Having just returned from two weeks in the US – and still imbued with that distinctly American sense of confidence and optimism – it becomes easier to understand how the Western world can ignore the fundamental power shift that is occurring right before its eyes.
So while much of our attention is given to the Democratic Convention, and the glitzy promises of Barack Obama to change the image of the globe’s superpower of the past two decades, we risk failing to see the bodybuilding activities of the emerging superpowers.
The most significant news stories during the summer recess were not the fine machinations of the US election – or indeed the mounting economic gloom within the two parts of the ‘special relationship’ – but the bombastic Olympics in Beijing and Russia’s activities in Georgia.
China has demonstrated its ever-increasing wealth and ability to compete with the very best on the world stage. It succeeded in proving that it had the authority to silence its critics and run an efficient, often spectacular, global event.
Meanwhile Russia’s leaders thumbed their noses at the so-called power brokers in the West. It was interesting to see President Medvedev grant an interview to the BBC on Tuesday. On the one hand it was a classic public relations tactic to create dialogue with Western opinion-formers. On the other it was a robust warning. He effectively said Russia was no longer afraid of anything, including the prospect of another Cold War.
So, as the US and the UK slip further into recession, China and Russia begin flexing their economic biceps. These are muscles fuelled by energy reserves, manufacturing power and, increasingly, military might.
Suddenly the likes of Obama and David Miliband – probably our next generation of leaders, and whose speeches this week feature stern warnings to Russia – begin to look rather impotent.
Yes, the US election will be important in the quest for political and economic stability in the world, but probably not as crucial as the forthcoming actions of Russia, China and, increasingly, India.