Thursday, August 02, 2007

World Without the West symposium

Steven Weber came to the magazine today to take part in a roundtable that assessed and critiqued the concept of the "World Without the West." To recap, this is the notion that we are seeing the emergence of a parallel international system that routes around an American-led order.

Dov Zakheim raised an interesting point about the nature of the "West" in general--if that is defined as Europe, the United States and Japan. To what extent are the Europeans and the Japanese engaging with the states that might otherwise be part of the "World Without the West" in ways the U.S. is not? He also supported Weber's point that the U.S. does have options in terms of competing for the allegiance of a number of states that are "in play"--citing the forthcoming naval exercises between Japan, India and the United States.

Devin Stewart noted that some of the states that might find the "World Without the West" concept intriguing nonetheless will continue to face pressure from their own citizens, the international community and in their bi-lateral relationships to accept and implement standards of conduct, say in human rights. He--and others echoed him here, such as Paul Starobin--also called into question the cohesion of a parallel system that would comprise states with disparate interests and perspectives such as Russia, India and China. Paul asked whether the "World Without the West" would also require a hegemonic power to impose order and referee disputes among its members--and which state would fulfill that role?

Ian Bremmer stressed that the nature of the global economy means that China and the United States are in the same system and bound together in a form of mutually assured economic destruction.

Several final points--since there is going to be extensive coverage of this event on NI online--

One was Flynt Leverett's observation that states like China had no objection to American hegemony in the Middle East when it served their interests--e.g. the U.S. provided stability that allowed for energy to flow cheaply and quickly. What we now have is a perception that the U.S. is a dysfunctional hegemon who has made policy choices such as taking Iraqi energy off market and who wants to keep Iran's massive oil and gas reserves in the ground. It raises a question as to whether the U.S. could regenerate support for its leading role in the world if it was again seen as the guarantor of low cost global energy.

Peter Ackerman's observations that in the long run the need for capital investment and for technology innovation favors free societies, meaning that the short term accummulation of economic power by state capitalist systems harnessing natural resources is not sustainable.

And Steve Weber's closing point that the U.S. has a choice: it can ask China and other states to provide a greater share of global public goods only if it is willing to cede much more decision-making authority to them; that the Gulf War I model of the U.S. sets strategy and others pay is not going to work anymore.

So much more--the future of the dollar as a global currency, etc.

A very provocative discussion and one that will be continuing.

Nick, Devin Stewart has something up on his blog as well on the event, at
The question about who will referee the alternate global order is an interesting one. Is China the linchpin of this new system. If it is then key components in the world without the west--Russia and India--will never fully sign on and even China itself will not be interested in setting itself up against the United States. So I think it is not going to be a parallel order as much as one where China, Russia, India and others either want to limit U.S. freedom of action or create some additional hedging space.
Nick, I thought yesterday's discussion was provocative and thanks for hosting it. I did feel that the audience as a whole still had difficulty with the concept that the world is becoming less American-centric and that countries don't always need the U.S. to be at the center of things. I thought Ackerman's comments reflected someone who is still in the 1990s and doesn't grasp that China and India are developing real multinationals that over time will be able to do the same types of R and D and innovation and also have the capital to move forward. I thought some of the comments criticizing Weber were a bit defensive in that they just assume that the U.S. will always come back. I think that the criticisms about the permanence or lasting effects of this alternative system were on the mark, thoguh.
Found Devin's comments interesting and posted this on his blog in response:

Is China seen by others, especially its neighbors, as being an ethical country, acting ethically in its relations with other countries? How does this compare with perceptions of the U.S.

I would posit that one would find a distinction between many who think the U.S. could be an ethical country but is acting unethically (or this current administration is) versus China which does not formulate its policies in an ethical way but for expediency's sake may be seen as acting ethically.
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