, Volume 89, Number 6

David Hastings Dunn and Mark JL McClelland

The spectre of American decline is once again animating both observers and practitioners of US foreign policy. The global financial crisis, a faltering American economy and continued costly and controversial military engagements overseas have been presented as conclusive proof that American foreign policy will soon lack the resources needed to sustain its previous international hegemony.

Arguments of domestic weakness have been linked to analyses of the economic vitality of America’s competitors to demonstrate a seemingly watertight case for relative decline. The inexorable rise of China has been presented from various quarters as evidence that the American era will soon be drawing to a close.

Yet, such declinist arguments continue to suffer from fundamental weaknesses, overestimating the likely future strength of America's rivals while concurrently downplaying the capacity of the US to rejuvenate its economy and thus revivify its liberal universalist creed.

The most interesting development in this regard has been the sudden resurgence of the US energy sector. Written off less than a decade ago as being in terminal decline, the American oil and gas industry has staged a remarkable recovery. Vast reserves of shale gas and accompanying tight oil offer the potential to aid the revival of the American economy, with some forecasts pointing to US energy self-sufficiency within two decades. Notions of US relative decline may yet prove premature.

The geopolitical impact of American energy self-sufficiency is likely to be very significant, making an important contribution to a reversal of the US trade deficit, a revival of America's industrial base, and the possibility of a corresponding relative decline in power for conventional fossil fuel exporters.

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