The List

8 Geopolitically Endangered Species

Meet the weaker countries that will suffer from American decline.

With the decline of America's global preeminence, weaker countries will be more susceptible to the assertive influence of major regional powers. India and China are rising, Russia is increasingly imperially minded, and the Middle East is growing ever more unstable. The potential for regional conflict in the absence of an internationally active America is real. Get ready for a global reality characterized by the survival of the strongest. 

1. GEORGIA

American decline would leave this tiny Caucasian state vulnerable to Russian political intimidation and military aggression. The United States has provided Georgia with $3 billion in aid since 1991 -- $1 billion of that since its 2008 war with Russia. America's decline would put new limitations on U.S. capabilities, and could by itself stir Russian desires to reclaim its old sphere of influence. What's more, once-and-future Russian President Vladimir Putin harbors an intense personal hatred toward Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

At stake: Russian domination of the southern energy corridor to Europe, possibly leading to more pressure on Europe to accommodate Moscow's political agenda; a domino effect on Azerbaijan.

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

2. TAIWAN

Since 1972, the United States has formally accepted the mainland's "one China" formula while maintaining that neither side shall alter the status quo by force. Beijing, however, reserves the right to use force, which allows Washington to justify its continued arms sales to Taiwan. In recent years, Taiwan and China have been improving their relationship. America's decline, however, would increase Taiwan's vulnerability, leaving decision-makers in Taipei more susceptible to direct Chinese pressure and the sheer attraction of an economically successful China. That, at the least, could speed up the timetable for cross-strait reunification, but on unequal terms favoring the mainland.

At stake: Risk of a serious collision with China.

PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images

3. SOUTH KOREA

The United States has been the guarantor of South Korea's security since it was attacked in 1950 by North Korea, with Soviet and Chinese collusion. Seoul's remarkable economic takeoff and democratic political system testify to the success of U.S. engagement. Over the years, however, North Korea has staged a number of provocations against South Korea, ranging from assassinations of its cabinet members to the 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. So America's decline would confront South Korea with painful choices: either accept Chinese regional dominance and further reliance on China to rein in the nuclear-armed North, or seek a much stronger, though historically unpopular, relationship with Japan out of shared democratic values and fear of aggression from Pyongyang and Beijing.

At stake: Military and economic security on the Korean Peninsula; a general crisis of confidence in Japan and South Korea regarding the reliability of existing American commitments.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

4. BELARUS

Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe's last dictatorship remains politically and economically dependent on Russia. One-third of its exports go to Russia, on which it is almost entirely reliant for its energy needs. At the same time, President Aleksandr Lukashenko's 17-year dictatorship has stood in the way of any meaningful relations with the West. Consequently, a marked American decline would give Russia a virtually risk-free opportunity to reabsorb Belarus.

At stake: The security of neighboring Baltic states, especially Latvia.

DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images

5. UKRAINE

Kiev's relationship with Moscow has been as prone to tension as its relationship with the West has been prone to indecision. In 2005, 2007, and 2009, Russia either threatened to or did stop oil and natural gas from flowing to Ukraine. More recently, President Viktor Yanukovych was pressured to extend Russia's lease of a naval base at the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol for another 25 years in exchange for preferential pricing of Russian energy deliveries to Ukraine. The Kremlin continues to press Ukraine to join a "common economic space" with Russia, while gradually stripping Ukraine of direct control over its major industrial assets through mergers and takeovers by Russian firms. With America in decline, Europe would be less willing and able to reach out and incorporate Ukraine into an expanding Western community, leaving Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian designs.

At stake: The renewal of Russian imperial ambitions.

DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images

6. AFGHANISTAN

Devastated by nine years of brutal warfare waged by the Soviet Union, ignored by the West for a decade after the Soviet withdrawal, mismanaged by the medieval Taliban, and let down by 10 years of halfhearted U.S. military operations and sporadic economic assistance, Afghanistan is in shambles. With 40 percent unemployment and ranking 215th globally in per capita GDP, it has little economic output beyond its illegal narcotics trade. A rapid U.S. troop disengagement brought on by war fatigue or the early effects of American decline would most likely result in internal disintegration and an external power play among nearby states for influence in Afghanistan. In the absence of an effective, stable government in Kabul, the country would be dominated by rival warlords. Pakistan and India would more assertively compete for influence in Afghanistan -- with Iran also probably involved.

At stake: The re-emergence of the Taliban; a proxy war between India and Pakistan; a haven for international terrorism.

Adek Berry/Afp/Getty Images

7. PAKISTAN

Although Islamabad is armed with 21st-century nuclear weapons and held together by a professional late 20th-century army, the majority of Pakistan is still pre-modern, rural, and largely defined by regional and tribal identities. Conflict with India defines Pakistan's sense of national identity, while the forcible division of Kashmir sustains a shared and profound antipathy. Pakistan's political instability is its greatest vulnerability, and a decline in U.S. power would reduce America's ability to aid Pakistan's consolidation and development. Pakistan could then transform into a state run by the military, a radical Islamic state, a state that combined both military and Islamic rule, or a "state" with no centralized government at all.

At stake: Nuclear warlordism; a militant Islamic, anti-Western, nuclear-armed government similar to Iran's; regional instability in Central Asia, with violence potentially spreading to China, India, and Russia.

Arif Ali/Afp/Getty Images


8. ISRAEL and the GREATER MIDDLE EAST

America's decline would set in motion tectonic shifts undermining the political stability of the entire Middle East. All states in the region remain vulnerable to varying degrees of internal populist pressures, social unrest, and religious fundamentalism, as seen by the events of early 2011. If America's decline were to occur with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still unresolved, the failure to implement a mutually acceptable two-state solution would further inflame the region's political atmosphere. Regional hostility to Israel would then intensify. Perceived American weakness would at some point tempt the more powerful states in the region, notably Iran or Israel, to preempt anticipated dangers. And jockeying for tactical advantage could precipitate eruptions by Hamas or Hezbollah, which could then escalate into wider and bloodier military encounters. Weak entities such as Lebanon and Palestine would pay an especially high price in civilian deaths. Even worse, such conflicts could rise to truly horrific levels through strikes and counterstrikes between Iran and Israel.

At stake: Direct Israeli or U.S. confrontation with Iran; a rising tide of Islamic radicalism and extremism; a worldwide energy crisis; vulnerability of America's Persian Gulf allies.

Jack Guez/Afp/Getty Images

The List

21 Books to Read in 2012

Foreign Policy picks the books that will matter in the year ahead. Get that Kindle warmed up.

If 2011 was the year of the "tell-some" Bush administration memoir, we're keeping our fingers crossed for a somewhat spicier new year in printed matter. And by all accounts, it seems promising: From riveting narratives of the bloody Arab Spring to Pulitzer-prize reporting from India and Lebanon to an inside look at Gen. David Petraeus -- and hopefully another scorcher from Michael Hastings -- FP's editors are looking forward to a crop of smart books slated for publication next year. Here's our pick of the best 21.

Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation by Ashraf Khalil (Jan. 3)

Cairo-based reporter and FP contributor Ashraf Khalil was in the thick of the Egyptian revolution when it broke out in January. Nearly a year later, Khalil looks back at the time he spent among the masses in Tahrir Square -- where he withstood angry mobs and tear gas attacks -- in this eyewitness account of the movement that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

 

 

The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings (Jan. 5)

Now famous for the bombshell 2010 Rolling Stone article that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal fired, Michael Hastings picks up where he left off with a behind-the-scenes look at the war in Afghanistan. His reports from top-brass planning sessions and late-night bar conversations leave the author questioning the strategy and long-term prospects of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power (A Memoir) by Wael Ghonim (Jan. 17)

Wael Ghonim -- the young Google marketer whose Facebook and Twitter posts helped spark the Egyptian Revolution, and whose emotional release from captivity incited even further resistance to Mubarak -- offers his take on the social media-driven protests in Tahrir Square, which he famously called "revolution 2.0."

 

 

All In: The Education of General David Petraeus by Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb (Jan. 24)

Gen. David Petraeus, architect of the Iraq war surge and counterinsurgency strategy, is arguably among the most influential U.S. generals in history. After embedding with him in Afghanistan, military expert Paula Broadwell, with Washington Post editor Vernon Loeb, traces Petraeus's life from his training to his retirement, ultimately assessing his long-term impact on U.S. military strategy.

Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jan. 24)

Three decades after he served as Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski is still an active foreign-policy player at age 83. His new book argues that global stability is at serious risk in an age of American decline and that the United States must strategically engage with the rising East if it is to reverse this course.

 

 

 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Feb. 7)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Katherine Boo has earned advance praise for this book from the likes of Amartya Sen, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tracy Kidder, and David Sedaris. Drawing on three years of reporting in India, Boo portrays the Mumbai slum of Annawadi, whose residents grapple with poverty, corruption, and discrimination in the shadow of India's rising economy.

The End Game: The Hidden History of America's Struggle to Build Democracy in Iraq by Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor (Feb. 7)

With access to top U.S. and Iraqi officials, Gordon, chief military correspondent for the New York Times, and Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, offer their definitive history of the military, political, and diplomatic struggles of the Iraq war. The authors' previous book, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, was a national bestseller.

 

 

Power, Inc: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government -- and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead by David Rothkopf (Feb. 28)

Many companies today have revenues higher than the GDPs of small countries. The number of Wal-Mart employees worldwide is higher than the populations of nearly 100 nations. How did we get here? In his latest book, heavy-hitting FP blogger David Rothkopf explores the rise of private power and its implications for governments and economies in the years ahead.

Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy by Andrew Preston (Feb. 29)

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush described the struggle in part through the lens of religion. "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world," he said. "It is God's gift to humanity." Although Bush was criticized for mixing faith and diplomacy, Cambridge historian Andrew Preston argues that, in fact, religion has always been a motivating factor in American foreign policy -- a case he makes in this history spanning from colonial times to the present day.

The Short American Century: A Postmortem, edited by Andrew J. Bacevich (March 19)

In the February 1941 issue of Life, Henry Luce declared the arrival of the "American Century." But, following years of economic decline and military blunders, that "century" has ended -- at least according to Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and Boston University international relations professor. In this so-called postmortem, Bacevich offers essays from historians seeking to explain America's rise to preeminence, its subsequent decline, and, now, its legacy.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (March 20)

Why are some countries wealthier than others? Drawing from historical and modern-day examples, Daron Acemoglu, an MIT economist, and James Robinson, a Harvard political scientist, argue that troubled nations will not emerge from poverty solely by implementing recommendations from international organizations or through foreign aid. Economic success, the authors say, is fundamentally a product of granting political power to citizens.

 

 

Finance and the Good Society by Robert Shiller (March 21)

Yale economist Robert Shiller recently told the New York Times that teaching a class on financial markets in the wake of the 2008 crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement is "a little like teaching R.O.T.C. during the Vietnam War." Though his book doesn't apologize for Wall Street's slipups, it defends the virtues of finance as a tool to manage society's assets, ultimately for good.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden (March 29)

Despite all the attention North Korea has received following Kim Jong Il's death, the country largely remains a mystery to the outside world. Harden, a former Washington Post correspondent in northeast Asia and an FP contributor, sets out to expose the cruelty of Kim's totalitarian rule through the story of a rare escapee from one of the Dear Leader's political prison camps.

 

 

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid (March 27)

Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Beirut bureau chief for the New York Times, tells of his two-year effort to restore a decaying estate built by his great-grandfather in South Lebanon. Over the course of the project, the author contemplates his family's history in the Middle East, where Shadid has reported for 15 years, and the region's current turmoil.

Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles by Ruchir Sharma (April 9)

All that hype about rising economies like China's, Russia's, and Brazil's? This book says it's overblown. According to Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, the world's up-and-coming economies have weaknesses that will slow them down, while the real rising stars -- think Indonesia, Nigeria, and Poland -- have been overshadowed.

 

 

 

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer (May 1)

As U.S. power wanes, FP blogger Ian Bremmer sees no strong candidates to assume America's leadership role on the world stage: China lacks the will, European countries lack the money, and rising economies such as Brazil, India, and Russia still face internal obstacles. Hence, the "G-zero" world. Bremmer explores what this shakeup will mean, predicting intensified conflict over financial regulation, trade, and climate issues.

Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands, edited by Shahzad Bashir and Robert D. Crews (May 14)

This book aims to dispel Western notions that Afghanistan and Pakistan are backwards societies flailing and in need of intervention. Two Stanford professors have collected essays from journalists, economists, and academics -- rooted in on-the-ground observations and firsthand knowledge -- that provide a counterpoint to simplified media reports.

 

 

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future by Gerard Lemos (May 29)

China's economy may be rising, but the image of a country living in harmony and prosperity is a government-manufactured myth, according to Gerard Lemos. For this book, the London-based social policy expert and government advisor interviewed hundreds of Chinese residents of the megacity Chongqing, where he encountered a people who are frustrated and broken, burdened by social and financial anxieties.

Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 by Leon Aron (June 26)

As Leon Aron wrote in FP in July, much of what we think we know about the fall of the Soviet Union is wrong. In this forthcoming book, the American Enterprise Institute scholar explains the collapse anew, exploring the shift in moral and intellectual values that emerged in the glasnost era, and explaining how these values were disseminated.

 

 

Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them by David Keen (July 31)

Why does war continue to break out -- and then drag on -- despite how costly it is known to be? According to London School of Economics professor David Keen, the answer lies in understanding who benefits when conflict arises, economically, politically, or otherwise. Approaching wars in this way, he concludes, will ultimately help us figure out how to end them.

The Arab Uprising: The Wave of Protest that Toppled the Status Quo and the Struggle for a New Middle East by Marc Lynch by Marc Lynch (March 27)

After spearheading much of FP's blog analysis of the Arab Spring, Marc Lynch is primed for his new book exploring the long-term impact of the movement that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Lynch, who directs George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies, finds that while the political shape of much of the Arab World is still in flux, the countries affected by the Arab Spring -- and the West -- are merely beginning to understand just how powerful the force of public opinion in the region is -- and will be.