Consequently, theorists such as Dicken (1992) and Cohen (1992) who argue the multipolar nature of world affairs are quite right for the moment but, according to proponents of the cyclical theory, it will not be long before the onset of the next hegemonic cycle makes their theories temporarily obsolete. CANDIDATES So, if the coming of another world power is the inevitable course of global politics, then which current nation-state will develop into such a power? The likelihood is that it will be one of the core nations that currently comprises a part of the multipolar situation.
It is these states that are the most dynamic, or have the potential to be the most dynamic, in the important economic sphere. But which of those identified is liable to be the next world power? Of Cohen’s (1992) pentarchy of powers, four are contained in Dicken’s (1992) triad of regional blocs: this cannot be coincidence and implies that attention should be focused on the USA, western Europe, Japan and China as the source of the next hegemonic state. But which of these constitutes the most viable option? Western Europe and China are likely to be out of the reckoning, although both are liable to be contenders for future cycles.
The former lacks any sort of political cohesiveness and runs the risk of being (temporarily) crippled by the westward drift of the former eastern bloc, whilst the latter, despite undoubted natural resources and liberal reforms, “is [still] a developing country and, despite favourable growth, will remain so well into the next century” (Nye, 1992, p86; Cannon and Jenkins, 1990, Pfaff, 1991, Nye, 1992). This therefore only leaves the USA and Japan as contenders for the world leader crown. The USA, a former superpower, achieved its hegemonic status as a result of favourable conditions in 1945:
“The US emerged from the Second World War as a major power creditor with its territory unscathed, a booming economy, a nuclear monopoly, and a State Department with plans for the economic management of the globe” (Pugh and Williams, 1990, p2). However, recent years have seen an apparent reversal of fortunes. The emergence of new global economic actors (notably the E. U. and Japan) has combined with America’s ‘natural’ economic decline to escalate its demise. In a very short space of time the US has been transformed from the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor (Vogel, 1986).
A positive foreign debt balance in 1980 has been replaced by a $500 billion debt in 1989 which looks set to increase. Simultaneously, domestic US government debt has increased to $2. 7 trillion in the same year, the situation prompting President Bush to proclaim that “the US has the will to remain hegemonic but not the wallet” (Bush cited Nye, 1992, p94; Lewis, 1992). A corollary is that President Clinton has recently proposed a 34 per cent reduction in the US defense budget (compared with the 1989 Reagan-era peak) to $252 billion by 1998 (Tonelson, 1993).
This represents an expenditure of just 3 per cent of GNP (cf.an average of 6. 5 per cent of GNP) which takes defence to a level not seen since before World War Two (Tonelson, 1993). In this sense, America appears to be emulating the course all declining world powers follow, that charted by Paul Kennedy (1988) in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” and subsumed in his imperial overstretch thesis: “….. decision-makers in Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States’ global interests and obligations is nowadays far greater than the country’s power to defend them all simultaneously” (Kennedy, 1988, p515).
Consequently, this leaves Japan as the only potential (future) world leader. Its claim to the hegemonic title is supported by the growth and development of the Pacific region; the liberally reformed giant of China; the prosperous and established states of Australia and New Zealand; the ‘four tigers’ (Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore); and Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines (Kennedy, 1988). Their emergence has seen; “The center of world economic gravity [shift] rapidly towards Asia and the Pacific, as the Pacific takes its place as one of the key centers of world economic power” (Drysdale cited Kennedy, 1988, p441).
Of this region, Japan has been the undoubted economic powerhouse and hegemon for some time. However, its tremendous growth rate since 1970 has only recently seen it overtake the declining hegemon in a number of significant areas (Nester, 1990). Figure 2 shows the growth of GNP per capita in Japan and the USA for the period 1972-92. Its most striking feature is the sudden and rapid increase in Japanese fortune in 1983. This saw it overtake the USA as the world’s richest country in 1987, and the gap between the two countries continues to widen.
By 1992 Japanese GNP per capita had jumped to US$28,190 whilst the USA average remained around US$23,000. Figure 3 supports this data, showing how Japanese GDP average annual growth rates have outstripped US growth rates, with the exception of a few years, since 1972. By 1992 Japan’s average annual growth rate stood at 4. 1 per cent whilst the US languished around -1 per cent. A similar pattern is evident in figure 4 which displays balance of payments for the same two countries, 1972-92.
Once again, Japan has shown America the way forward, registering considerable trade surpluses compared to the USA’s trade deficits. In 1992 Japan recorded its highest ever surplus, US$117. 64 billion, whilst the US showed some improvement from its record low of US$163. 4 billion deficit in 1987 to US$66. 38 billion deficit by 1992. It is statistics such as these that led to the Economic and Planning Agency in Tokyo hailing “[this] as indicative of the fact that Japan had become the richest nation in the world” (Pugh and Williams, 1990, p3).
However, such statistics do not tell the whole story. Most of the US trade deficit is held with Japan (Nester, 1990). A trade agreement between the two nations has been established whereby the US exports low value-added agricultural products and raw materials to Japan, who in return export high value-added technological products to the US: Williams (1991) remarked that in the past such a trade composite was the classic pattern of a colony (USA) with its mother country (Japan).