So the US is currently the top dog in the international system. Everyone acknowledges that. The problem is, who will be the next person to take over? Nothing lasts forever; eventually, someone will have to take over from the US, just as the US took over from Britain.
One option is to let the EU take over. Okay, stop laughing. In theory, the EU has a larger population and (slightly) larger GDP than the US. However, the EU has enormous problems. Its economies (I use the plural form since they aren't truly integrated yet) are burdened by excessive regulations that hinder economic growth. There is a strongly anti-immigrant view that will limit internal movements between EU nations. Additionally, I have trouble imagining a truly viable EU military force any time soon. It will be some time, if ever, before the EU has the
internal unity to challenge the US.
Next is China. This is the "biggie." China's economy is booming, with a growth rate between 7 and 8%. Additionally, China has an enormous military (their army alone is larger than the entire US military). China also is working to increase its prestige in Southeast Asia. It's working, too. If current growth patterns persist, China will have more trade with ASEAN than the US does by 2010. Australia has seen its exports to China skyrocket; the foreign minister there recently announced that Australia would not support a containment policy towards China.
That being said, there are certain significant problems China will have to overcome before it can be a superpower. Roughly 15% of China's GDP is lost to corruption. There are vast gaps in income between the rural areas (where 2/3 of China's populace lives) and the urban areas, which is breeding resentment of the Communist government. There is an increasingly vocal group of leftist ideologues in the Chinese government who feel that China is abandoning its socialist roots. China has other problems as well, for instance, Muslim seperatists in its eastern provinces. China will need to cope with these problems before it can replace the US. Even if it does replace the US, do we really want an authoritarian government as the foremost power in the world?
Last, but not least, is India. India has a GDP of less than $1 trillion, making it the smallest economy discussed here. That being said, India is on the rise. It has abandoned Nehru's pipe dreams of socialism and autarky, moving towards free-market capitalism. India, most importantly, is a democracy, with ideals that fit well with those of the US.
Now, as with all the others, India has its problems. It's growing more slowly than China, despite its improved growth rates. It also has serious income inequities. Furthermore, it has two hostile powers on its borders (Pakistan and China), and has territorial disputes with both. Additionally, India has seperatist movements in at least three states/provinces. India will have to settle at least some of those problems before it can be a serious contender on the world stage.
In summary, there are several possible replacements for the position of hegemon. However, all of them have serious problems hindering their potential rise. They are also far from the day they can seriously challenge the US. Additionally, as pointed out in class, it's not even clear any of them want the position. Therefore, it will be decades before the US will need to worry about the loss of its position to a competitor, and two of the potential replacements are at least mostly acceptable to US goals. All in all, this is a good sign.