A Chinese spy balloon shortly before it was shot down over Surfside Beach, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

A Chinese spy balloon shortly before it was shot down over Surfside Beach, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Joe Granita, Zuma Press/TNS)

The Chinese spy balloon is a metaphor as much as a security threat to the United States.

China, like Russia, is determined to violate international law and enter the space of another country in order to make it eminently clear to the United States and the rest of the West that they do not recognize the United States as the most powerful and important nation in the world.

The balloon symbolizes China's contempt for the United States and does so with a single balloon in the air. Admittedly this single balloon is one that we contend has extensive intricate information technology that apparently did surveillance across the entire U.S. mainland before we could safely shoot it down off the coast of South Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is of course a brutally clear indication by Russia that they do not recognize the independence of Ukraine or the point of view of NATO and especially the United States. Starting a war with another country without justifiable cause is as clear an indication you can give of your denial of the integrity, values and dignity of another country as well as its allies.

The invasion of U.S. airspace by an unarmed, unmanned balloon the size of three school buses, ironically, also sends a very clear message, especially during a time when the two countries involved are at a critical juncture in their relationship.

China, like Russia, wants to dislodge us from our international pedestal.

American international relations experts will be the first to tell you that the United States has lost a good deal of its international stature since the Cold War ended.

We were the lone superpower in the early 1990s, but China has emerged as a massive economic power, Russia shed its commitment to free markets and building a civic sector and became a kleptocracy run by a dictator, and both Iran and North Korea have become major threats to the United States, Israel and the West in general.

American citizens have not caught up with the experts who appreciate how we have declined. The balloon as much as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call.

China and Russia are not the only countries that are challenging U.S. supremacy in the world. Iran and North Korea are certainly on the list of countries determined to weaken us.

Make no mistake. Many powerful Asian and Middle Eastern countries despise the United States and the West intensely.

The spy balloon has made this picture as clear as could be.

Let the discussion continue about how the United States is to navigate its way in the midst of so much interference and so much blatant disgust with our values.

The American people know we have enemies, but many if not most of us still think that we are number one. We may be, but Americans need to recognize how hungry many powerful countries are to reject a world narrative that features the United States as the star.

A single spy balloon, though real, also acts as a metaphor of America's place in the world: at risk of further decline.

Dave Anderson is editor of the interdisciplinary volume "Leveraging." He has taught political philosophy at five colleges and universities.

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