By Stephen Szabo

The rise of the rest has to be to more clearly classified as that part of the non-West which is democratic and that which is not.  India and Brazil fall into the first category with China and Russia clearly in the second. This distinction is an important one as values matter in foreign policy.  The West is not simply a geopolitical alliance based on interests, for if it was it would have disintegrated with the end of the Soviet threat. The fact is that the West does exist and continues to do so based on its shared values in open political systems and its shared vision of a broader liberal international order.

As Vaclav Havel reminded the West during the Cold War, the nature of the domestic political system of a state has important consequences for its foreign policy; the prospect of the replacement of a democratic hegemon by one based on state capitalism and authoritarianism has important international consequences.  The hegemony of the West which characterized the Cold War and immediate Cold War period is now over.  The West is facing a serious challenge to its economic and political predominance and it is possible the Western moment in human history will come to an end in this century.

The growing role of China is clearly the most significant challenge to the liberal international order to emerge since the shaping of the Bretton Woods institutions. China is a deeper and more serious challenge to the liberal order than was the Soviet Union. The West cannot contain the PRC as easily as it did the USSR, because the military dimension is not the only dimension of Chinese power and its economic success has enveloped and divided the West. As its economic power grows (it is growing more rapidly than the NIC in its earlier studies anticipated), its political and soft power will grow with it. It stands a good chance of offering an alternative to the liberal international model of the West.

It is a mistake to view the China threat as predominantly a military one; if the United States does so it will risk exacerbating its military and fiscal overstretch.  That the rise of China is occurring during a period of crisis and relative decline of the West only makes the consequences more serious and imminent. The fragmentation of Europe, which will be the consequence of the Eurozone financial crisis, allows China the option of playing off Europeans against each other and further fragmenting the EU as an international actor and partner of the United States.

Chinese policies toward Syria in the UN Security Council are a sign of what is to come and how major liberal international institutions will be marginalized.  This applies not only to the UN but also to the IMF and the World Bank, as the money China will have to offer for financial bailouts and development aid will dwarf those of these international institutions.

India remains the only other major contender for emerging power status that can reshape the world system.  While it will not see itself as part of the West, its democratic system and open society makes it a potential partner of the West.  This will combine with its security interests as it seeks to balance a rising China — a country with which it has longstanding territorial disputes which could intensify as the competition for natural resources and the leadership of Asia grows.

Whether India will see its values and interests in the expansion of the international liberal order to include itself, or whether it will be tempted by the legacy of Third World neutralism, will be one of the fundamental questions of this century.  Yet the prospects of India joining the West are real, while the possibility of China taking this view are much more remote.

What is clear is that the West must reconstitute and revitalize itself in order to remain at the core of the liberal international order and to slowly expand that core out. The fact that this remains an era of democracies and democratization offers hope for the western model and its prospects for enlargement. The West must regain a sense of self-confidence and unity if it is to offer a model for the emerging new international order.

Stephen F. Szabo is Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States