collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was supposed to mark both the "end of
history" and the birth of an international community founded on the universal
acceptance of Western values -- a world in which "market democracy" was the
norm. Instead, the West has suffered a litany of disappointments -- from costly
wars to financial crises to the rise of non-Western powers -- that has left it
deeply disillusioned. Far from a cooperative, rule-based order, the
contemporary world is a place of vast, permanent competition -- a muddled
melee among regional poles, countries, governments, businesses, banks,
financial funds, rating agencies, producers, consumers, individuals,
international media, and criminal organizations, if not also between "civilizations."
This competition continues even in the forums that are supposed to regulate it:
the World Trade Organization, the G-20, and others.
the end of the Cold War, those in the West with universalist sensibilities -- particularly
in Europe -- strove to promote international exchange. Of course, this exchange
was supposed to be unidirectional -- the projection of the values of freedom and progress
and the market economy onto the rest of the world. But, to the consternation of
the proselytizing West, the outside world is now being projected onto it. Just as colonized peoples turned
colonizers' ideas -- liberté, égalité --
against them, the globalized peoples
have begun to leverage the deregulated global economy to their advantage. As a
result, we have seen the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and dozens of other "emerging"
countries that signal the end of Western control over global affairs.
with this disorienting new reality, part of the Western elite has taken refuge
in denial, insisting on ever more openness and globalization -- and falling
further and further out of touch with public opinion. Meanwhile, the accumulation of these upheavals is producing a
sense of vertigo and even panic among Western populations. All the world's
flows -- trade, finance, migration, culture -- seem totally unchecked and
uncontrollable, at least by the West and the international organizations that
have, until now, served their interests. In the United States, the Republican Party
is adrift. Unable to accept the end of a John Wayne-esque era, party leaders
seek at once to isolate the United States and curb the threat of competition
from the "rest." This reaction, no doubt, contributed to the GOP's defeat on
Europe, we are seeing the rise of utopian and protest votes, quasi-mutinies at
the polls, a sharp increase in anti-incumbency, and, on the flip side, voter abstention
and general distrust. These phenomena are linked not only to the economic
crisis and the recession but also to a gnawing feeling of powerlessness that is
undermining civic confidence. Nowhere is the psychological distress more acute
than in France, where surveys have found that citizens are more worried about the
future than in Afghanistan.
anxiety that prevails in Europe about the emerging world order has created a
new audience for catastrophic predictions. This intellectual current, fed by
apocalyptic extrapolations of all kinds, seeks utopian panaceas in the form of
rational world government, European federalism, international civil society,
and international justice. Such ideals offer a substitute for confidence in the
market and the veneration of multilateralism and the international
"community." It is a mindset that stands in stark contrast with that of
non-European peoples, who brim with optimism and regard the future with
confidence and appetite.
Today, use of the phrase "win-win globalization" amounts to provocation, at least
in Europe. Europeans have been especially disappointed by the current shifts
because many desperately wanted to believe they were living in a post-tragic
world that had evolved beyond history and identity. It was their age of
innocence. But instead they got austerity and an almost post-democratic system
of sanctions to ensure budgetary discipline.
the moment at least, the debate over eurozone economic policy has been settled
in favor of iron-fisted Merkelian rule. But the election of François
Hollande in France has opened a crucial parallel debate about growth and the
appropriate balance between efficiency and democracy in Europe. As a result, it
is not impossible to imagine a compromise involving reforms that are not overly
harsh or hasty and that are gradual enough to be socially and politically
is on this kind of deal-making that the West's future will turn. Given the
magnitude of the global shifts under way, the course charted by
Western governments today will have a monumental impact on world politics
tomorrow. The challenges facing the
United States and Europe today are different but intertwined: Europeans must
awaken from their strategic slumber; Americans must accept the new global
realities and adapt their strategy accordingly.
* * *
emergence of certain countries, formerly referred to as "Third World"
or by the well-intentioned euphemism "developing countries" (even
when they were not), is now an undeniable fact. There is China with its more
than 1.3 billion inhabitants and staggering economic growth, the whole of Asia,
and the BRICS, minus Russia, which is more hovering than emerging.
All told, some observers count as many as 100 emerging countries. This means
that we now have the older developed countries of the G-7 and the OECD, the emerging or emerged
countries (the most important of which are members of the G-20), and the
pre-emerging countries from the so-called Global South, most of which are
located in Africa. Indeed, half of the
world's 20 fastest-growing economics are located in Africa.
daily barrage of figures and statistics paints a picture of this brave new
world. But with the exception of a handful of Western multinational
corporations that have a short-term interest in recklessly transferring core or
cutting-edge technology, the West remains stupefied by, if not oblivious to,
the enormous adjustments that will be required in order to adapt. Already, the
West has begun to lose its monopoly on industrial capacity, technical
expertise, and even currency, now that China and Japan have begun trading in
yuan and yen. Likewise, soft power is now part of the arsenal of a growing list
of emerging countries. Even the balance of military power -- as reflected in
rising military budgets in China, India, and Brazil -- is shifting ever so
slightly, as is the geopolitical clout that is the handmaiden of military
might. Indeed, how else can one explain India's and Brazil's decision to ally
themselves with Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council to block Western
intervention in Syria?
is no aspect of Western supremacy that emerging countries are not prepared to
challenge -- now or in the future -- from the distribution of power within
international institutions to the values that underwrite them. For the first
time in history, as former U.S. national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft
rightly pointed out in 2008, "all of humanity is politically active."
if emerging powers have grown increasingly assertive on the world stage, they
do not appear poised to supplant their more established counterparts -- at
least not yet. The meteoric rise of such powers over the last decade has, to a
certain extent, obscured the fact that all suffer from vulnerabilities.
Political risks, such as the uncertain future of the Russian and Chinese
regimes and a limited but growing opposition in many other countries, could
eventually impede their development. Likewise, inequality has risen to
explosive levels in many emerging countries, just as growth rates are tapering
off and high inflation has necessitated "cooling" policies in places like
Brazil. Environmental problems, pollution, overexploitation, and scarcity also
loom on the horizon.
is important to remember, moreover, that per capita income is still very low in
most emerging countries and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And
while demographics can be an asset, they can also be a liability: India is
weighed down by overpopulation, China by its aging population, and Russia by
depopulation. Russia may have oil and gas, but it is struggling to
establish a modern economy. There is also a tendency to overestimate the unity
and homogeneity of the emerging powers. They come together to criticize the
West and stake claims, but are just as often divided by individual rivalries --
strategic competition between China and India, commercial competition between
Brazil and Argentina, and competition between Nigeria and South Africa over
leadership in Africa.
we tend to forget, especially in Europe, that Western countries retain
considerable advantages. Not only do they dominate the word's international
institutions, but Western countries still enjoy colossal wealth and economic power.
The West comprises 58 percent of global GDP and 40 percent of international
trade when you include Japan. Moreover, the American capacity for invention and
creation remains unrivaled, and its soft power unequaled. The United States has won 39 percent of Nobel Prizes ever awarded and 48 percent of prizes in the sciences, medicine, and
technology. What's more, the West boasts almost all the top global
universities, and its education
levels are still higher than in other parts of the world.
Western countries retain a military advantage that they are unlikely to
relinquish anytime soon. U.S. defense spending continues to represent close to
half of global military spending, and France and Britain have maintained
their military capabilities. Moreover, the prospect of American disengagement
is deeply worrying to neighbors of the largest emerging powers, strengthening
the United States' position worldwide and making possible proposals like
President Barack Obama's plan to establish a trans-Pacific free trade zone that
would exclude China. Lastly, American cultural supremacy is beyond question and to that we can add the vitality of Francophonie (even if the French elite
is losing interest in it) and Hispanidad.
In short, the West is in no danger of being eclipsed by the rest.
* * *
what will the future hold? It seems clear that the West will never recover the
unique position it held from the 16th through the 20th centuries, nor will the
United States regain the kind of unchallenged power it enjoyed in 1945 or
during the hyperpower decade of the 1990s. It will no longer be the only force
shaping the world. At the same time, however, it is highly unlikely that China
-- assuming that it even wants to -- will dominate the world as America has
done, for the last century, with its hard power and soft power. Nor will Asia as a
whole, much less the many emerging powers, whose interests are far too diverse
to form a permanent bloc. We will not be entering a "post-American world"
anytime soon. The United States will almost certainly retain its position of
leadership -- albeit a leadership that is relative, contested, and challenged --
even after the overall size of China's economy has surpassed it around 2020.
It is likely, however, that China
will try to tighten its grip on its neighbors and extend its influence over
countries whose economies depend heavily on Chinese imports or investment,
particularly those in Africa and Latin America. The balance of power among the
world's major powers will thus continue to oscillate, following French analyst
Pierre Hassner's prediction of a long chaos, or at the very least strategic
disorder. Competition will be the defining feature of world politics.
* * *
Faced with these challenges, how should Western countries proceed? Formulating
-- and sticking to -- a coherent strategy will be paramount if the West is to
maximize its interests, even as the balance of power shifts in favor of
emerging countries. Inevitably, this will mean accepting the necessary
adjustments to international institutions and reaching agreements with new
powers on rules and norms, as well as on reasonable timetables for any changes
agreed upon. All this will require Europeans to re-embrace strategic and historical
thought, start thinking of Europe as a power, focus on broader projects, end
institutional bickering, and coordinate with each other (at least the largest
countries) in order to make Europe a leader in the re-regulation of
globalization run amok.
often as possible, Europe should coordinate policies and strategies with the
United States. Together, they should forge alliances, issue by issue, with one
or more emerging powers. The West must also restimulate economic growth -- not
just any kind of growth, but sustainable growth that will drive a "greening"
process guided by new economic indicators that are more relevant than stale, simplistic measures like GDP. This growth must be based on market economies
re-regulated by sensible rules and safeguards, in which the financial sector is
scaled back to reasonable proportions and discouraged from seeking artificial
financial gains and engaging in unlimited speculation that is largely
unconnected to the real economy. The reordering of the economic sphere, in
turn, will depend on our ability to re-legitimize our democratic systems and
make them effective once again, perhaps by redirecting some of the energy
produced by protest movements or "direct" democracy and better protecting our
political systems from the tyranny of focus groups and incessant polling.
is a striking contrast between the West's current position -- and the medium-
and long-run potential it still maintains -- and the atmosphere of anxiety that
predominates. Europe is weighed down by pessimism, France by melancholy. But if
Europe cleans up its finances, kick-starts sufficient levels of growth, and
improves efficiency without becoming too technocratic, its future will be
primary handicap in the multipolar scuffle that has just begun is its
pessimism. It should take a cue from Franklin D. Roosevelt and embrace the idea
that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The United States, meanwhile,
continues to believe in its role, in its capacity for recovery, and in itself.
This American religion -- optimism -- is still intact, even if the structure of
the electorate that rehired Obama represents a spectacular and irreversible
demographic shift. And by giving the incumbent president a second chance in
spite of a number of disappointments, the majority of Americans demonstrated an
understanding that the United States will not be able to meet the challenges
ahead by moving backward. But there are two Americas. Mitt Romney's America and
Obama's America have fundamentally different conceptions of how best to respond
to the rise of the "rest," and this division will no doubt make consensus on
foreign policy very challenging.
the outside, the psychological gap between the United States and Europe is
growing wider. The striking
contradiction between the global nature of the problems that must be confronted
and the national frameworks within which decisions are made is strengthening
the resolve of many countries to maintain enough power to impose their will on
the international system -- or at least to prevent the system from imposing the
will of others upon them. These countries are not putting their confidence in a
hypothetical "global government," which will no doubt remain a utopia (though
we could see some form of "collective government" in the future). The human
race is characterized by thousands of years of differentiation; a few
decades of Internet has not homogenized or made it "flat." Progress, therefore,
will depend on cooperation, just as it always has.
competition will occur alongside growing interdependence and mounting pressure
from the global environmental time bomb.
This situation could lead to increased confrontation and potentially even
conflict. Responsible actors must therefore work to deepen cooperative norms.
But the road to international cooperation will not be straight, smooth or
without turmoil, especially because economic and financial competition, even if it
is better regulated, will produce unstable and shifting power relations.
this period of intense competition is to be managed peacefully, all the
major powers -- starting with the United States and China -- must cede certain
claims and parts of their mythology, without relinquishing the defense of their
legitimate vital interests. These countries must then help their populations
understand and accept such shifts, despite the existence of fears and the
instinct for power. This will not be an easy task. Governance in China will be
more difficult in the future than it has been during the past 25 years. And it
is unclear whether the American people will learn to accept what their
president clearly understands -- that its leadership, if it is to endure,
must become more sophisticated, at times exercised "from behind" and at other
moments practiced by proxy. Will the United States come to terms with this and
benefit from a clear understanding of the new realities and forces at work in
the world? Will it accept that, even if
it does this, American leadership will still be relative, not absolute? The way the United States, which increasingly
resembles a global-nation, responds
to this challenge will have a major impact on the world of tomorrow and
especially on its European allies. If the United States fails to respond -- and
if Europe sinks deeper into despair -- the West won't just lose its monopoly on
global power; it will be shut out of the global power structure