A World of Our Making
The international order that America created will endure—if we make the transition to a grand strategy based on reciprocity and shared leadership.
Fourth, all the great powers have alignments of interests that will continue to bring them together to negotiate and cooperate over the management of the system. All the great powers—old and rising—are status-quo powers. All are beneficiaries of an open world economy and the various services that the liberal international order provides for capitalist trading states. All worry about religious radicalism and failed states. Great powers such as Russia and China do have different geopolitical interests in various key trouble spots, such as Iran and South Asia, and so disagreement and noncooperation over sanctions relating to nonproliferation and other security issues will not disappear. But the opportunities for managing differences with frameworks of great-power cooperation exist and will grow.
Overall, the forces for continuity are formidable. Of course, there are many forces operating in the world that can generate upheaval and discontinuity. The collapse of the global financial system and an economic depression that triggers massive protectionism are possibilities. Terrorism and other forms of transnational violence can also trigger political panic and turmoil that would lead governments to shut down borders and reimpose restrictions on the movement of goods and people. But in the face of these seismic events in world politics, there are deep forces that keep the system anchored and stable.
The Rise of China
What about the challenge of a rising China? The rise of China is one of the great dramas of the twenty-first century. To some observers, such as historian Niall Ferguson and journalist Martin Jacques, we are witnessing the end of the American era and the gradual transition from a Western-oriented world order to one increasingly dominated by Asia. China will rule the world and will do so on very different terms. Scholars have begun to explore, more generally, the possible character of a post-Western international order. To be sure, China is indeed booming. The extraordinary growth of its economy—and its active diplomacy—is already transforming East Asia. Coming decades will almost certainly see further increases in Chinese power and further expansion of its influence on the world stage. But what sort of transition will it be? Will China seek to oppose and overturn the evolving Western-centered liberal international order, or will it integrate into and assert authority within that order?
It is possible that China could seek to construct a rival order—non-Western and nonliberal. In doing so, it could draw in other states that were similarly estranged from the existing system, perhaps including Russia and Iran. But if China resists this move and takes gradual steps toward integration and participation in a reformed and updated liberal international order, it is almost impossible to envisage a rump coalition of states that would be sufficiently large and powerful to create a rival order. As China goes, so goes the international system. But China’s choices also hinge on how the United States and the other liberal democracies act to reform and renew the existing rules and institutions. Indeed, there are reasons to think that China will continue to actively seek to integrate into an expanded and reorganized liberal international order.
Three features of this Western-oriented system are particularly relevant to how China makes decisions about whether to join or oppose it. The first relates to the rules and institutions of the capitalist world economy. More so than the imperial systems of the past, the liberal international order is built around rules and norms of nondiscrimination and market openness, creating conditions for rising states to participate within the order and advance their expanding economic and political goals within it. Across history, international orders have varied widely in terms of whether the material benefits that are generated accrue disproportionately to the leading state or whether they are more widely shared. In the Western system, the barriers to economic entry are low and the potential benefits are high. China has already discovered the massive economic returns that are possible through operating within this open market system.
A second feature of this order is the coalition-based character of its leadership. It is American led, but it is also an order in which a group of advanced liberal democratic states work together and assert collective leadership. A wider group of states is bound together and governs the system. These leading states do not always agree, but they are engaged in a continuous process of give-and-take over economics, politics, and security. This, too, is distinctive—past orders have tended to be dominated by one state. The stakeholders in the current order include a coalition of status-quo great powers that are arrayed around the old hegemonic state. This is important. Power transitions are typically seen as playing out in dyadic fashion between two countries: a rising state and a declining hegemon. This larger aggregation of democratic-capitalist states—and the resulting aggregation of geopolitical power—shifts the balance back in favor of the old order.
A third feature of the American-led liberal international order is its unusually dense, encompassing, and agreed-upon rules and institutions. International order can be rigidly hierarchical and governed through coercive domination exercised by the leading state, or it can be relatively open and organized around reciprocal, consensual, and rule-based relations. The postwar Western order has been more open and rule-based than any previous order. State sovereignty and the rule of law are not just norms enshrined in the UN Charter. They are part of the deep operating logic of the order. To be sure, as we have seen, these norms are evolving, and America has historically been ambivalent about binding itself to international law and institutions. But the overall system is remarkably dense with multilateral rules and institutions—global and regional, economic, political, and security-related. These institutional creations are one of the great breakthroughs of the postwar era, establishing the basis for greater levels of cooperation and shared authority and governance of the global system.
Post a Comment