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How to Build a Second American Century

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
April 26, 2013


It was in 1941 that Henry Luce exhorted his countrymen to eschew isolationism, enter the war and make the 20th century the first great American century. Fulfilling his vision, the United States managed a historic trifecta, prevailing in two world wars and the subsequent Cold War.

If Luce were alive today, he would no doubt be tempted to urge his fellow citizens to make the 21st century the second great American century. This one, however, would focus not on winning ideological struggles and thwarting totalitarian bids for dominance, but on creating meaningful rules and international arrangements to contend with the defining challenges of the era: climate change, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, infectious and non-communicable diseases, trade and investment protectionism, terrorism and providing for the 9 billion people who will soon inhabit this planet.

This notion of a second American century may seem bizarre, given the United States' obvious domestic troubles—from poor schools and crumbling infrastructure to mounting debt and low economic growth—and its external challenges, including terrorism, a rising China, an antagonistic North Korea that has nuclear weapons and an equally hostile Iran that appears to want them.

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