Coping with a G-Zero World

Coping with a G-Zero World


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.

June 20, 2012 at 01:16

@Anjan: " but unfortunately that may not be the case because it is an universal truth that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (a) The world has seen how the Americans have treated others as a hegemon, starting from dropping nukes on unarmed civilians, to mass destruction in Vietnam, Combodia and Laos." — Wrong!  The US did drop boms on VN, but  not nukes as you implied.  Also, the deaths caused by the communist block whose china and the USSR as the ring leaders was far more than US boms.  Just research the Cambodia's Red Khmers to find out.  china trained, supported and supplied them to exterminate 1/3 of Cambodia's population.  Does the killing fields ring a bell to you?
" b) The world is now witnessing how the US is treating its own people protesting at the Wall Street. Things is likely to get uglier in the years to come and will likely expose the ugly side of a power when prospertity diminishes." — If there is such an incident like the Wall Street in china, people would have been run over with tanks already.  Does Tiananmen square ring a bell to you?

June 8, 2012 at 22:56

@Frankie Fook-lun Leung,
Sure, you are a lawyer. That is you are trained to defend whoever pays you well to do so, even the devil. That’s your job.
I maintain that your previous post was not clear. Either you ignored that China pretended to be “provoked” or you seemed to accuse the US of lack of straightforwardness (not saying that its re-balancing act is to counter China rise). Whichever of these interpretations, you would be wrong. If you have another rational explanation of what you wanted to imply, I would be interested to hear and I am ready to apologize for overlooking your rationality.

June 7, 2012 at 10:34

@john chan
Yes indeed that the Philippines has 7000+ islands making it to be an archipelago I admit the Philippines lacking security of these islands because there is no sufficient fund and resources to provide but this is not reason why China wlii just claim of these islands(SCS) because Philippines is weak. That is reason why China took advantage to expand its territory to these areas because it is said to be rich in oil and precious deposits plus this territory is under Philippines but weak in military terms so ti bacame favorable on China’s part.

John Chan
June 6, 2012 at 23:51

Philippines has more than 7000 islands it cannot manage properly; with insurgency all over the places, more than 60% of the population living in poverty under $2 a day, law and order is rare commodity instead of the norm, and a kleptocracy government in Manila; instead of caring of its people, the hippie president is overlooking his appalling domestic problems to start an arm race against China by encroaching a China’s shoal in the SCS. These are the facts guaranteeing the downfall of the Philippines in the end.

John Chan
June 6, 2012 at 23:25

There are serious fallacies in your arguments.
1. You said “they can hold this world as a cup or goblet and smash it using their own bare hands( power).” it is a pure conjecture and speculation; China has done nothing that you can use to support your conjecture and speculation. Based on the past of the predatory imperialist Westpac to predict what China would do in the future is insidious intent.
2. The current international framework is designed and set up by the imperialist Westpac to exploit the rest of the world for their greed and benefits. Bombing and killing non-stop in the name of installing democracy and caring human rights is not the laws and morality we want for a fair and just world.

“Existing laws, morality, and sense of justice” is the laws, morality and sense of Justice of a Kangaroo Court; rewriting them is to restart a new era of renaissance for a fair and just humanity.

June 6, 2012 at 15:30

I know that you’re not pointing finger to anyone but you’re trying to tell is that we are saying negative things about to something or someone or enitity that we didn’t thought in rationalize and logical manner, in short baseless and merely smearing someone or something’s reputation because it does not goes along with your beliefs and opinions. For me china is trying to defy the existing laws, morality, and sense of justice that as if they can hold this world as a cup or goblet and smash it using their own bare hands( power).

June 6, 2012 at 15:07

I agree with you the world’s attention now is on china’s agressive behavior that I can say it is a passive form of provaction china is not directly attack those fishermen, coastguards, or any person or property within our territory as provided by laws and multitudes of treaties but the way their behaviour they exert to nearby countries as you explained is a kind of provaction in passive form. The world now intrigued if china has an induspitable sovereignty or not that china must not overlooked this factor that may cause their downfall in the end.

June 6, 2012 at 07:24


you know what i meant. don’t twist my words. regardless of the prison population, and regardless of its adventures abroad, the United States does not, by and large, imprison and execute its own people for political protest.

June 6, 2012 at 07:19

@Frankie Leung
no, you didn’t point your finger at anyone, but your post did have a sort of sense that you were excusing the actions that the PRC has taken recently that have been committed in defiance of international law and to the detriment of its neighbors. So, in a sense, nirvana is right.

Regardless, i have no doubt that some part of the US “pivot” to the pacific was indeed to reinforce against perceived PRC military expansion, but as many authors have noted, this has been something that has been planned for at least a decade, and is most likely a response to the increased unrest in the region (of which the PRC is a prominent source). It would be wrong, however, to say that this move is intended purely as an attempt to “contain” the PRC; even the word “contain” and the idea that the US is “trying to stop expansion” suggests that as far as the PRC goes, it has less than savory goals for the region where other nations are concerned.

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