I had a chance to respond to Steve Weber in person yesterday at the Nixon Center on his excellent "World Without the West" article in the National Interest. Editor Nick Gvosdev (he blogs about it here) convened about 40 senior scholars, government officials, and writers to discuss Weber's provocative article, which warns of alternative power centers--namely in China, India, and Russia--in the international system.
Weber's research shows that these three economies are integrating more rapidly with the developing world than one would expect. He suggests that the United States either: 1. try to stop these economies from integrating more rapidly with the developing world; 2. vie for contested relationships (or "make more friends" as I put it); or 3. do nothing and allow this group of economies to do what they will.
I initially lead the critique online--on the National Interest's website here. As I mentioned yesterday, the World Without the West argument ignores the inevitability of economic change between the RICs. It is likely that one of the three economies will grow faster than the other two, changing their relationships and shared interests. As the gap between these economies grows, their relationships with the developing world will also change. Second, these three rising powers face pressures for more transparent, accountable governance from three sources—pressure from their citizens, bilateral partners and the international community.
Third, these three states have little in common with one another. Moreover, when I ask Russians or Chinese about the potential for cooperation between the two, they look at me like I am telling them a joke. As one commenter said yesterday, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is "meaningless." Meanwhile, India is a ball of paradoxes just like any other state. The National Interest actually published an article about this point in the same edition--the article is John Thomson's "Inconclusive India," which ends on an optimistic note about Indian society:
"...it became clear to me that India can continue to build on its current momentum if the people and government coalesce around principles of responsibility, charity and restraint. To do so, they will need to successfully embrace a broad spectrum of issues—most particularly values that are personified by the father of independent India," Thomson writes.
I ended my comments by offering a few thoughts for discussion. First, ethics and leadership are linked. A power that is unethical is unsustainable. In other words, if a rising power is viewed as immoral, illegitimate, or not benign, the classic balance of threat mechanism snaps in to place and countries will likely balance against the perceived divergence in values.
Second, which actors drive norms in the international system? It is no longer just the state. These days, civil societies, consumers, and corporations are increasingly at the forefront of addressing problems of climate change to labor abuse--far ahead of governments.
Finally, where do liberal values come from? Are they the result of a culture's experience with philosophical traditions or are they the pragmatic result of interactions between international businesses? In other words, transparency and accountability are not only right but they also facilitate business relationships.
The Nixon Center will be posting a summary of the event soon. To read more about it, visit their site here.