The twentieth century was both the high point of the Western age and the beginning of its end. - Ian Morris (Why the West rules - for now) Ian Morris in his seminal book, Why the West rules - for now, published last year, presents a well researched account of the rise, decline and fall of civilisations and nations spanning the recorded human history. According to him, from the 6th century to the middle of the 18th century CE, the East was more developed than the West. The current global dominance of the West began with the industrial revolution, which took place in the West in the second half of the 18th century commencing with England. However, the intellectual and scientific foundation for the industrial revolution was gradually laid in the preceding centuries. The past two centuries have seen the West ruling the world economically, militarily and politically. The tide now again seems to be turning in favour of the East because of the spectacular rise of China during the past three decades. In early 1970s, Chinas GDP constituted only 5 percent of the worlds economy. By 2000, its share had grown to 14 percent. On the other hand, the US share of the world production declined slightly from 22 percent to 21 percent during the same period. By extrapolating the past trends, Morris reaches the conclusion that by 2103 at the latest, the East will regain the lead and the Western age symbolised by the current US supremacy will end. However, this historical development may come to pass earlier since the gap between the GDP of the US and China has been narrowing rapidly in recent years. According to some estimates, Chinas GDP in purchasing power parity terms may overtake that of the US before the end of the present decade, possibly by 2016, according to IMF estimates. In nominal dollar terms, China with the current estimated GDP of $6.4 trillion will take longer to surpass the current American GDP of $14.9 trillion, possibly some time in 2020s. It must be underscored, however, that China will take much longer to catch up with the US in terms of GDP per head because of its much bigger population. Similarly, it will remain behind the US and other highly advanced Western countries for quite some time in such high-tech fields as information technology, nanotechnology, electronics and biotechnology, as well as in military technology. Just to give an example, China has just made a beginning towards making its first aircraft carrier operational. As against that, the US has several aircraft carrier groups with enormous power projection capabilities. Therefore, even if the present trends continue, China should be able to catch up with the US in GDP per head and in high-tech and military technology only some time in the second half of the current century. It is equally certain that if the present trends continue, Asia with the fast growing economies of China, India, South Korea and the ASEAN, in addition to Japans huge economy, will regain its former ascendancy over Europe and North America in the second half of the 21st century. Asias economic ascendancy will definitely have its repercussions on the military power of Asia versus the West with the former overtaking the latter in due course. From this perspective, it should be clear that the decade following the end of the cold war symbolised the zenith of the power of the West, particularly the US which was generally recognised as the sole superpower. Hidden behind the faade of the US global supremacy, however, were several factors, and the most important being the spectacular economic growth of China, which were gradually shifting the power from the West to the East. The 21st century, therefore, will prove to be a period of transition from the ascendancy of the West to the ascendancy of the East, as the 18th century was for the rise of the West. There are many ifs and buts in the conclusions given above - the most important being Chinas ability to maintain political stability and its high rate of economic growth, as well as to avoid a major armed conflict during the next 40 to 50 years. Nothing is written in stone. Human ingenuity and unexpected developments may slow down the process of global transformation that is taking place. But there are already telltale signs for the momentous changes taking place at the global level signifying the shift of power from the West to the East. On August 5, Standard & Poors decided to downgrade the US from AAA credit rating to AA+ because of its rapidly growing national debt. The move reflected the deterioration in the global economic standing of the US, and may have implications for the US dollar as the reserve currency. China, which currently owns $1.2 trillion of the US Treasury debt and is its largest creditor, quickly demanded that the US should address its debt problem and learn to live within its means. (The advice is equally applicable to Pakistan.) According to current projections, the US debt will surpass its GDP within the next three or four years. As against the dismal performance of the US economy, which is expected to grow only by 1.5 percent in 2011, Chinas GDP growth rate is likely to be 8.4 percent during the same period. Further, despite all the brave comments coming from Washington, it appears that the US is bogged down militarily in Afghanistan and is in need of a radical change in its strategy to extricate itself with honour. As if to underscore the point, on August 6 the US troops in Afghanistan suffered their biggest single loss in the decade-long war with the downing of a helicopter killing 30 Americans, including 22 elite Navy SEALs. In the euphoria after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US Department of Defence in a report leaked to the New York Times in the beginning of 1992 stressed: Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that formerly posed by the Soviet Union. The US grand strategy continues to be guided by this overarching objective. It is ironical that the US adopted this strategic objective precisely when the economic growth of China took off with the promise of posing precisely the challenge that the US wanted to avoid. The global strategic scenario is fast moving beyond the American control thanks partly to the dramatic rise of China and partly to the US policy of arrogance reflected in its doctrine of unilateral preemptive military intervention. The strategic follies committed by Washington by rushing into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at enormous cost in blood and treasure have hastened the process of the relative decline of the US and rise of the East. The US despite its riches is in a quandary because it has forgotten the first guiding principle of a great power, which is that it must show restraint and a sense of proportion in dealing with external challenges so as to remain within the limits of its power and resources. A wild card in the process of the global transformation over the next century would be the performance of the Muslim world. It remains to be seen whether the Muslims would be able to rise up to the challenges of the modern world through an intellectual, scientific and technological revolution, or will remain mired in sloth, ignorance and backwardness. This applies with as much force to Pakistan as to any other Muslim country. n The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: