photo illustration by Kevin Van Aelst; reprinted with permission from the New York Times
My New America Foundation colleague Parag Khanna has a vital article out today in the New York Times Magazine titled “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony.”
While scenarios of the world’s geostrategic and geopolitical future are proliferating today not only i Khanna’s essay but in other provocative articles like “After Iraq” by Jeffrey Goldberg, Khanna’s comprehensive approach to the question of America’s future makes a great deal of sense to me.
What I like most is that he articulates what I’ve been sensing for some time in the global marketplace of power. Other nations aren’t going to count on America’s guarantees quite as much as before. They are filling the void of America’s perceived decline with their own plans and pretensions and gambling that tomorrow’s future will be far more fluid than yesterday’s — and that some of America’s allies and foes will be able to surf this lack of global equilibrium into a better position.
Khanna perceptively writes:
At best, America’s unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership.
So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules — their own rules — without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world.
The more we appreciate the differences among the American, European and Chinese worldviews, the more we will see the planetary stakes of the new global game. Previous eras of balance of power have been among European powers sharing a common culture. The cold war, too, was not truly an “East-West” struggle; it remained essentially a contest over Europe. What we have today, for the first time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, multipolar battle.
I particularly liked Khanna’s treatment of trends in Asia:
Without firing a shot, China is doing on its southern and western peripheries what Europe is achieving to its east and south. Aided by a 35 million-strong ethnic Chinese diaspora well placed around East Asia’s rising economies, a Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere has emerged.
Like Europeans, Asians are insulating themselves from America’s economic uncertainties. Under Japanese sponsorship, they plan to launch their own regional monetary fund, while China has slashed tariffs and increased loans to its Southeast Asian neighbors. Trade within the India-Japan-Australia triangle — of which China sits at the center — has surpassed trade across the Pacific.
At the same time, a set of Asian security and diplomatic institutions is being built from the inside out, resulting in America’s grip on the Pacific Rim being loosened one finger at a time. From Thailand to Indonesia to Korea, no country — friend of America’s or not — wants political tension to upset economic growth. To the Western eye, it is a bizarre phenomenon: small Asian nation-states should be balancing against the rising China, but increasingly they rally toward it out of Asian cultural pride and an understanding of the historical-cultural reality of Chinese dominance.
And in the former Soviet Central Asian countries — the so-called Stans — China is the new heavyweight player, its manifest destiny pushing its Han pioneers westward while pulling defunct microstates like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as oil-rich Kazakhstan, into its orbit. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization gathers these Central Asian strongmen together with China and Russia and may eventually become the “NATO of the East.”
Khanna’s depiction of what is coming next is essential reading and gives one an informed snapshot of the mess that America will have in tomorrow’s world.
Much of what Khanna describes would have happened over time regardless of the failure of both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to put America on a more enlightened and constructive track at the end of the Cold War. But as Charles Kupchan, author of The End of the American Era: US Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-First Century, has told me many times — “President Bush sped up history and made what would have taken a couple of decades happen in just a few years.”
For those who want more, I highly recommend Parag Khann’s book which will be out in March, The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order
– Steve Clemons