Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Countering vs. Channeling

Judah Grunstein over at World Politics Review posted an interesting essay this past month, arguing that "both candidates are realists dressed up in idealist rhetoric."

I'd like to extend the discussion a bit further, and to probe then some of the core assumptions of the two campaigns. Grunstein ponders whether the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, etc. "is the kind of geopolitical event that can be countered, or whether it is the product of broader historical forces that we are powerless to resist but might be able to channel." And here I think you can see some distinctions at least among the advisors to McCain and Obama.

McCain's team by and large views China and Russia as quite brittle--whose rise in power is based in fragile foundations. They look at some of the real negative trends in both countries (demographics, weakness of infrastructure, etc.) and do believe that America can bring meaningful pressure to bear on both. So they tend to be in the "countering" camp.

I think among some of Obama's people there is a sense that that while those vulnerabilities exists, they are less exploitable by the U.S. and therefore a channeling strategy is more appropriate. (The question then is whether Russia and China and other rising powers reduce their vulnerabilities as time goes on, or whether now is a more appropriate time to apply some pressusre in order to guide them into the "right" channels--this may be the dynamic of the debate within the Obama camp).

Discussion welcomed.

The only difference I can see is that McCain's advisers want to confront Russia and Iran, while Obama's advisers want to try diplomacy and are silent about what will happen if diplomacy fails.

Historically, I am not aware of relatively declining powers having the ability to channel or shape the development of rising powers, except negatively in the sense of playing the latter off against each other. This usually doesn't work in the long-run.

There is a different sense, though, in which America could reshape the world and this may be what you have in mind: to make international institutions more representative and to encourage rising nations to use their influence through them in peaceful ways. But for this to work, America and Europe would need to yield power in bodies like the IMF and the UN Security Council.
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