Today Russia commemorates the ending of the Second World War, one day after our VE day as always. The new President, doubtless influenced by Mr Putin, has decided that Russia is now strong enough to parade her military might as part of the display. As the oil price climbs to ever higher levels, Russia’s income grows. As her income grows, so she spends more on weaponry, to remind the USA that she is not unchallenged.
On another ocean, two Asian powers are also questioning US supremacy.
The Japanese have been honorary members of the Anglosphere since 1945, plugged into the first world of corporate activity and progressively freer trade. They have usually accepted US leadership. At the end of 1980s Japan started to flex her diplomatic muscles, doubting the US ability to adapt and grow. She chose to do so at a time when the Japanese bubble was at its most full blown. The Japanese sell off of the early 1990s coincided with the strong US move forward based on digital technology and the communications revolution, leaving the Japanese looking foolish and weak as their markets crashed and stayed down for a long time.
Today some Japanese pundits are questioning US supremacy again. They point to the weakness of the dollar, the sub prime problems, and growing dependence of the US on Chinese goods. They would be wrong to read these as signs of the end of US economic supremacy, just as surely as they were wrong about the collapse of the USA in 1990.
The truth is that the USA has outgrown both Japan and the EU over the last decade. Despite starting with more income per head and with a technological lead which others can learn from, the strength, breadth and depth of the US economy has been on display during years of poorer performance from both Japan and the EU.
Japan worries about her position, perched close to China in the Pacific half of the world. This may be the Pacific century, and the excitement may come from the West coast of the USA, from India and China, but that does not necessarily make it comfortable for Japan. Japan will be watching very carefully the military build up in China, and asking herself when the US will accept that China has serious military power to allow her to influence the patterns of politics and economics in her corner of the world?
Although China has 2.1 million military personnel, buttressed by a further 800,000 reserves, she still lacks aircraft carriers and overseas bases to project this conventional power far from home. The fleet comprises 29 destroyers , 46 frigates and 59 submarines. The air force boasts 1762 combat aircraft.
Whilst a lot of this equipment is not up to western standards, the latest planes and ships are much more sophisticated. Given the wealth of the country and the willingness to spend on armaments, we should assume a lively pace of new armament.
More significantly China has 806 missiles of varying capability (IISS Military Balance 2008) including intercontinental ones which could reach the USA and the EU. China is a nuclear weapons power, with more warheads than the UK but fewer than France at around 200.
We should expect China as she grows economically to buy in better weapons technologies from abroad and to re-arm heavily.
The US remains overwhelmingly stronger than Russia or China militarily, with a huge technological lead. Her command of the digital revolution, the US ability to see and hear an enemy and to strike one from a great distance are far ahead of what would be rivals can do. Nonetheless, the world is a more uncertain and dangerous place as China and Russia re-arm. The USA has to learn to operate with diplomacy and persuasion more, building more alliances with those who share her democratic and economic values.