Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Rise of the Rest III" (2010)

Earlier this month, we held at the Carnegie Council the third iteration of our ongoing series on the "rise of the rest" or the emergence of non-Western powers in international affairs. Our March 9, 2010 panel titled "Rise of the Rest III" was a follow up to a similarly themed event we held at Carnegie Council in 2008 and one that I participated in at the Nixon Center in Washington DC in 2007. Here is a summary from the original 2007 panel called "The World Without the West." Here is my summary and my speech from 2007.

Nicholas Gvosdev kicked off the panel this month by reviewing some of the points made at the last two panels.

A point I made in 2007 was that the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries are not similar, nor are they a coherent alliance. But why the BRICs has been working as a group is that these countries are coordinating their actions and using theirs relationships as force multipliers, Gvosdev said. It allows the members to credibly speak for half the planet. Gvosdev pointed to embryonic groupings that can go around the United States if U.S. leadership is unsatisfactory.

The southern democracies, like Brazil and India, act as "independents" in international affairs. They will work with the United States when they see it in their interest and will work with other southern democracies, for example through the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) Dialogue Forum when they don't. IBSA is coordinating on trade issues but is also making forays into military joint activities as well, Gvosdev said.

Craig Charney started by making the point that there is an international consensus among peoples that they want some sort of elected and accountable political leadership. "Democracy" broadly means "free expression" worldwide, and people want to choose their own leaders, according to Charney's extensive polling. It is "minimalist" support for democracy and not very deep. It is not a demand for "free and fair elections," but the desire to choose own's leader is a "very powerful trend at present," Charney said.

Charney also identified "connectedness," along with collective responsibility and national power, as another powerful trend and reality in international affairs today. "We are seeing the emergence of imagined communities," which is reinforcing national sentiment through electronic media, Charney said. He noted that 70 percent of humanity now lives in a family with a telephone, creating billions of communications possibilities and accelerating collective consciousness, collective action, and social movements.

As for China, Charney made a fascinating point that seems to resonate with my own research in Asia: Worldwide people admire China for its economic growth, but the admiration for the United States goes much deeper to include America's legal system, its movies, its popular culture, its educational system, its openness, etc. Recently, I have tried to make a somewhat playful point to some of my friends that until China creates modern equivalents to rock 'n' roll and Hollywood, I will be unconcerned about Chinese influence. Give me a Chinese Michael Jackson and "Avatar," I will be worried about a decline in U.S. influence.

Parag Khanna identified a widespread crisis of global governance--in power, norms, and institutions. The emerging powers or "the rest" do not yet have the appropriate voice in global goverance commensurate with their political and economic weight. In power relations, for example, there is no credible proposal on the table to expand the UN Security Council or reform the board of the IMF. For norms, the rules, for example over democracy or intellectual property or humanitarian intervention, are in question. As for institutions, the proposals have been unimaginative. "Meta global governance" has been uninspired, Khanna said.

"What is global governance?" Khanna asked. It is the sum of: multilateral bodies (like the UN), regional mechanisms (like the African Union), inter-regional functional activities (like bilateral climate change cooperation), and the huge array of public-private partnerships (like the activities of the Gates Foundation), Khanna answered. Global governance therefore has no center, Khanna said. So to capture the totality of globalization, "you have to think of global governance as radically decentralized," he said.

Stephen Young asserted that the epistemology of modern civilization is fundamentally nihilistic, and therefore there are no norms or values, only power. But power fragments unless you have a dominant power. So the world is guided by Hobbesian dynamics--"kill or be killed, eat or be eaten," Young said. You therefore need to find norms and values common to many traditions. He rejected the idea that America actually ever had hegemony in the international system but underscored the importance of the "rise of the rest" in a world that is fundamentally about power.

Nevertheless, the central and continuing importance of "the West" in international affairs actually makes "the rise of the rest" the "second rise of the West," Young said. He also asked whether what we might see if a "convergence of societies," as I have argued elsewhere, for example in relation to Google's exit from China. Young concluded that greed has been a perennial problem in the global economy and we have not much evolved since the Dutch tulip bubble of the 1600s. Young's group, the Caux Round Table, sees the need to promote corporate responsibility, use core (universal) values in corporate governance, and to find the right pricing in the economy even if it takes state intervention.

I asked the panel what I asked Harry Harding in 2008: In this new world of emerging powers is cooperation possible? (Harding's response is above.) This time, each panelist had slightly differing views. Young said cooperation is possible but it will be case specific and we therefore need to engage by acknowledging the identities of potential partners. Gvosdev said cooperation will require a real give-and-take, especially between the United States and China. We have to honestly ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want, said Gvosdev. The United States asks for more burden sharing from China but when China becomes more assertive Americans get suspicious. Like Young and many in the Obama administration, Charney said cooperation will depend on establishing a dialogue on shared interests. Khanna finished by saying we will see a world that is "to each his own. You will see more and more of what Charles Kupchan of Georgetown calls the autonomy rule—engaging with other countries in such a way that one can't push too far beyond the extent to which one is really respecting their own autonomy and self-directed evolution. I think we'll see more of that."

To view the transcript and the video in its entirety of the event, click here. A special thanks to our corporate sponsors Booz, HP, and Merck for making this event possible. We look forward to the next iteration of this ongoing series. Like any successful Hollywood movie, another sequel is expected--"Rise of the Rest IV," perhaps next time in 3D.

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