Triumphant eagle keeps one eye open

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 January, 2000, 12:00am

Secure after Cold War victory and fat on the fruits of unprecedented economic growth, the great American eagle still sleeps with one eye open.

Just as the ancient Chinese warrior Sun Tzu warned 2,500 years ago that in times of peace, great states must prepare for war, so too the United States is entering the new century rich and strong, but keen to defend itself against any emerging superpower - ideological, territorial or economic.

Republican Party presidential contenders talk of the need to boost the morale and budget of the US armed forces - now by far the most powerful military left, one whose aircraft carriers and submarines still ply the world's oceans on Cold War-era deployments.

Democratic President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, is using the dawn of a new century to warn of new 'organised forces of destruction' using biological and chemical weapons.

'People carry these little pads around now, you've got these gadgets you can use as a telephone or a typewriter, and do e-mail and all that . . . The same miniaturisation will apply to biological and chemical weapons,' Mr Clinton said.

'We've just got to be ready. There will always be bad guys out there in the world.' Mr Clinton also counselled his nation that, in the decades ahead, it would have to learn to co-exist with the growth of rival economic powers that will challenge the supremacy of the dollar.

'China, and some time thereafter India, will have economies that look bigger than ours because they've got so many more people than we do.' In keeping with a leader famed for his prodigious political instincts, Mr Clinton's remarks echo the fears, hopes and feelings of many ordinary Americans.

The need for continued military supremacy and the future threat posed by nations such as China and Russia dominate debate, sometimes ahead of nagging social and economic issues created by the nation's longest peacetime economic boom.

Confidence, marked by a steadily rising stockmarket, is high. After almost a decade since the last recession, some analysts warn economic growth is now being taken for granted in a way never seen before.

And given the emergence of the Internet, electronic commerce and other new technology, others insist the threat of a sudden downturn can be a disregarded; that a new threshold has been reached.

Historians are debating the current era's potential for advancement compared to the start of the 20th century - US-led change that saw it dubbed the American Century both at its start and end.

The telephone, the aeroplane, the light bulb and industrial steel production all appeared around the turn of the 20th century, along with that American icon, the car.

There is hope, reflected by Mr Clinton this week, that the new century will bring medical advancements to cure the ailments of the age - Aids, Alzheimer's disease and cancer, as well as the looming health risk of obesity. More than 20 per cent of all Americans are now overweight.

And just as quantum change brought predictions 100 years the US would outgrow itself, so it does today.

This week, futurist Robert Kaplan predicted in the New York Times that the US would lead the creation of vast city-states connected more by technology and the market place than by traditional borders. Already, the past decade has seen vast migration to the south and west away from the steel towns of old.

New York, Washington and Boston would be part of one vast East Coast 'metroplex', which would have more to do with Europe than their own country.

On the West Coast of North America, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland would become 'Portcouver', linked to other metroplexes on the Indian sub-continent, Indochina and southern China.

'By 2100, North America will be a loosely knit nation of competitive urban regions, a new version of the ancient Greek city-states,' he wrote.

'Political systems in 2100 will be elegantly varied, unconstrained by the sanctimony of the late 20th century, with its simple call for 'democracy'. The next century will be the age of hi-tech feudalism,' he predicted.