George Friedman of Stratfor opines on the post cold war world we now inhabit. A few select quotes from his essay that I found most interesting:
the United States has emerged from the post-Cold War period with one towering lesson: However attractive military intervention is, it always looks easier at the beginning than at the end. The greatest military power in the world has the ability to defeat armies. But it is far more difficult to reshape societies in America's image. A Great Power manages the routine matters of the world not through military intervention, but through manipulating the balance of power. The issue is not that America is in decline. Rather, it is that even with the power the United States had in 2001, it could not impose its political will -- even though it had the power to disrupt and destroy regimes -- unless it was prepared to commit all of its power and treasure to transforming a country like Afghanistan. And that is a high price to pay for Afghan democracy.
The United States has emerged into the new period with what is still the largest economy in the world with the fewest economic problems of the three pillars of the post-Cold War world. It has also emerged with the greatest military power. But it has emerged far more mature and cautious than it entered the period. There are new phases in history, but not new world orders. Economies rise and fall, there are limits to the greatest military power and a Great Power needs prudence in both lending and invading.
The defining characteristics of this new era? [emphasis mine]
.......several defining characteristics to this era we can identify.
First, the United States remains the world's dominant power in all dimensions. It will act with caution, however, recognizing the crucial difference between pre-eminence and omnipotence.
Second, Europe is returning to its normal condition of multiple competing nation-states. While Germany will dream of a Europe in which it can write the budgets of lesser states, the EU nation-states will look at Cyprus and choose default before losing sovereignty.
Third, Russia is re-emerging. As the European Peninsula fragments, the Russians will do what they always do: fish in muddy waters. Russia is giving preferential terms for natural gas imports to some countries, buying metallurgical facilities in Hungary and Poland, and buying rail terminals in Slovakia. Russia has always been economically dysfunctional yet wielded outsized influence -- recall the Cold War. The deals they are making, of which this is a small sample, are not in their economic interests, but they increase Moscow's political influence substantially.
Fourth, China is becoming self-absorbed in trying to manage its new economic realities. Aligning the Communist Party with lower growth rates is not easy. The Party's reason for being is prosperity. Without prosperity, it has little to offer beyond a much more authoritarian state.
And fifth, a host of new countries will emerge to supplement China as the world's low-wage, high-growth epicenter. Latin America, Africa and less-developed parts of Southeast Asia are all emerging as contenders.