Report and Retort: A World Without the West

Report and Retort: A World Without the West

Mini Teaser: Developing countries are going their own way, and they're doing it without the West. Weber, Barma and Ratner strike first.

by Author(s): Naazneen BarmaEly RatnerSteven Weber

Developing countries are going their own way, and they're doing it without the West. Weber, Barma and Ratner strike first. Devin StewartIan Bremmer and Chas Freeman address some of these issues, with more commentary to come in this inaugural edition of Report and Retort. Steven Weber responds here.

For the first time in a century, a set of large, populous and increasingly wealthy states-this time China, India and Russia-are on the cusp of achieving great-power status. The most important and most uncertain foreign-policy question facing American decision-makers over the next decade is simply this: What will be the relationship between these rising powers and an international system still governed by "Western" conceptions of order and based on the primacy of post-World War II U.S.-sponsored rules, drawn from liberal models of capitalism and democracy?

International-relations theory and American foreign-policy analysis alike portray rising nations as spokes to the hegemon's hub, forced to make a simple choice: They can directly challenge the United States for international leadership, leading to conflict, or they can integrate into the existing liberal order, leading to a peaceful evolution in which rising powers adapt to the American system, rather than make fundamental modifications to it. The future of world politics then is either systemic conflict or eventual assimilation.

An example of the typical analysis locked in the binary paradigm comes from Aaron Friedberg in International Security: "What is likely to be the character of the relationship between the United States and the [People's Republic of China] over the next two or three decades? Will it be marked by convergence toward deepening cooperation, stability, and peace or by deterioration, leading to increasingly open competition, and perhaps even war?"

By this logic, the high-level goal of American foreign policy is to structure the choice facing rising powers so that integration and assimilation are heavily favored, while hedging against the possibility of conflict, without allowing the hedge to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That has practically become a Washington, DC mantra, with bipartisan support. The disagreements among China hawks, China doves and China "realists" are not really about logic, they are about how much hedging is enough and how much is too much.

If only it were that simple. Rising powers are not bound to this set of strategic choices. The wishful mythology of a single and flattening world is convenient for Americans to believe, but wrongheaded. The technologies of globalization empower connectivity, but do not dictate equal terms of connection. The post-Cold War period is not a story of gradual modernization and progressive integration that connects the world uniformly to the benefit of all. Instead, it enables a distinct alternative to conflict and assimilation, whereby rising powers are increasingly "routing around" the West. By preferentially deepening their own ties amongst themselves, and in so doing loosening relatively the ties that bind them to the international system centered in the West, rising powers are building an alternative system of international politics whose endpoint is neither conflict nor assimilation with the West. It is to make the West, and American power in particular, increasingly irrelevant.

What is emerging is a "World Without the West." This world rests on a rapid deepening of interconnectivity within the developing world-in flows of goods, money, people and ideas-that is surprisingly autonomous from Western control, resulting in the development of a new, parallel international system, with its own distinctive set of rules, institutions and currencies of power. This system empowers those within it to take what they need from the West while routing around American-led world order. The rising powers have begun to articulate an alternative institutional architecture and distinct modes of governance that form the skeleton of their own, and very real, sustainable and legitimate (in the eyes of much of the rest of the world) political-economic order.

Wishful thinking and conceptual blinders together prevent Americans from seeing the emergence of a World Without the West for what it really is. Our foreign-policy choices are going to be made tougher than we think.

IN 2005 Robert Zoellick used the term "responsible stakeholder" to lay out a positive view of how and why a rising China would assimilate to the American-led world order. The underlying story is familiar: As rising powers integrate their economies with the West, the benefits of connectivity rise and the opportunity costs of conflict become too high to bear. The Chinese will come to recognize their stake in the status quo (the "stakeholder" part) and ramp up their contributions to global public goods needed to sustain it (the "responsible" part). The story often goes on to suggest that eventually the growth of the developing world's middle class will drive escalating demands for domestic democratic change. Mixing elements of 1960s-style modernization theory with 1990s-style democratic peace theory, the assimilationists expect rising powers to evolve in a direction that makes them want essentially what the United States wants out of international politics.

The endpoint of this argument is a reasonably functional, moderately adapted, but essentially familiar liberal world order where today's norms and rules have evolved somewhat, to take account of the new distribution of power, but have not really been overturned. In this view, the tensions in today's world-around offshoring and protectionism, intellectual-property debates, carbon emissions and who pays to reduce them-are stresses and strains, not fundamental cleavages. They are more like the burden-sharing squabbles that NATO allies suffer than anything else. They are simply the growing pains of a new global political economy still structured basically around American-sponsored rules.

The assimilationists are surely right to presume that the rising powers of the 21st century don't want to fight their way to international stature. War with the United States in a nuclear age is not a viable means for re-balancing international politics. But assimilating to an American-led liberal world order is not attractive either. As that order makes increasing demands on how domestic politics should be configured, it of course becomes less and less attractive to autocratic developing regimes. Today's rising powers are as different from the United States as Japan and Germany were from Britain in the late 1800s. Communal, rather than individual, traditions are strong. State stewardship of the economy is the dominant ideology. Raw power trumps contract law as the preferred means of arbitrating disputes. These are real differences with deep roots in economics and society, and-the hopeful notions of crude modernization theory notwithstanding-they are not being driven out by consumer goods, the Internet or increased GDP.

The liberal order directly threatens the legitimacy and authority that flows from the rising powers' ideas about order and governance. It does not mesh with their proposed relationship between individual, state and society. And so it makes sense for these states to use the forces of globalization to gradually revise the terms of their connection with the Western world in ways that enhance their autonomy.

They are empowered to do this by the same technology that Americans like to think flattens the world. Container shipping and the Internet do connect the world, but they don't have to connect everyone equally. And they are, in fact, not doing so. Consider the evolution of international trade patterns over the last 15 years. Though global trade has been increasing as a whole, the twenty largest and wealthiest countries in the developing world are, overall, preferentially trading with the rising powers that lead the pack-China, India, Russia and Brazil. And the rate at which they are doing so is rising every year. The critical fact here is that this deepening of interconnectivity in the World Without the West is well in excess of what standard economic models of trade (the gravity model) would predict. Given that these models already control for a number of factors thought to affect bilateral trade, including GDP, this means that these patterns cannot be explained away by blistering economic growth in China and India.

The same goes more generally for foreign direct investment and telecommunications. As a result, Chinese foreign investment in large public infrastructure projects has begun to revitalize long-moribund African cities, such as Luanda, Angola. Meanwhile-as part of $1.9 billion in trade deals between Chinese and African leaders in November 2006-Chinese companies are committed to such diverse projects as building expressways in Nigeria, laying a telephone network in rural Ghana and building an aluminum smelter in Egypt. But this isn't a story just about China. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez signed $200 million worth of trade deals with Iran just days before his infamous 2006 appearance at the un General Assembly podium and has promised subsidized oil for his Bolivarian allies in Latin America. And in 2005, Russia surpassed the United States as the largest supplier of arms to the developing world, with China, India and Iran as the Kremlin's most reliable customers.

The landscape of globalization now looks like this: While connectivity for the globe as a whole has increased in the last twenty years, it is increasing at a much faster rate among countries outside the Western bloc. The World Without the West is becoming preferentially and densely interconnected. This creates the foundation for the development of a new, parallel international system, with its own distinctive set of rules, institutions, ways of doing things-and currencies of power.

Essay Types: Essay