Technological Dominion or Techno-Disaster?
Peering into the future, a still uncertain balance of forces offers two competing scenarios for the continuation of U.S. global power. If all or much goes according to plan, sometime in the third decade of this century the Pentagon will complete a comprehensive global surveillance system for Earth, sky, and space using robotics to coordinate a veritable flood of data from biometric street-level monitoring, cyber-data mining, a worldwide network of Space Surveillance Telescopes, and triple canopy aeronautic patrols. Through agile data management of exceptional power, this system might allow the United States a veto of global lethality, an equalizer for any further loss of economic strength.
However, as in Vietnam, history offers some pessimistic parallels when it comes to the U.S. preserving its global hegemony by militarized technology alone. Even if this robotic information regime could somehow check China's growing military power, the U.S. might still have the same chance of controlling wider geopolitical forces with aerospace technology as the Third Reich had of winning World War II with its "super weapons" -- V-2 rockets that rained death on London and Messerschmitt Me-262 jets that blasted allied bombers from Europe's skies. Complicating the future further, the illusion of information omniscience might incline Washington to more military misadventures akin to Vietnam or Iraq, creating the possibility of yet more expensive, draining conflicts, from Iran to the South China Sea.
If the future of America's world power is shaped by actual events rather than long-term economic trends, then its fate might well be determined by which comes first in this century-long cycle: military debacle from the illusion of technological mastery, or a new technological regime powerful enough to perpetuate U.S. global dominion.
Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A TomDispatch regular, he is the lead author of Endless Empire: Spain's Retreat, Europe's Eclipse, America's Decline (University of Wisconsin, 2012), which is the source for much of the material in this essay .
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Copyright 2012 Alfred W. McCoy