one pilot can operate many UAV’s, etc) of American military force concominantly increase the damage done to them if you take out a weak point, and the weakest one is going to be in orbit: taking out the right satellite(s) will do more and more damage the more we are dependant on them.

    If the US manages to out-innovate and out-spend the Chinese in the next 40 years, I think that a lockin situation that will last quite a long time will result. If the Chinese militarize space first (i.e. achieve cheap launch), they can shatter it.

    Aircraft carriers are SO 20th Century! :-)

  • Jim M

    Hi Euan,

    In 1970, the 10 largest banks in the world were American. In 1991 none of the 20 largest were American.

    I doubt what you say about the size of American banks. I don’t think bank size is very significant anyway, but back in 1970, and still to a very large extent, US banks were not allowed to do business or have branches in more than one state (eg., if a Bank operates in California, it cannot operate in New Mexico as well.) which had a very serious effect on their size. OTOH, some of today’s largest banks are Japanese, whose size is more a measure of the size of the bad debts they can’t get rid of than anything else.

    In 1960 US share of global GDP was 31%. 35 years later it had fallen to 26%.

    You’re out of date. It has now (2003) risen to about 30 or 35% of world GDP, after a dip in the 80s and early 90s. (Source- The Economist) and is continuing to surge ahead of the rest of the world once more. True, a part of this is due to the on-going recession in Japan and the present difficulties of the German and French economies, but that is only one part of the story. The most reliable projections are indicating the US reaching about 40% of world GDP by 2010 or so.

    Thus the US economy is growing both relative to the rest of the world and absolutely as well. Our planetary Leviathan is not getting less but more overarching and overpowering as time goes on. What’s more, America’s cultural empire— everything from McDonalds to Hollywood to Levy Jeans to iPods; even (dare I say this as a Brit?) the English language— becomes evermore all-embracing as each day passes.

    In fact the part played by the English language in all this is quite significant and interesting. Never before has one world superpower passed the baton to a successor that speaks the same language. (How the French hate this awkward fact. I just say to them, ”It’s the life.”) Now we live in a world where one language is more widespread than has ever been the case before. To call English the new Latin is to seriously underestimate its reach and influence. The lingua franca of the eastern half of the Roman Empire was in fact Greek, so even at its peak Latin was only spoken by about half the population of the empire, never mind the rest of the world like India and China, etc.

    But today English has become the first truly planetary language. More people may speak Mandarin Chinese as their mother tongue, but they tend to be concentrate into one geographical location, and not all that many speak it as a second language. However English is the native tongue of about 400 million and an incredible 1,500 million speak it as a second language to a greater or lesser degree of fluency— altogether, this is well-nigh one third of the human race! (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language) All these people who sweated over the construction of an artificial world language like Esperanto were wasting their time and effort, because we have a world language today— English.

    So economically, militarily, technologically, culturally and linguistically we are all living in America’s shadow, and that shadow is growing longer and deeper with every day that passes. In almost every way except formally, the entire world has become the American Empire with a few awkward provinces needing pacified just as the Romans always had, if you want to look it that way.

    Furthermore, there is NOTHING unique about America’s position today. Differences between that and the positions of earlier great powers such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, Spain, China, England, France, etc are only differences of degree, not kind, and it is, I submit, hubris to suggest otherwise.

    As I thought I had already made clear, America is in an historically unique situation. None of these others you mention ever came close to being so far ahead of the rest of the world both militarily, economically, etc., etc. that in all (no, not all, any of these ways they ‘outgunned’ something like the next 25 or 30 nations combined— and America’s lead is set to continue widening for the foreseeable future, not narrow.

    ——
    I can’t give you precise references, I’m afraid, because my soon-to-be-ex-wife made me dispose of most of my books a few years ago & I can’t look it up :(

    I would not wish to pry into your personal affairs and of course I don’t know the whole story, but I have to say that if it came to a choice between ones books and a woman, well, you could always get another woman… Mark Twain comes to mind here: A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke. (BTW, I don’t smoke, as it happens.)

  • Va

    I think India’s naval strength is a major security asset than that of airpower. India came to know the same while at Kargil war. As India shifted it’s Naval towards Karachi war ended. But then India came to know that some Chinese Naval vessles came closer to Burma in Indian Ocean and possess threat to Eastern and Southeastern India as well as India’s strategic locations of space and arm reasearch centres too.
    I suggest India should not only purchase better Naval hardware but also develop the same of it’s own.

  • V

    India is planning to buy russian naval fleet and petriot from US . A combination is good to maintain the power in Naval against those countries who dream to rule india.While india is still struggling to achieve similar combination in air and ground. US confirmed a sale of F-16 jets to pak and china confirms J-7s to pak.Only thing pak can do using those jets is to cross desert and some hilly portions of border but history shows victory can only be achieved by ground and sea performances.Air force can only useful to monitor and maintain the success not to conqur for example gulf war.