If the United States and Western Europe were erased from the map, what would the world look like? Speaking at The National Interest on August 2, Steven Weber, director of University of California-Berkeley's Institute of International Studies, offered his thoughts on the shape of such a world-one whose contours are rapidly emerging.
U.S. and European officials and experts tend to see the rest of the world's policy choices through the distorted lens of U.S. hegemony, so they have failed to give proper consideration to significant developments elsewhere. Westerners believe that non-Western states face two stark choices: integration into the existing international order or defiance of Western global leadership. Yet these countries have avoided this binary bind by taking a third path-one that avoids interaction with U.S. power and Western-crafted global institutions. A "significant group" of states is in the process of building a parallel international system with the goal-"if there is one"-of making U.S. power irrelevant, the scholar said.
Weber's data indicated that the rate of economic and political interconnection is growing much faster within the World without the West than between the West and everyone else. Consequently, a new "bloc" founded upon "modern mercantilist, resource-based notions" has sprung up. This bloc, unlike the one constructed by the Soviets, features "high interconnectivity, but low coordination", Weber noted.
Western ideas have little resonance in this part of the globe. A neo-Westphalian view of state sovereignty-that states exercise absolute control over events within their borders-holds sway over UN-approved notions of universal human rights. Moreover, Western-endorsed concepts of globalization and economic liberalization garner only tepid support, since non-Western populations have benefited little from them. These people perceive that improvements in their material conditions have come not from Western free-market capitalism but from state-directed capital and resource nationalism.
Weber noted that it is convenient for Americans to ignore the burgeoning ties within the non-Western world. While complacency may be comforting, U.S. policymakers must face the reality that the trends Weber describes are not illusory.
The United States has three imperfect options for dealing with these new circumstances, he said. First, the United States can seek to block the growth of the World without the West, a poor choice. Since this region of the world possesses huge reserves of U.S. Treasury bills, any attempt to stymie this emerging bloc's economic development will likely lead to a U.S. financial crisis. A military confrontation with non-Western states would prove similarly reckless. Alternatively, the United States could simply ignore the competing system, engaging it only at unavoidable "points of connection." This is also not a responsible strategy, Weber said.
The best option is to "try to get serious about competing for the allegiance of states in play", Weber said. This strategy would require the United States to immediately take drastic measures, like eliminating agricultural subsidies or allowing generic drug producers to copy patented drug molecules. Certainly, such policy reversals would create an uproar in Washington.
Although the United States is regarded in the rest of the world as a dysfunctional power, many states, including China, benefit from the United States' global pre-eminence. The Chinese and others "free-ride on the U.S. provision of global public goods." Weber suggested that the United States might make "China ante up" if U.S. policymakers proved will to let China share the decision-making responsibilities associated with hegemony. Unfortunately, Weber is "not sure we're willing to face that choice."
Commentary on a World Without the West
Following Steven Weber's discussion of "A World Without the West", several audience members took the opportunity to question and challenge Weber's thesis.
Dov Zakheim, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and former undersecretary of defense and comptroller, shifted the discussion to the broader West beyond the United States.
"There are alignments that are starting to take place", Zakheim said, referring to Japan, Europe and India. "To what extent does that change things?"
While the United States might be struggling to adapt to a new global order, its allies around the world might not be, rendering the West far less monolithic and unresponsive than Weber and his co-authors suggest.
"What drives norms? Just states?" Stewart asked rhetorically.
As the economies of emerging countries continue to grow, new interests will emerge that shape policy. Foreign direct investment and human rights are interrelated, as investors seek out countries that promise long-term stability and growth opportunities, which depend on human rights.
Furthermore, citing distrust between China and Russia as an example, Stewart spoke of the lack of commonalities between emerging countries such as Russia, India and China, which will limit the emergence of a competitor bloc to the West.
Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and a contributing editor to The National Interest, did not see "this alternative system coming into being."