One of the more cliché observations currently circulating the international relations community is that while 20th century belonged to America, the 21st century belongs to China. This theory is wrong on a number of counts. For starters, the first half of the 20th century could hardly be considered American. Europe was still very much at the center of the world affairs until 1945. Nor did the last half of the century belong exclusively to the United States. World leadership was shared with the Soviet Union until 1990. At best, the US could claim the last decade of the 20th century. Furthermore, it is also incorrect to suggest that China will dominate the entirety of 21st century. There are several other rising powers in the world and neither the United States nor Europe is going anywhere.
Even so, historians will likely mark 2001 as the pinnacle of American power. The decade following the turn of the millennium will be recorded as a time of turbulence, after which, America began its long and gradual relative decline. Even though the US is coming down from the height of its influence, it will remain a force to be reckoned with for some time to come. In fact, at its peak, the United States was probably the single most powerful polity in human history. Coming down a few notches from these heights does not make the US weak. Nor will US supremacy necessarily end when the Chinese economy surpasses America’s in the next 15 years.
Economic power is not the sole measure of global influence. Indeed, the US economy surpassed Britain’s around 1880, but that did not prevent the UK from remaining the world’s preeminent power until World War II.