This article stresses the paradoxical character of a U.S. decline, and addresses the impossibility for the U.S. to accept its demise as superpower. It applies this framework to the case of the 2017 tensions with North Korea, and deduces a possible future path for the U.S. course of action, as well as possible levers regarding the U.S. stance.

It is the last part of a series of three articles where we examine three dimensions of U.S. decline as perceived – publicly – by the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), part of the U.S. Office of The Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In the first part (open access), we sought to understand what the NIC means exactly by a U.S. decline and its onset. The second article focuses on the sources of American decline and power, as identified by the NIC, which also give us indicators to monitor the decline.

Executive Summary

When decline of a country is the issue, the perceptions and resulting actions of the declining power are crucial. Therefore, we focus upon the way the U.S. Intelligence Community (I.C.) addresses the idea and reality of an American decline, through the unclassified (public) version of Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress (GT), the Quadriennal Strategic Foresight report the U.S. I.C. produces for the new President elect.

Because of GT’s uncertainties, ambiguity, indeed a paradox regarding the U.S. decline, results. On the one hand, decline is asserted but with implicit uncertainties, and, on the other hand, ways to revert it are also suggested. Furthermore, the U.S. I.C. also stresses the unique moral place of the U.S. in the world. As a result, the foresight report could finally prompt and support not acceptance of the end of the U.S.-led unipolar world, but the design of a very assertive U.S. policy to regain or keep superpower status, which it is a moral duty to follow.

There is here convergence between the assessment of the U.S. I.C. and the Trump presidency’s “America First” policy. Isolationism is not part of the picture, despite some commentators’ initial hasty conclusions, just after the elections.

When applied to the 2017 North Korean crisis, the framework constructed by GT explains the U.S. stance. It shows it is likely that the crisis has also become a stake in the U.S. struggle for recovering or maintaining its superpower status. As a result, there is a high probability to see the U.S. remaining locked into its escalating stance, even though diplomacy is also used behind the scenes, should a face-saving path forward for the U.S. not be found and used.

Meanwhile, by choosing this direction towards power, the U.S. could lose sight of its very security, which could, in turn, favour and potentially hasten decline, hence the paradox.

Full article 2547 words – approx. 7,5 pages

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* It is crucial never to forget the importance of morality in American foreign policy, e.g. Robert W. McElroy, Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs, Princeton University Press, 1992.


About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

Featured image by tammyatWTI, Public Domain, Pixabay


Detailed bibliography

Adizes, Ichak Kalderon, “The Decline of the United States“, The WorldPost, Berggruen Institute and The Huffington Post, 15 May 2015

Chinese Foreign Ministry,  “Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with German Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Gabriel“, August 15, 2017.

Etzioni, Amitai “Is America Losing Its Credibility with the Middle East?”, 26 October 2017, The National Interest

Harvard Thucydides’s Trap Project

 Mohammed Arshad, and Matt Spetalnick, “Exclusive: U.S. pursues direct diplomacy with North Korea despite Trump rejection“, 1 November 2017, Reuters

National Intelligence Council, Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress (GT)Office of the Director of National Intelligence, (for the public version, January 2017).

Reuters, “Merkel suggests Iran-style nuclear talks to end North Korea crisis“, 10 Sept 2017.

Reuters, “Trump’s threat to ‘destroy’ North Korea is wrong: Merkel“, 20 Sept 2017).

Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1979.

Read a summary of Waltz’s theory in the Korab-Karpowicz, W. Julian, “Political Realism in International Relations“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Xinhua, China, Russia, South Korea urge caution with DPRK at UN assembly, Global Times, 22 Sept 2917.

Published by Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the President/CEO of The Red Team Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for international relations, national and international security issues. Her current focus is on the war in Ukraine, international order and the rise of China, the overstepping of planetary boundaries and international relations, the methodology of SF&W, radicalisation as well as new tech and security.

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