America’s decline started when we stopped going to the Moon, and it will become irrelevant (geopolitically speaking) the day China lands its first manned lunar mission.
You know those old maps of empires? Like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, or even modern conquerors like Napoleon? They always show the empire at its beginning, some years into its expansion, and always – there’s a map showing the empire at its greatest geographical extent, when it’s at its largest. (Then there might be one showing it as it contracts)
As a rule of thumb, you can more or less say that an empire is at its height when its sphere of geographical influence is at its greatest. Once it starts to contract and shrink, it’s declining. Obviously, there are a lot more complex attributes to how “great” a country is, but this is as good a metric as any other. It takes energy and strength to expand, and once you stop – there may be a period where things are stable – but then once the contraction begins, it’s because national vigor has begun to wane.
The last year a man walked on the Moon was 1972. So from 1969, when we first landed there, until 1972 – is the peak of the American empire. After that it has been a long, slow decline. Certainly, the attainment of a manned lunar mission required huge national coordination, technological and economic resources – and once you can’t (or won’t) sustain all that – that’s when you’re starting your decline.
So when does America actually become irrelevant?
When China lands a man on the Moon.
Right now, China’s stated target for a manned lunar landing is 2036, so as of today (2019) the United States as 17 years left as the pre-eminent power on Earth.
Why do I consider a Chinese manned lunar mission the deciding factor?
Because when the Chinese go to the Moon, they are not going to stop going there, like some shitstain liberal democracy deciding it’s not profitable to be doing that and that we need to spend our money at home solving our social problems. Sure, those are important problems to solve, but sometimes people forget that the course of human future history is one where we spread out to other planets and colonize them. A country that’s not participating in that isn’t going to be a part of future history.
The Chinese are going to go to the Moon, they are going to establish a moon base, and then they will get to work mining the lunar regolith for helium-3, a clean and efficient energy source. They are going to do that, because whatever problems you may have at home, technological advancement and leadership in science are how the 21st century will be led.
China has already landed the first probe on the far side of the moon (this is a non-trivial feat, since there is no direct LOS for communication). This means they’re likely to also establish a base there, one that will be impossible for American telescopes and satellites to surveil, which means they will have established a presence on the ultimate “high ground” (currently America has the high ground, via Earth orbit satellites) that will also happen to be outside the scope of American surveillance and strike capabilities.
Obviously, when I say “the high ground,” I don’t mean they’re going to start bombarding the US. But when one country has that, it’s ultimately an enormous strategic advantage whether that’s used for reconnaissance, positioning, attack, or whatever else.
The key factor though, is that far beyond just the practical benefits, it will show the world in dramatically convincing fashion the technological and logistical superiority of the Chinese system. Unaligned countries will begin to align with China – not out of moral agreement (Americans often delude themselves into thinking that countries ally with us because our democracy is morally superior), but simply out of realpolitik: you cozy up to the most powerful guy.
This will accelerate the decline of America, because the country is already today a thrashing desperate mess with a grossly uneducated populace and crumbling infrastructure, and its fragile national ego will find this intolerable as erstwhile allies begin to cool towards it and listen more to Chinese opinions on global topics.
Despite whatever hysterical spin the US media will try to put on it, the evidence will be staring everyone in the face. The day China announces that it has successfully landed on the Moon will be the day that historians mark as the day Chinese national superiority on the world stage became irrefutable.