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Opinion
David Fickling

Soviet Collapse Echoes in China’s Belt and Road

Grand investment plans for unproductive regions have caused empires to founder before.

The drive to develop Siberia helped precipitate the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The drive to develop Siberia helped precipitate the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Photographer: Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

What causes empires to fall?

According to one influential view, it’s ultimately a question of investment. Great powers are the nations that best harness their economic potential to build up military strength. When they become overextended, the splurge of spending to sustain a strategic edge leaves more productive parts of the economy starved of capital, leading to inevitable decline.