America is not the same international power it once was, but that is not to say that the United States is on the decline. Rather, several factors have altered Washington’s control over the international system.
Globalization has redefined competition at the international level.
The nature of global competition is significantly different than it was half a century ago. Economic power now plays a greater role than military strength in defining a nation’s position in the international system.
Countries need to focus on growing their economies and improving their education systems to become or remain major powers.
Our ability to compete with other advanced nations is contingent on our educational standards.
In other words, guns and nukes are being replaced by GDP and test scores as the drivers of international success.
Now and in the future, Washington should refocus its economic energy. That means reducing the deficit, stimulating the economy and bolstering international trade and investment, which is no easy task. But accomplishing all of these things will assure that the United States remains a superpower.
Economic success will also become more and more dependent on high education standards because the global economy is now a knowledge-based economy.
“Nowhere does low performance more acutely affect the health of the U.S. economy than in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
So far, the United States isn’t performing well enough.
In fact, the NBER reported that American 15-year-olds scored well below the average for science literacy and placed behind most developed nations on critical skills and competencies.
President Obama has said that American students have to be able to compete with workers anywhere in the world.
Two critical arenas — our education and our economy — are no longer independent of one another. Now the success or failure of our nation’s economy depends solely on our schools.
Success on this ambitious but necessary goal will depend on whether or not Washington is able to elevate American standards for education, and it will require very difficult and politically charged decisions about government spending.
Revamping our education system so more young Americans graduate from college is one of the most important ways the United States can remain competitive in the international system.
In June 2010, Georgetown’s Center for Education and the Workforce reported that by 2018, 64 percent of job openings will require workers with some college education or better.
Jobs in manufacturing, farming, fishing and forestry will be permanently replaced by jobs in industries such as computer and data processing, the latter of which often require a college education.
In the coming months, and especially leading up to the 2012 election, there will be tremendous debate in Washington about government spending.
In the current financial climate, it is fair to say that cuts need to be made. Yet, it is unlikely that the Obama administration will gain bipartisan support as to where they should be made. Lacking a major military threat, Washington might be advised to cut the defense budget and avoid cuts to education.
After all, in today’s world it has become clear that our major national interest is to compete with other advanced nations through academic prowess — not necessarily through military power.
Ultimately, the United States faces a significant uphill climb to remain the world’s superpower. The Obama administration will need to think long and hard about addressing both the educational and economic problems that have caused our nation to fall behind while other countries surge forward.
William Fay is a senior majoring in international relations. His column, “Facing our Global Challenges,” runs Wednesdays.