The best way to test any theory about international relations is to compare its predictions with real world events. This past week, two events demonstrated why the thesis about the possible emergence of a "World Without the West", advanced in the pages of The National Interest this past summer by Nazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steven Weber does have legs.
One of the features of the "World Without the West" they identified was that of growing interconnectivity between its members (rather than with the United States or Western Europe). They noted that while "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." They also pointed out that this was creating the foundation for a "parallel international system" that would be based on a "neo-Westphalian synthesis" where states "bargain with each other about the terms of their external relationships, but staunchly respect the rights of each other to order its own society, politics and culture without external interference."
So what's in the news?
First, we have ASEAN unwilling, at the East Asia Summit in Singapore, to become involved in what many see as a purely domestic affair-the ongoing crackdown in Myanmar (Burma). With the notable exception of the Philippines, the states of Southeast Asia are disinclined to intervene in the internal affairs of another state. A very clear signal is being sent: that the members of ASEAN do not see intervention into the affairs of member-states, even to promote human rights and political reform, as a key purpose-and certainly not at the expense of trade. "We have not been in favor of sanctions on Myanmar-neither any of the ASEAN countries, nor any of the Asian countries", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared at the closing of the summit. Sounds like the neo-Westphalian approach still has its supporters.
The second is the release of the latest figures from the Baltic Exchange's dry sea freight index. Despite the slowdown in the U.S. economy, the index has soared by almost 150 percent-even as the data collected by the Department of Transportation reported that the "Freight Transportation Services Index" hit its lowest point since January 2004.
In their analysis of this development for Reuters, Nick Carey and Emily Kaiser suggest that "emerging powerhouses China and India are pulling enough weight to counterbalance a downturn in the world's biggest economy" and go on to note that "China, Russia and India will likely account for more than half of 2007 growth." The United States-even in combination with Europe-does not automatically call the shots for the global economy anymore.
And now a word of caution. What we are seeing are trends, not a fait accompli. ASEAN will have to measure its stance on Burma as it risks being able to reach trade agreements with the European Union and the United States. How long India and China can sustain their voracious appetites for resources is still an open question.
But it never hurts for us to be vigilant-and to be alert to these global trends which point to a future where the United States might become less indispensable than it thinks it is.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.