Archive for May 28th, 2012

By Abraham Denmark

As an Asia specialist, I spend most of my time thinking about the consequences of Asia’s rising powers – China, India, South Korea, Indonesia, etc. – and what it means for the United States and our allies. It’s a simple trend to identify. China’s economy has been expanding rapidly, as have those of many developing countries. Indeed, the entire Asia-Pacific region continues to be the world’s most dynamic and promising for future growth. The inestimable Ian Bremmer has also pointed out that – along with the BRICS, CIVETS and MIST – Africa has also been an important source of growth in recent years. This is what Fareed Zakaria meant when he wrote about the “Rise of the Rest.”

These trends have unfortunately created a general misperception that “The Rest” represents a new political force in geopolitics – one that will fundamentally threaten today’s liberal international order. In reality, “The Rest” – as a cohesive geopolitical whole – doesn’t exist.  Incongruities between political structures, cultural heritages, economic conditions, and strategic interests of the countries who constitute “The Rest” will make real coordination a near impossibility. While they may agree on specific issues (such as environmental policy or sanctions on Iran), long-standing strategic and historic rivalries and dissimilarities will undermine efforts to build real strategic cooperation.

The BRICS offer an excellent example. Agreements on specific issues do not override the reality that China has long-standing strategic tensions with both India and Russia – tensions that will make strategic cooperation almost impossible. Even though Chinese officials routinely call for a more “democratic” international system, does that mean they will support India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council? Don’t count on it. Ultimately, there is very little mortar holding the BRICS together.

This stands in sharp contrast to the long-term cohesiveness of the West, which is based on a foundation of deeply shared values, interests, and histories that transcends policy disagreements. On key issues of great strategic significance, the United States has a global network of friends it can rely upon. Thus, while one cannot speak of “The Rest” as a cohesive whole, the West is a geopolitical force to reckon with.

Moreover, the West’s resilience, openness, and dynamism have long been its ultimate sources of strength. It has problems, certainly, but the West has seen far worse than the domestic problems it faces today, and we generally know what the answers are. As a foreign diplomat in Washington is fond of saying, the United States is a single budget cycle away from fixing most of its serious problems.

This cannot be said for many of the world’s rising powers, whose problems are more complex and whose solutions are highly fraught. China must navigate itself through multiple challenges – including urbanization, privatization, marketization, globalization, slowing growth, environmental degradation, corruption, and persistent political upheaval – all on a scale and speed previously unseen in human history. There is no easy path to address these challenges, and any failure could lead to disaster. India, similarly, faces tremendous domestic challenges that could quickly undermine economic growth.

Moreover, “The Rest” largely has no intention of seeing the West’s downfall. Most strategists and officials from China, India, and other rising powers will readily admit that they need a liberal international order as much as the West. Export-oriented economies are especially reliant on public goods like stability, open global markets, and stable global commons – all fundamental features of the liberal international order. Rising powers apparently agree with arguments made in recent books by Robert Kagan and Zbigniew Brzezinski that without the United States, the world would rapidly descend into chaos and violence. As such, they will likely continue to look to the West to provide public goods and help solve global problems.

Still, ‘the Rise of the Rest’ will pose two significant challenges for the West in the coming decades. First, the West will be forced to manage the after-effects of those rising powers that are unable to sustain their development. While the relative rate of growth for rising powers has certainly been fantastic, political and social realities on the ground will make continued growth difficult without significant reform. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. When these countries fall, the financial and human costs may be devastating.

The West will also face the daunting task of managing the success of those rising powers that make the transition from “developing” to “developed.” This will require integrating these new great powers into the international system, and making it clear that on issues of fundamental interest – such as open global commons, the power of international institutions, human rights, and preserving stability – they must adjust to the world, and not vice versa.

And there, of course, is the rub. Nothing is certain in international relations – especially when one looks several decades into the future. Yet most indications suggest that the West is likely to survive, thrive, and maintain strategic cohesion. The Rest, on the other hand, face more profound questions about their long-term prosperity and their ability to build, let alone maintain, any degree of strategic cohesion. Ultimately, the long-term health and success of the liberal international order will be dependent on the will and resolve of the West to fix its problems and promote its interests. The West has done it before, in far more dire circumstances, and I expect that it will succeed again.

Abraham M. Denmark is Senior Project Director for Political and Security Affairs at The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). The views expressed are his own.

By Hugh White

The rise of China and India does not necessarily mean the end of today’s international order, but it does mean the end of America’s role as the acknowledged and unchallenged leader of that order.  As their power grows, America must either compete with these powers for leadership, or share leadership with them.  Either way the global order will change, and so will America’s role in it.

But the changes will be much bigger and more painful if America tries to compete with them for leadership than if it finds a way to accommodate them.  The best way to preserve as much as possible of the liberal order America has built is to share leadership of it with India and China.  The surest way to destroy that order is to fight with either of these great powers for control of it.

India and China pose the greatest challenge ever to America’s place in the world because they will both, on current trends, not just overtake but far surpass the United States in wealth over coming decades.  This matters because ultimately wealth is power, so these two countries will become the most formidable America has ever had to deal with.

Today China poses the more obvious and serious challenge.  There is no doubt that China does aspire to a leadership role.  For the time being that challenge is not global but focused in Asia.  However, Asia is so central to the world order that what happens there will shape the world and America’s role in it.  It is not yet clear whether China is determined to dominate Asia itself, but we can be sure that it will not settle for less than an equal role with America in shaping Asia’s future.

How do these ambitions fit the new realties of power? China is already far wealthier relative to the United States than any country has ever been before, and that makes it in the long run a far more powerful competitor — and a far more dangerous adversary than even the Soviet Union was.  China is America’s first genuine peer competitor.

On the other hand, China will never be strong enough to dominate Asia itself.  India, Japan, Russia, and the United States itself will all be there to balance and limit its power.  In purely military terms, China will be able to limit American power-projection in the Western Pacific, but equally America will be able to limit China’s too.

This new balance of power makes it foolish, and unnecessary, for America to try to retain primacy in Asia in the face of China’s challenge, as President Obama has proposed.

This policy is foolish because it assumes that in response China will either collapse or cave in.  Much more likely China will push back, leading to escalating strategic competition and a serious risk of a major, even nuclear, war. That would be as disastrous for the United States as for China.  And don’t rely on economic interdependence to prevent the disaster: both China and America are quite capable of sacrificing economic interests to defend what each sees as strategic interests.

Rivalry with China may be unnecessary because America’s most critical interests in Asia do not require it to maintain primacy.  It is sufficient for the United States to prevent China dominating its neighbors by staying in Asia to balance and limit China’s power, while still allowing China a bigger role – and equal role – in shaping Asian affairs.

This best suits the rest of Asia too.  No one in Asia wants to live under Chinese hegemony, so everyone wants the United States to stay in Asia.  But no one wants to make China an enemy — so everyone wants America to stay in Asia if at all possible, on a basis that China is willing to accept.  That means they too want America to stay to balance China, but not to compete with it for primacy.

The problem, of course, is that this model of America’s role in Asia’s future requires the United States to treat China as an equal.  That does not sit easily with America’s traditional view of its place in the world and its relations with other countries — especially countries as different as China.

But America’s traditional view evolved during the era of the Great Divergence, when Western countries enjoyed for a long time the immense power bestowed by economic development, and America enjoyed this power most of all.  Now the Great Convergence is driving the biggest shift in relative power in history.  No one should be surprised that things we have taken for granted for two centuries quite suddenly stop being true.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

By Daniel Kliman

The international order forged after the Second World War has advanced economic prosperity, kept the peace among the great powers, and promoted democracy and human rights. The order is imperfect and today unrepresentative – it accords disproportionate weight in global governance to Western nations. But the “rise of the rest” will not inevitably lead to the order’s downfall.

Unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, no ascendant nation today is ideologically committed to building a new order that will displace the old. The challenge posed by the “rise of the rest” is less direct: selective undermining by some and free riding by many. This, coupled with the West’s financial difficulties, will render the existing order increasingly brittle.

But the United States is not simply a passive observer of this process; it can take actions that will rejuvenate the international system. Aside from China, the world’s leading rising powers – Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey – are all democracies. These four have yet to fully embrace the existing order, reject it, or offer a detailed alternative. All bring considerable capability and legitimacy to any international endeavor.

If the United States can successfully enlarge the order’s current circle of supporters beyond its longtime democratic allies in Europe and Asia to include these “global swing states,” today’s power shift will not culminate in the end of the Western world. Rather, the United States can realize an adapted and renewed international system that enshrines the principles and practices that have enabled the current order to benefit the West and also the rising rest.

Daniel Kliman is a Transatlantic Fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.