European Affairs

Although his views are often controversial, Todd has a good track record in forecasting political events. His first book, The Final Fall, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union at an unexpected moment by closely analyzing birth and death rates, infant mortality rates, and literacy statistics. A demographer and a historian, Todd earned his PhD at Cambridge University in England and he is now a researcher at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies. He looks beyond the short-term perspectives of journalism to analyze what he sees as underlying trends, outlining a vision of the future. From this standpoint, his writing is a healthy challenge to existing generally accepted perceptions.

Todd describes how the United States has moved from self-reliance at the beginning of the 20th century to current economic dependence, unwillingly becoming a "predator" in the global system. In 2000 the total amount of new money siphoned off by the United States from the rest of the world was 19 percent for stocks and 30 percent for bonds. "If we correlate the American deficit not with the global GNP that includes agriculture and services but simply with the total value of industrial production, we come to the stupefying realization that 10 percent of America's industrial consumption depends on imported goods for which there is no corresponding balance in national exports. This industrial deficit has doubled in little over five years since it stood at 5 percent in 1995."

Todd notes that this fall in economic strength is not compensated for by the activities of American-based multinationals. Since 1998 the profits that they bring back into the country amount to less than what foreign companies that have set up shop in the United States are taking back to their own countries.

Orthodox economic theory cannot explain the shrinking of American industrial activity, nor the transformation of the United States into a country whose specialty is consumption that relies on foreign imports. However Todd submits that "an imperial model of the Roman type does allow one to understand this process, namely as the economic consequences of a specific political and military organization." He also demonstrates that there is a necessary correlation between increased U.S. economic dependence and the expansive growth of its military. In his view, however, the United States does not have the long term capacity to maintain such a system.

From his perspective, the U.S. struggle to be a democratic and economically independent nation was lost between 1995 and 2000. The imperial option, which is recent, is not the result of a strongly willed plan; rather it is the product of circumstances. The collapse of the Soviet system, while offering American leaders the momentary illusion of absolute power, led to the dream of establishing a stable, global hegemony. It did not result from a democratic debate, but from the tendency to choose the easiest solutions. The collapse of communism has permitted new and important countries to enter into this asymmetrical system of exchange. Today it is China, not Japan, which has the largest trade surplus with the United States.

"This voluntary servitude will only be sustained so long as the United States treats its partners fairly, or to be more precise, treats them more and more as members of the dominant central society as is consistent with one of the two basic principles of empire. The United States must win the periphery's allegiance through its universalism - by its words as much as by its economic deeds - to the idea that ‘we are all Americans.'" But he adds: "Rather than feeling more and more American, we non-Americans are increasingly being treated as second-class citizens because, unfortunately for the rest of the world, a decline in universalism has become the central ideological tendency of America today."

Todd's thesis is that there will not be an American Empire in 2050 "because the United States simply does not have what it takes to be a true empire." Two types of "imperial resources are especially lacking in the American case. First its power to constrain militarily and economically is insufficient for maintaining the current levels of exploitation of the planet; and second, its ideological universalism is in decline and does not allow it, as before, to treat individuals and whole peoples equally as the leading guarantor of their peace and prosperity."

The question is posed whether universal terrorism is a myth. This expert predicts that cultural and demographic revolutions will be reducing population growth and spreading knowledge so that universal literacy will be achieved among younger generations by 2030 and a new global balance will be found. When higher literacy and lower birth rates, two universal phenomena, make possible the universalization of democracy, "the disturbances will disappear without the least outside intervention." For him: "There is no global threat that requires an emergency response by the United States to protect freedoms. Only one threat to global stability hangs over the world today - the United States itself, which was once a protector and is now a predator."

Todd subscribes to Zbigniew Brzezinski's idea that so long as Europe and Japan are satisfied with American leadership, the empire is invulnerable. However "America's clumsy tactlessness is not something out of the blue. Like the imperial option, it is the result of being lazily carried along, on the one hand, and short-term necessities, on the other." Todd submits that the United States works to maintain the illusory fiction of the world as a dangerous place in need of American protection, but real America is too weak to take on anyone except military midgets such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book shows how the return of Russia and the emergent autonomy of Europe and Japan may lead to the breakdown of the American order in the near future. He also demonstrates how "the micro military agitation of the United States is bringing about closer relations between the major strategic players - Europe, Russia and Japan." In other words, exactly the opposite of what the United States should be trying to achieve if it really wants to be an empire. The nightmare behind Brzezinski's vision could come true - Europeans trying to learn to walk without the help of the United States. The breakup of the old trilateral West would signal opportunities for China to position itself as a new power.

Europe is slowly becoming aware that Russia is no longer a strategic threat and is making a positive contribution to its military security. Once Russia, with its declining demography, becomes a harmless giant, Europeans and the Japanese may feel that they no longer need the United States as a protector. For the United States this would be a painful new scenario because it relies heavily on the industrial and financial resources of Europe and Japan. De facto, America's recent unilateralism may have accelerated such an evolution in Europe and moved the rapprochement between Europe and Russia irreversibly forward.

From this perspective, America's real war is about economics not terrorism. Rather than reinforcing the image of America's global leadership, its forced march into war has produced a rapid decline in the international status of the United States. Even though small in strictly military terms, the conflicts in which America is engaged are proving to be a serious economic burden when the "allies" no longer want to pay a major share of the costs as they did during the Gulf War.

Todd warns against the decline of universalism in the Anglo-Saxon world, "a decline that prevents the United States from having an uncorrupted vision of international relations and in particular from being able to deal decently and strategically well with the Muslim world." From his perspective, the centrality of oil in U.S. strategy is illogical. America would be vulnerable in the event of an interruption of just about anything, so the centrality of the oil question has no rational economic explanation. Fear of an interruption of oil supplies should in no way lead to an obsession with the Middle East since there are alternative sources. However he notes: "The energy supply it seeks to control is not America's but the world's, and in particular the supply of the two poles that are both industrially productive and overwhelming exporters to the United States - Europe and Japan. Here the American foreign policy could indeed be described as imperial."

Todd suggests that the United States may already have lost control of Iran and is in the process of losing Saudi Arabia. "The American fixation on the oil of the Muslim world has more to do with fears of being kicked out of the region than designs to expand its empire. It says more about the worries of the United States than about its power - a worry over the all too real prospect of overall economic dependence for which the energy deficit is only a fitting symbol, and second, a worry over the prospect of losing control over its two productive protectorates, Europe and Japan."

In his preface, Michael Lind predicts: "The Europhobia of the American elite will not spare England which in many ways represents for them the very essence of Europe." Emmanuel Todd notes that "the English are in a better position than all other Europeans to observe not just America's faults, but its evolution. They are America's closest ally, but they are also the group most subjected to the ideological and cultural pressure that crosses the Atlantic since they do not have the natural protection that the filter of a foreign language offers the Germans, the French, and others."

For Todd, the neoconservatives will go down in history as "the grave diggers of the American empire." He sees the chess game advancing slowly because each of the powers, not just the United States, has several fundamental deficiencies. "This is why there will be no final checkmate symbolizing the victory of one power but instead a stalemate formalizing the incapacity of any power to dominate the others." Together, Europe, Russia, and Japan are two and a half times more powerful than the United States. In the long run Todd expects that "the strange behavior of the United States in the Muslim world will steadily push the three other powers of the northern hemisphere toward closer ties." In this context, China appears as a silent power waiting for the mistakes and weaknesses of today's "best and brightest" to bring their results.

Happily, Todd does not predict the immediate fall of the American Empire. He merely explains that America needs the world more than the world needs America, because the United States cannot "go it alone" any more. And he makes it clear that America's unilateralism goes against its own interests. His view is that what the world needs is not that America disappear but that it return to its true self - democratic, liberal, and productive. What Emmanuel Todd does not say is what would happen if the United States did just that.