État Terrible

État Terrible

Mini Teaser: We see ourselves as an insular nation, but other countries know otherwise—and are attempting to undermine U.S. global hegemony.

by Author(s): Andrew C. Kuchins

The other commonality between Moscow's and Beijing's views of the world concerns the ongoing shifting balance of power away from the unipolar moment of the 1990s to a genuinely multipolar world. This rhetoric is not new, but the difference today is that there is a lot more evidence to support the conclusion that the global balance of power is shifting, and the Russians feel themselves to be one of the emerging powers. For several years now the financial and investment community has used the term brics to describe the large emerging economic world powers: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Mr. Putin himself recently alluded to the emergence of the brics as a powerful stimulus towards a reordered multipolar world in his speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007:

The combined GDP measured in purchasing power parity of countries such as India and China is already greater than that of the United States. And a similar calculation with the gdp of the bric countries-Brazil, Russia, India and China-surpasses the cumulative gdp of the eu. And according to experts this gap will only increase in the future. There is no reason to doubt that the economic potential of the new centres of global economic growth will inevitably be converted into political influence and will strengthen multipolarity.

Aside from the impressive performance of the authoritarian capitalists led by China and Russia, there is another important factor behind the loss of momentum for democracy promotion of late. That is, the yawning gap between the glowing rhetoric of the Bush Administration about democracy and the perception in much of the rest of the world that cynical self-interests lie behind Washington's democracy-promotion efforts. As Dimitri Simes put it in these pages, "Any realistic discussion of U.S. foreign policy must begin with the recognition that, notwithstanding American's views and preferences, most of the rest of the world sees the United States as a nascent imperial power." And certainly this kind of critique of U.S. foreign policy is hardly uniquely tied to the Bush Administration. Recall how former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine's blistering criticism of the United States in the 1990s as a hyperpuissance resonated in capitals around the world.

What is new is just how wide the gap has grown between U.S. rhetoric and international perceptions. An anonymous Chinese contribution to a bbc-sponsored web chat on democracy in 2004 illustrates a common view of how far America's credibility has fallen around the world:

I see that China's political reforms [are] excruciatingly slow, and that America is very dynamic. In the past the reports from the Chinese news media were a pile of regurgitated nonsense. I was so frustrated I left China to study elsewhere. Initially, I wanted to make a new start, only to realize that even the American media and Bush are just like the CCTV station in its perpetual and daily repeated broadcasts of reports related to [9/11], democracy, and combating terrorism, as if democracy promotion and counter-terrorism were a cure-all. Bush is using the excuse of democracy promotion and counter-terrorism to run the world unscrupulously. To me, Bush is even more unscrupulous than the terrorists themselves!

Recent survey research conducted by Sarah Mendelson and Ted Gerber shows that Russians view the United States as a more dangerous nation than Iran or China.

This brings us back full circle to Kagan's thesis that perhaps the greatest drawback of American foreign policy-aside from the failure to always live up to its high ideals-is what he identifies as the "gap between America's self perception and the perception of others [that] has endured throughout the nation's history." Despite a history of 400 years of steady expansion and increased involvement in world affairs, Americans tend to see themselves as passive, indifferent and prone to insularity. Perhaps some of this self-image stems from George Washington's famous farewell address when he warned the young and weak United States about the dangers of "entangling alliances", a speech that latter-day isolationists often hearken back to. Since the United States has occupied a position of global hegemony for 15 years-if not decades-you would think that Americans would have a better understanding of the rest of the world's view that less-than-pure, self-interested motives drive U.S. foreign policy. And while the gap between our self-perception and others' perception of U.S. policies grows, the yawning gap between U.S. power and potential rivals is rapidly evaporating. And those are dangerous trends, indeed.

Andrew C. Kuchins is a senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

1Thomas Carothers, "The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion", Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 55-68.

Essay Types: Book Review