The Four Tests
An authoritative, illuminating look at America's future and the "tests" the United States must meet to maintain leadership and power in the 21st century--from the former US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

With today's fraught global and political climate, American hegemony is over and the assumption that America maintains its global preeminence is no longer a given. The divisions between Americans, economic changes driven by globalization and technology, as well as climate change, pandemics, and the resurgence of authoritarianism, make it difficult to be optimistic about America's future. But what if we use this time of upheaval and strain as an opportunity to think about what might come next, and how to build what we need to prosper in the era to come?

Here, former US ambassador Daniel Baer argues that we are living through a transition moment and lays out the four tests we must face in the next ten years that will determine whether we succeed over the next fifty. These are scale, investment, fairness, and identity. The first two tests are familiar to strategists, but we must think about the impact of scale differently when our country's population and economy are shrinking in relative terms rather than growing. And while investment has always been essential to productivity growth and economic competitiveness, investment in human beings themselves matters more than it ever has.

The second pair of tests may seem unusual for a book about geopolitics--but fairness and identity are crucial to the success of the United States as a political entity. Fairness is essential to sustaining both domestic economic and political systems and to building international influence as US military dominance declines. When the Founders declared that each person was entitled not only to life and liberty but also to "the pursuit of happiness," they recognized that one of democracy's tenets was its citizens' pursuit of a meaningful life of their own choosing--a life consistent with their own understandings of themselves and their place in their community. Identity, and a minimum sense of security in it, is a core element of the purpose and process of democracy and a prerequisite for the ability to fulfill our roles as democratic citizens.

While each test poses significant challenges, the US has advantages that some of our most vexing competitors lack. The four tests demand changes in behavior and culture--from politicians, corporate leaders, and citizens. But if we meet these tests, then we can be confident of America's future. The question is not whether we can succeed--but whether we will.

Publication Date: 
September 19, 2023