Archive for the ‘ Scenarios ’ Category

By David Kang

The “rise of the rest” will be both less transformative and yet more consequential than many may think. The continuing emergence of other centers of economic vitality will be less transformative than some fear because all countries today unquestioningly accept the basic foundations of the Western, “Westphalian” international system. All countries accept the idea that nation-states and sovereignty are the basic units of global relations, and that these relations are non-hierarchical and bring with them a set of responsibilities.

Furthermore, countries like China and India are slowly joining the existing set of international institutions and norms, not challenging them. For example, China has joined the WTO, the UN, the IMF, and many other of the existing regional and global multilateral institutions that govern economic and diplomatic relations among countries. Not only has China increasingly joined these institutions in the past 30 years, it has worked within them and adjusted to them, not necessarily challenged them.  As Shiro Armstrong notes, “By any reasonable measure, the institutional reforms that China signed onto when it acceded to the WTO have been implemented faithfully, and disputes with major partners have mostly been contained within the WTO system.”

In sum, emerging countries do not offer any alternatives to the existing liberal international order, nor do they show any signs of searching for alternatives. Instead, countries such as China and India appear to accept unquestioningly the basic rules and norms of the international order.

However, the rise of these other countries will be more consequential than some may think, as well. The United States does not have extensive experience in actually sharing its leadership role with other countries, nor is it used to being a follower in anything. Yet it is quite likely that over the next generation some countries may challenge the right of the U.S. to lead the liberal international order.

The time may come when the U.S. lives within institutions of our own design, but which are increasingly influenced and perhaps led by other countries, whose preferences on specific issues may not be the same as Washington’s.

For example, Vinod Aggarwal and Steve Weber recently argued that “emerging markets will be increasingly bold in asserting their views about the management of the global economy,” and that we should expect to see increasing challenges to U.S. domination of the IMF and World Bank. Others point to the loss of the dollar as the unquestioned reserve currency in the world; indeed, just this week China and Japan agreed to directly trade their yen-yuan currencies, eliminating the role the U.S. dollar plays in setting the exchange rate between the 2nd and 3rd largest economies in the world. The countries of ASEAN and China, Japan, and South Korea increasingly have created a set of regional institutional mechanisms covering a variety of economic relations without the presence of the U.S.

The key issue in world politics, however, is not about power, but about leadership. And the key aspect to leadership is whether other countries are willing to follow. If there are no followers, there is no leader. Viewed in this light, none of the emerging countries have yet presented new ideas for managing the international order that garner enthusiastic followers. In fact, China, India, Brazil, and other emerging countries do not even appear to be attempting to do so at this stage.

As for China in particular, can China ever return to its historical position as a center of cultural, economic, and political innovation, where other states admiringly look to it as model, guide, and inspiration? There is grudging respect for Chinese economic accomplishments over the past three decades, to be sure. But there is just as much wariness about Chinese cultural and political beliefs. The Chinese people—as evidenced by the hysterical response to protests about Tibet in the spring and summer of 2008—show that online casino they are far from comfortable with their own position in the world and how they are perceived by others.

Given the central role of the United States around the globe, there is almost no chance that China will replace the U.S. and become the unquestioned leader in global economic affairs. The United States—even as it adjusts to changing and difficult circumstances—is not going to disappear. The United States remains too central and too powerful, and American (and Western) ideals have become too deeply accepted around the globe, for the United States not to be important.

Perhaps the most important question is whether the United States, with its very Western way of viewing the world, and China, with a potentially different way of viewing the world, can come to some type of accommodation and agreement on each others’ roles and their relations with each other. While to date both the United States and China are working to accommodate each other and stabilize their relations, that process is far from complete. How these two countries manage East Asian (and global) leadership, the status they accord each other, and how other regional countries come to view them will be central aspects of whether or not the future of East Asian international relations is one of increasing stability.

Despite some domestic troubles, America will remain the most powerful, and richest, country in the world for the foreseeable future. However, the era of clear leadership, implicit dominance, and deference from other countries may be slowly ending. Put a little more bluntly, the question for the United States may come down to this: What if China actually rises peacefully – can the U.S. live with that?

David C. Kang is Professor of International Relations and Business at the University of Southern California, where he also directs the Korean Studies Institute and the East Asian Studies Center. His latest book is East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute (Columbia University Press, 2010).

Over the next two decades, the relative power of major international actors will shift markedly.  Around 2030,  after nearly a century as the preeminent global economic power, the United States will be surpassed by China as the world’s largest economy. With its trade in goods expected to nearly double that of the U.S. and Europe, China’s international economic clout will reach new heights.  By 2030, India will become the world’s most populous country and third-largest economy, while Brazil’s economy will rank fourth in size.  India and Brazil will join China at the high table of 21st century international politics alongside the United States, even as the relative weight of Russia and Japan diminishes.  The European economy will remain in the top tier, but it is not clear whether Europe will be able to act with common purpose to leverage this source of strength.


With its enhanced economic base, Beijing could rival Washington in overall military spending, even as a slowing Chinese economy and internal political conflict complicate China’s ability to lead internationally.  The United States will remain primus inter pares in light of its continued advantages across the full spectrum of national power and the legacy benefits of its leadership.  It will, however, be operating in a post-Western world in which the bulk of global economic power is held by countries whose per capita incomes are far below those of the traditional great powers.  This reality will leave China, India, Brazil, and other players focused on internal development and domestic challenges, torn between their desire to be global powers and their interest in free-riding on Western management of the interna­tional system.


How will the rise of the rest impact the international system?  The National Intelligence Council’s draftGlobal Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds maps out three broad scenarios:


Reverse Engines. Under this scenario, the international system would consist of several powerful countries — but no single state or bloc of states would have the political or economic leverage to drive the international community toward collective action. Such a world, characterized by a global vacuum of power, assumes that the United States will no longer be willing or capable of sustaining the predominant leadership role it has assumed since 1945.   With no other country able to step in to replace the U.S. as a global leader, the resulting diver­gence of interests would lead to fragmentation and the inability of great powers to work cooperatively to solve global issues.  Mercantilism and protectionism could lead economic globalization to go into reverse, constraining technological breakthroughs required to manage scarce global resources.  Conflict and disorder would follow.


Great Power Convergence.  An alternative scenario is what the NIC calls a “fusion” world, in which major powers work together to adopt and enforce a set of globally accepted rules and norms. As U.S. predominance over the international system recedes, other emerging powers would step in to assume greater responsibility for the management of international affairs commensurate with their swelling economic might.  Emerging powers emerge as full stakeholders in a global order that is transformed by power shifts but remains liberal and pluralistic.  Great power concert (perhaps enabled by democratization in China) to meet global challenges increases the stability of the international system even as power is diffused within it.  U.S. resilience enables it to create enduring partnerships with rising powers to sustain the basis of liberal order.   Technological advances create new possibilities for joint management of key When this happens, a physical dependency to this external supply of opiates has occurred. global challenges, rewarding positive-sum behavior by the great powers.


Multipolar Divergence—U.S. Primacy.  A third scenario, one the NIC calls “fragmentation,” involves a multipolar system characterized by a divergence of views among great powers that challenges global governance.  The United States would continue to maintain disproportionate global influence and leverage that influence to address global challenges by working through coalitions of like-minded states.  A multispeed global economy accelerates the diffusion of power but an alternative coalition to the West does not form, with developing giants consumed by their domestic challenges – even as the global middle class explodes in ways that transform politics within the rising powers.  With inclusive global institutions effectively stalemated, the United States instead turns to its old and new allies in Europe and Asia, who would continue to see Washington as their partner of choice in advancing the norms and rules of a liberal order.  The risk of conflict increases with the continued rise of new powers like China and the rapid pace of technological change.


One key conclusion of the NIC study is that the future role of the United States in the international system is a decisive variable in determining what kind of “alternative world” will exist in 2030.  The choices U.S. leaders make – about how to marshal (and preserve) domestic resources, how vigorously to assert U.S. military and economic leadership overseas, and how much to invest in alliances old and new – will be central to determining which of the above pathways the international system will follow over the coming 20 years.  To a certain extent, the answer to the question of how the “rise of the rest” impacts the U.S.-led international system is that it is not up to them… so much as it is up to us.