Archive for June 22nd, 2012

The Regionalization of the Liberal World Order

By Brendan Cooley

 

The United States soundly defeated the ideological challenges of communism and fascism in the 20th century. The U.S.-led liberal order has streamlined global ideology and provided distributed security and economic growth. But a new, more nuanced challenge now operates within that liberal global order: state capitalism.

 

State capitalist societies, namely China, skirt global norms in many ways, but can plausibly claim to adhere to the general principles promulgated by the UN, WTO, IMF, and World Bank. But in leveraging the full power of their economies to advance the interests of the state, China and others subtly undermine those institutions, whose longevity is essential if the 2030 world is to be prosperous and secure. These states “cheat” in the liberal system, but remain dependent on the integration and stability it provides.

 

This paradox is at the center of the emerging global institutional architecture. Global Trends 2030 spends a lot of time talking about global order, but it really only poses the possibility of (sometimes dramatic) changes to the liberal order, rather than a total usurpation of that order. And because the challenge of state capitalism is acute and the liberal international system is strong, GT 2030 wisely ignores the potential for a drastically different system. So the question becomes: will China and other state capitalist states gradually alter some tenets of the liberal order, or will the system alter them?

 

If the world does become multipolar, as GT 2030 predicts, regional powers like China will have the opportunity to shape their local environment independent of large-scale U.S. influence. But as their economic interests spread and U.S. influence wanes, these states need become providers of public goods and order rather than free riders on U.S.-led order.

 

China has already begun to entangle itself in a multitude of regional institutions, but very few of these present overt challenges to the liberal order. China has been at the forefront of the proliferation of free trade agreements in East and Southeast Asia and has pushed for regional economic integration over protectionism (although this may change with the composition of China’s economy). In this area, China is ironically better at being “liberal” than the United States.

 

China’s foreign aid and investment policies do not adhere to the same standards as equivalent Western aid policies and China’s support of rogue regimes continues to frustrate the West. But these deviations from Western standards are relatively minor when one considers the degree of integration between China, its neighbors, and the West.

 

So while U.S. academics and strategists fret about the potential for a hegemonic challenge from China, Chinese ascendency might not severely alter global norms. The world will become more regionalized and will struggle to come to agreements on emerging challenges like intellectual property rights, climate change, and resource sharing. But the fundamental openness and agreed-upon rules of the liberal system will not change. China and other emerging powers will derive more benefit from playing by the system’s rules and enforcing them in their sphere of influence than overturning them. And the U.S., as the architect of this remarkable system, will continue to play a disproportionate role in the shaping of its future trajectory across regions.

 

Brendan Cooley is a rising junior majoring in Peace, War & Defense and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

America’s Subversive Soft Power

One other area where the draft GT 2030 could go into greater depth is in analyzing the effect of ideas — the isms that can be motivators of collective action and accelerants to global change.  America’s global role is inextricably linked to the influence of ideas.  America’s global influence turns on its soft power as well as its hard power.

The United States does not confront an ideological enemy with the resources and global appeal that Communism enjoyed at the height of the Cold War, but there are contending isms ranging from militant islamism to authoritarian crony-capitalism (or whatever label one would assign to the middle way approach China and Russia appear to be trying to forge).

The past decade of kinetic war has been directed at the threat from militant islamism, and it is striking how optimistic GT 2030 is about how that contest will unfold in the coming decades.  I think GT 2030 may be too optimistic, perhaps reflecting the difficulty the Intelligence Community has grappling with religious-based movements.

But I agree that the U.S. has the ideological advantage in the long run. Many aspects of American/Western ideology seem destined to subvert the appeal of militant islamism, such as feminism or respect for individual liberty.

Yet I would single out for special consideration religious toleration.  It took the West a long time, too long, to figure this out but after centuries of bloody warfare the West (and especially the United States) has done it.  We have figured out how to be both religiously fervent AND tolerant of other religiously fervent people (provided they are not using coercive means against others). Tolerance does not require abandoning religious, even exclusive religious convictions.  Religious toleration implies believing your religious position to be superior to others — you are right, they are wrong — but it does so in a way that lets them be “wrong.”  It preserves space for proselytizing — there cannot be true toleration if you deny faiths the opportunity to “compete” by trying to persuade/convert others.  But it is proselytizing through the marketplace of ideas, not through the barrel of a gun.

This form of religious toleration is anathema to militant islamists and yet should have a wide appeal for most everyone else.  It is thus quite subversive to others and props up U.S. power.

Perhaps that topic is too delicate for the IC to touch, but with religious revivals spreading across much of sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, and East Asia, it seems too important to ignore.

America’s Subversive Soft Power

One other area where the draft GT 2030 could go into greater depth is in analyzing the effect of ideas — the isms that can be motivators of collective action and accelerants to global change.  America’s global role is inextricably linked to the influence of ideas.  America’s global influence turns on its soft power as well as its hard power.

The United States does not confront an ideological enemy with the resources and global appeal that Communism enjoyed at the height of the Cold War, but there are contending isms ranging from militant islamism to authoritarian crony-capitalism (or whatever label one would assign to the middle way approach China and Russia appear to be trying to forge).

The past decade of kinetic war has been directed at the threat from militant islamism, and it is striking how optimistic GT 2030 is about how that contest will unfold in the coming decades.  I think GT 2030 may be too optimistic, perhaps reflecting the difficulty the Intelligence Community has grappling with religious-based movements.

But I agree that the U.S. has the ideological advantage in the long run. Many aspects of American/Western ideology seem destined to subvert the appeal of militant islamism, such as feminism or respect for individual liberty.

Yet I would single out for special consideration religious toleration.  It took the West a long time, too long, to figure this out but after centuries of bloody warfare the West (and especially the United States) has done it.  We have figured out how to be both religiously fervent AND tolerant of other religiously fervent people (provided they are not using coercive means against others). Tolerance does not require abandoning religious, even exclusive religious convictions.  Religious toleration implies believing your religious position to be superior to others — you are right, they are wrong — but it does so in a way that lets them be “wrong.”  It preserves space for proselytizing — there cannot be true toleration if you deny faiths the opportunity to “compete” by trying to persuade/convert others.  But it is proselytizing through the marketplace of ideas, not through the barrel of a gun.

This form of religious toleration is anathema to militant islamists and yet should have a wide appeal for most everyone else.  It is thus quite subversive to others and props up U.S. power.

Perhaps that topic is too delicate for the IC to touch, but with religious revivals spreading across much of sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, and East Asia, it seems too important to ignore.