By many popular measurements, the USA is the most powerful and enduring country on earth. American politicians and pundits extol the country’s robust economy, military might, and institutions. They attribute them to a series of subjective attributes, such as:
1. Brilliantly designed governance, created under the US Constitution.
2. American “exceptionalism”.
3. The power of Capitalism.
4. Equal opportunity for all citizens.
5. Freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
6. A mix of ethnicities, each contributing to the culture.
BUT…How long can America remain as the world’s leader?
Although each of these qualities contributes to American strength, none can be ranked as the country’s single most important advantage. To claim that any one of them alone represents the primary underpinning of America’s dominance is like saying that the world’s fastest automobiles are supported only by good paint, catchy advertising, or exciting model names.
The actual genesis of America’s dominance is GEOGRAPHY. And that dominance today may not be sustainable.
The US landmass has coastal ports to the world’s two largest oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The only other large landmass with comparable access is Australia, which is isolated from much of the world.
Ocean access on two coasts has provided a huge advantage in commodity trading with every country on the globe. Before the advent of air cargo transport, companies at US port cities could demand the highest prices for sold goods, and benefit from lowest pricing for commodity purchases. Though air transport has leveled the advantage somewhat for consumer goods, heavy commodities like steel, coal, grain and lumber continue to provide a US trade advantage due to ocean access to or from anywhere.
Besides trade advantages, the oceans to the east and west have made the US easier to defend militarily than most other countries. The nation’s northern border—Canada—is populated by a friendly ally that is somewhat dependent on the US, and presents no threat. Though enemies might attempt attacks from the air, no enemy troops or heavy weaponry have ever effectively attacked the well-defended US coasts.
US geography also provides huge areas of agricultural land with available water and a temperate climate. No other country has the land and climate to feed its people within its own borders, while selling food products in large volumes to other countries.
Because the country’s enviable geography permits individual self-sufficiency, most Americans have little need to travel extensively within other cultures and languages. This fact enables the country to operate with a single language—English—and easily communicate from coast to coast. This advantage makes manufacturing, education, commerce and governance much cheaper and more efficient.
Each of these advantages is the result of geography that permitted the US to become a preeminent military power. The nation’s robust economy created a manufacturing base that produced military matériel faster and in greater volumes than enemies in European and Asian wars. Military victories then permitted the US to lead and manipulate world affairs.
Could America’s enviable size and location have supported dominance with alternate governmental forms, and achieve the same “exceptionalism?” Politicians and pundits express a range of opinions to maintain and grow their voter bases. But it is fortunate geography that has created and sustained the nation’s real power.
Unfortunately for today’s Americans, Geographic position may not be enough to provide long-term protection. In today’s technology era, military or terrorist offensives can cross oceans in just a few hours. In our global trade environment, porous borders may be easily breached, and weapons can be imported to elude security inspection. The nation’s southern border permits massive migration of undocumented people, as well as substantial smuggling of illegal drugs and weapons.
The huge geographic advantage enjoyed by America is rapidly dissolving. The nation’s substantial head-start may sustain leadership for a few years, but political leaders must create aggressive new strategies, if the US wants to retain prosperity and world leadership.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX