Coping with a G-Zero World

Coping with a G-Zero World

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In your latest book Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World, in many respects what you describe is a massive global power vacuum with no nation able to fill it. What do you mean by a G-Zero World? And in the Asia-Pacific, what does this mean for China?

A G-Zero World is one in which no single power or alliance of powers is willing and able to provide consistent global leadership. Not the United States or Europe. Not an emerging power like China or a bloc of emerging powers. Not the G-8 or the G-20. Each of these countries is preoccupied with challenges and risks at home, and each of these institutions produces a less coherent agenda as a result.

That said, though the United States, still the world’s most powerful country by far, will have to do more with less, bolstering the U.S. presence in Asia has become the top U.S. foreign policy priority. This will continue to be the case no matter who wins the presidential election in November. The motive is two-fold. First, Washington wants to use the fear that China’s rise generates among its neighbors to improve existing security ties with current allies (like Japan and South Korea) and to build partnerships with new ones (like India and Indonesia). Second, the U.S. hopes to profit from a broader and deeper commercial presence in the region that is most likely to provide the global economy with most of its dynamism over the next several years. Washington’s push to join and broaden the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement designed to liberalize the economies of members on both sides of the Pacific, is evidence of this trend. Negotiations over this pact don’t include China.

For the moment, the U.S. strategy in Asia isn’t to contain China, but merely to hedge against its growing political and economic clout. That could change, however, if U.S.-Chinese relations worsen significantly.

In a G-Zero World, will America be able to “pivot” to the Pacific with presumably less resources and available military power than in years past? Can the U.S. be successful in implementing its new strategy?

There are no guarantees that this strategy will work. On the one hand, America’s military power remains undiminished. The United States still spends as much on its military as the next 17 largest military spenders combined, and this hard power advantage won’t disappear anytime soon. But a number of Asian countries may find over time that if relations between the global superpower and the regional heavyweight sharply deteriorate, it will become increasingly difficult for them to maintain strong security ties with America while continuing to expand trade ties with China. They are more likely to be forced into taking sides.

The pivot will work more effectively if the United States is able to deepen its economic ties to the region. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a priority idea, but without the participation of heavyweights like Japan and Canada, it won’t provide the U.S. with many advantages it doesn’t already have. And it will take time to develop even if it is eventually a boost for trade flows. The U.S. can also coordinate with like-minded Asian governments on developing defenses against cyber-attack, on monetary policy, counter-terrorism, and technology development, etc.

What would you say are the main factors that have given rise to a G-Zero World? America’s damaged balance sheet from the global financial crisis? Twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? The rise of other powers such as China?

There are two major factors. First, there are the various problems and anxieties which have forced U.S. and European policymakers to downsize the ambitions that animate their foreign policies. An America divided over government spending and entitlement reforms coupled with a Europe that is deeply entangled in a multiyear bid to save the Eurozone creates an era in which elected officials in the world’s most powerful countries cannot afford to commit the time, energy and cash needed to try to export their political values and to put out fires in faraway lands. Second, there’s the “rise of the different,” the emergence in international politics of powerful new players who, unlike Cold War U.S. allies like West Germany and Japan, don’t share America’s political values and don’t accept U.S. leadership or U.S.-inspired rules of the road for international governance. Countries like China, Russia, India, Gulf Arab states and others lack the power to set an international agenda, but they are more than wealthy/powerful enough to obstruct U.S. plans.

In the cases of Bo Xilai and Chen Guangcheng, social media played a major role in transmitting information globally as well as expressing the viewpoints of Chinese citizens. The Arab Spring movement in many nations was spurred on by social media such as Twitter and Facebook. You are also very active on social media. In a G-Zero World, what role will social media play?

Before we get to 21st century social media, let’s remember that one of the most important drivers of the Arab Spring was good old-fashioned Al-Jazeera. That’s where the wave began. Before Facebook and Twitter, the domain mainly of the young, an Al-Jazeera reporter uncovered the terrible story of Mohammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian vegetable vendor whose act of despair ignited so much public anger. His plight reached satellite dishes across the region. Then came the new technology.

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