By Martin A.
Senn and Felix Lautenschlager
Neue Zuricher Zeitung
(The New Zuricher, Sunday morning)
08 August, 2003
Translated by Andreas Artz
NZZ: Mr. Todd, you
write that America is economically, militarily, and
ideologically too weak to actually control the world. This would gladden
many anti-Americans. But how is this anything but the wishful thinking
intellectual who is the product of the French US critical tradition?
ET: This is neither
wishful thinking nor anti-Americanism. Why would I have
been so prominently criticised by the left? The French career anti-American
paper "Le Monde diplomatique", was the only major paper that
conspicuously silent on my book. The over-estimation of America is
fundamental to these people. It is on this topic that they agree with
American ultra-conservatives: the former to demonize, the latter to
You on the other
hand can be accused of underestimating the United States.
On the contrary,
the US is still the most powerful nation in the world
today, but there are many indicators that they are about to relinquish
position as solitary superpower. In my 1976 book, La chute finale (Before
the Fall: The End of Soviet Domination), I based my prediction of the
of the Soviet Union on the relevant indicators of the time. An analysis
current demographic, cultural, military, economic, and ideological factors
leads me to conclude that the remaining pole of the former bipolar world
order will not remain alone in its position. The world has become too
and complex to accept the predominance of one power. There will not
others are to believed, this empire has already been long
in existence. "Get Used to It" was a recent headline in the
New York Times
That is very interesting.
Now that the concept no longer corresponds to
reality, it becomes commonplace. While there actually was a basis in
reality, there was scarcely a mention of the concept.
Then you are of
the opinion that there was an American empire at one point?
The American hegemony
from the end of WW II into the late 1980s in military,
economic, and ideological terms definitely had imperial qualities. In
fully half the manufactured goods in the world originated in the US.
although there was a communist bloc in Eurasia, East Germany, and North
Korea, the strong American military, the navy and air force, exercised
strategic control over the rest of the globe, with the support and
understanding of many allies, whose common goal was the fight against
communism. Although communism had some dispersed support among
intellectuals, workers, and peasant groups, the power and influence
US was by and large with the agreement of a majority throughout the
It was a benevolent empire. The Marshall Plan was an exemplary political
economic strategy. America was, for decades, a 'good' superpower.
And now it is a
It has, above all,
become a weak one. The US no longer has the might to
control the large strategic players, primarily Germany and Japan. Their
industrial capacity is clearly smaller than that of Europe and approximately
equal to that of Japan. With twice the population, this is no great
accomplishment. Their trade deficit meanwhile, is in the order of $500
billion per year. Their military potential is nevertheless still the
by far, but is declining and consistently over estimated. The use of
military bases is dependant on the good will of their allies, many of
are not as willing as before. The theatrical military activism against
inconsequential rogue states that we are currently witnessing plays
against this backdrop. It is a sign of weakness, not of strength. But
weakness makes for unpredictability. The US is about to become a problem
the world, where we have previously been accustomed to seeing a solution
Assuming you are
right: how did this budding empire slide so quickly into
Another interview with Emmanuel Todd.
This interview was
the subject of some discussion at Metafilter.com.
A rift has been developing, slowly at first and then more quickly, between
the US and their various geo-political areas of interest. During the
1970's a deficit in the balance of trade began to open. The US assumed
role of consumer and the rest of the world took on the role of producer,
this increasingly unbalanced global process. The balance of trade went
a deficit of $100 billion in 1990 to $500 billion annually at present.
deficit has been financed through capital flowing into the US. Eventually
the same effect experienced by the Spanish in 16th and 17th centuries
come to bear. As gold from the New World flooded in, the Spanish succumbedto
decreasing productivity. They consumed and dissipated, lived high andbeyond
their means and fell into economic and technological arrears.
But America is still the leading example of economic and technological
When I speak of
the economy, then I mean the industrial core and the
associated technological cutting edge, not the anemic New Economy. It
the core industrial sphere that the US is falling dramatically behind.
European investors lost billions in the US during the nineties, but
economy lost an entire decade. As recently as 1990 the US was still
exporting $35 billion more in advanced technology than it was importing.
the balance of trade is negative even in this field. The US is far behind
mobile communications technology. The Finnish Nokia is four times the
of Motorola. More than half the communications satellites are being
with European Ariane rockets. Airbus is about to surpass Boeing -- the
important transportation medium for personnel traffic in the modern
economy is about to be manufactured primarily in Europe. These are the
things that are ultimately important. These are by far more vital and
decisive factors than a war against Iraq.
Are you saying they
are waging the wrong war in the wrong place?
The US leadership
doesn't know anymore where to turn. They know that they
are monetarily dependant on the rest of the world, and they are afraid
becoming inconsequential. There are no more Nazis and Communists. While
a demographic, democratic, and politically stabilizing world recognizes
it is increasingly less dependant on the US, America is discovering
is increasingly dependant on the rest of the world. That is the reason
the rush into military action and adventures. It is classic.
The only remaining
superiority is military. This is classic for a crumbling
system. The final glory is militarism. The fall of the Soviet Union
place in an identical context. Their economy was in decline, and their
leadership grew fearful. Their military apparatus gained in size and
and the Russians embarked on adventures to forget their economic
shortcomings. The parallels in the US are obvious. The process has
significantly accelerated in the past few months.
Where do you see
the indicators of these developments?
In European politics
and in the weakness of the dollar. In my book I
postulated an increasing commonality between France and Germany. In
meantime the positions adopted by the German Chancellor Schroeder and
French President Chirac in opposition to Bush have substantiated my
"Historian's Theory". The unexpected, immediate, and strong
response from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took aim at "old
Europe". It is, in fact, the new Europe that instills fear in him.
In the meantime,
however, eight European states have come out in support of
occurrence was in Germany. The US can only maintain its
position as sole superpower so long as it can maintain control over
and Japan, both of which are huge creditors of the USA. Therefore the
historical significance cannot be over estimated, that a German chancellor
could win an election on a "no to the war in Iraq", in effect
a no to the
What about the weak
As a historian,
the dollar represents a "mentality indicator" to me. It
reflects the awareness of international trade and business leaders of
realities of the American economy. The weakness of the dollar is indicative
of their assessment that the situation is much worse than is openly
acknowledged. The fact is that troops destined for the war in Iraq,
has been represented as a simple mission, are still not totally prepared.
After a year of back and forth, the diplomatic heavyweights of France
Germany are trying to prevent this war, and the balance of the allies
participating mostly verbally, not financially. There is an immense
engaging in a war on the opposite side of the globe while fettered by
billion trade deficit, a weak dollar and supported only by friends who
unwilling to share the costs.
You write that in
the future there will be three, perhaps four strong
polarities, of which the most influential will be Europe. Are you counting
on an emerging European Superpower?
One of the working
propositions of my book, After the Empire is that the
concept of military control of the globe no longer makes any sense.
relation to the military, there will be a balance of power in the future.
There is still a nuclear balance of power between the US and Russia.
notion that sections of the globe can be controlled through military
is passé, because it is unrealistic. You can destroy regimes
and bomb their
infrastructure, as the Americans have done in Afghanistan, but the
populations -- including those in the developing world -- have become
educated and literate enough to eliminate any possibility of
re-colonization. The only power that ultimately counts today is economic
Do you believe that
Europe has the "right stuff" economically for superpower
Why not? It is often
said that the Europeans are somewhat naïve and passive.
They are accused of having neglected their military. But when you understand
that military might is no longer the true power, and when you see that
presently the Americans no longer possess the economic means to maintain
their military apparatus, then you must conclude that the Europeans
done the right thing. They have placed their reliance on their economy.
have introduced the Euro. Their industrial policies are coherent and
substantial. Airbus is only one example. Europe is well armed.
For what is Europe
For the conflict
that is just beginning between the Americans who want a war
in Iraq, and the Europeans who in effect don't want a war. Iraq, being
to Europe, is a supplier of oil to Europe as well as Japan. Nevertheless,
they can afford to buy their oil with the money they earn from their
industrial exports. They are economically strong enough to not have
control Iraq with military intervention. The US on the other hand, as
consequence of their massive trade deficit, barely has the means to
their oil consumption. That is why it is vital to exercise military
over this region on the other side of the globe. On the surface this
to be a question of "war or no war", but in fact it is most
question of whose sphere of influence will Iraq fall under, Europe or
Who will win this
battle of the spheres of influence?
Most apparent is
how clumsy the US has been to date, and how far they have
moved away from any notion of universality. They don't see the world
really is anymore. They are failing in any balanced and fair approach
their allies. All of this reminds me of Germany under Wilhelm II. The
losing allies steadily. One gets the impression that an office somewhere
Washington has been tasked with the duty to daily prepare a scheme to
develop new enemies for the US.
Is it conceivable
that Europe will one day attain the position America has
There will never
be another single super power. In addition to the US,
Europe, and Japan, Russia will rise again to prominence. China, despite
their presently weak technology, will soon join the fray. Nevertheless,
traditional superpowers are all stagnating. But the developing world
gaining. And that is cause for some hope.
* * *
Emmanuel Todd is a 52 year-old Historian and Political Scientist
National Institute for Demographics in Paris. His research examines
and fall of peoples and cultures over the course of thousands of years.
His newest publication
predicts the fall of the United States as the sole
superpower: Aprés l'Empire: Essaie sur la décomposition
du systéme Américain (available in English from Columbia
University Press in February 2004). Todd attracted attention with a
similar work in 1976, when he predicted the fall of the Soviet Union
based on indicators such as increasing infant mortality rates: La chute
final: Essais sur la décomposition de la sphére Soviétique.
Todd studied Political
Science at the Institut de Etudes Politiques in Paris and completed
his Doctor Thesis in Historical Sciences at Cambridge.