“Spain and the United States, a Superpower Comparison”


Imperial Spain and the United States: A comparative study


Today the United States is indisputably the world’s sole superpower, capable of projecting military, economic or political influence to any corner of the world. History however is not kind to superpowers and it is not uncommon to hear politicians and pundits alike bemoan the decline of the Pax Americana, the superpower status of the United States. If we are truly a superpower in decline, then perhaps no prior power holds more lessons for contemporary America than the rise and fall of Imperial Spain.


Matthews and Platt point out that Spain and Portugal had the early lead in colonization and settlement of the Americas. (p. 452) The near limitless silver and gold bullion extracted from her American colonies allowed Spain to finance her interminable European wars and military adventurism in the Mediterranean and Far East. As you read the articles and watch the video below you will see how the wealth of the Americas made Imperial Spain fabulously rich, but you will also see how that same wealth undermined the mother society and it eventually became a victim of its own success.


Flush with precious metals from the Americas, Spain invested heavily in military expeditions and purchases on credit. The incoming bullion usually exited Spain faster than it came in, being sent out as payments for everything from Chinese silk to Dutch firearms and English textiles. True, the military ate up a considerable chunk of the national Spanish debt, but Spain’s failure to nurture a manufacturing base only expedited her slide from superpower status. Today the United States finds itself in similar straits, heavily engaged in foreign conflicts with defense eating up a significant chunk of the national debt. Of course the very largest portion of our national debt is encompassed in social safety nets and healthcare not national defense but there remain similarities.


Drawing on your readings from the textbook, and the links I’ve provided below, as well as any additional readings you might find in your own research I want you to do the following:


Write a paper between 2000 and 2200 words. In it I want you to compare and contrast the cultures of Imperial Spain and the modern United States. Compare and contrast the financial and economic situations of both superpowers. Compare and contrast the military situations faced by both Imperial Spain and the modern United States. Finally I want you to draw conclusions based on your research, is the United States a superpower in decline and has the Pax Americana reached its zenith? If so, what does the future hold for American economic and military interests?

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