Wednesday, January 31, 2007
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Are we moving towards apolarity?
Fareed Zakaria frets about this possibility in Newsweek after going to Davos:
We are certainly in a trough for America—with Bush in his last years, with the United States mired in Iraq, with hostility toward Washington still high almost everywhere. But if so, we might also be getting a glimpse of what a world without America would look like. It will be free of American domination, but perhaps also free of leadership—a world in which problems fester and the buck is endlessly passed, until problems explode.A few thoughts:
1) It's fascinating to contrast Zakaria's column with Gideon Rachman's take on Davos. Zakaria is gloomy because of the absence of U.S. policymakers; Rachman is (somewhat) more optimistic because of the optimish of American businessmen.[Er... what about the point on global governance structures?--ed.] I'll have a lot more to say about that in the near future.
posted by Dan on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM
India's brilliant planning czar, Montek Singh Alluwalliah, said that "every country should have the same per capita rights to pollution." In the abstract that's logical enough, but in the real world, if 2.3 billion people (the population of China plus India) pollute at average Western levels, you will have a global meltdown
Well, sure-- but that's not really the outcome we'd expect under tradeable rights, is it? In the short term, the U.S. would buy up a ton of emissions rights from China and India, as the latter countries play industrial catch-up. As they're getting more industrialized, the U.S. (and other rich countries) should be able to afford to get greener over time, etc.
The level of permitted emissions is a separate question from the distribution of the initial rights. It would be a catastrophe if every country got, and used, per capita emissions trading rights that equalled the really existing per capita emissions of the U.S. But under any plausible regime, per capita rights would be much lower than that level, and the U.S. would have to buy a lot of emissions rights from less-developed countries for the foreseeable future.
(I have no idea whether that's a desirable regime overall or not. Just struck me that this particular claim being made about it doesn't hold together.)posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM [permalink]
Are we to take it then that, if the United States became less interventionist, the structure of world politics would suddenly cease being unipolar and suddenly become "apolar"?
What in the world is apolarity? A world without powerful states?
Even if the United States became markedly less interventionist, unless it also dismantled its armed forces, it would not cease being the world's most formidable military power. Other states, all of them, even allied with others, would wield considerably less military power. Why then would the world cease being unipolar, let alone become "apolar"? These other states would always have to consider the superior capabilities of the United States before they took any provocative action.
Ferguson also envisages that nonstate actors would come to wield "global power," and "with ease, terrorists could disrupt the freedom of the seas, targeting oil tankers, aircraft carriers, and cruise liners, while Western nations frantically concentrated on making their airports secure. Meanwhile, limited nuclear wars could devastate numerous regions, beginning in the Korean peninsula and Kashmir, perhaps ending catastrophically in the Middle East."
But thus far the nuclear balance of power on the Indian subcontinent has resulted in no large-scale war between India and Pakistan, and Japan so little fears North Korea that it's thus far continued to rely on American nuclear weapons rather than building its own.
How many tankers, carriers, liners has bin Laden's naval armada sunk thus far? How nugatory has the power of the US Navy been rendered?
We ventured too far in Ferguson's way when we undertook nation-building responsibilties in Iraq. His fear-mongering in furtherance of more such ventures looks even less well advised today than it did in 2004.posted by: Structuralist on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM [permalink]
Just as important is the effect the disintegration of "states" manipulated into being after the first and second world wars has and will continue to have. Ignorance, poor education, backward gov't structures, genocide, subsistance economies, and an increasing balkanization of much of the planet contribute more to the instability of the planet if not to the environment. If there is only one superpower and that superpower is not so "super" any longer, the rate of descent into chaos can only increase until the strongest of the balkanized begin to build empires. And the wheel turns again...posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM [permalink]
Zakaria came up in the world by came up in the world by charming and flattering the masters of the status quo. Change of any sort always threatens those who rose to the top by mastering the currrent political/intellectual system. As it was with Imperial China's mandarins so it is with Zakaria's patrons.
"Intersting times" are indeed their greatest fear, and it looks as times are going to get very interesting indeed. So Zakaria is pessamistic.
Entrepeneurs, and those who've created and mastered new technologies have proffited from change - they can embrace it. "Intertesting times" are an opportunity for them. So Rachman is more optomistic. He'd be even more optomistic except for the fact that the Davos business types have at least one foot in the mandarin camp themselves - if not then they'd be wasting their time there.
The real optomistic entrepenuers are out making the future - they don't have time to whine about it at Davos.posted by: Jos Bleau on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM [permalink]
Micheal Mandelbaum wrote an interesting analysis of America's leadership position in "The Case for Goliath, How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century." As you say, those looking forward to America's decline may want to read this book...and be careful what you wish for!posted by: RAZ on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM [permalink]
The issue of a leaderless world is by far the most important you ever touched. No one seems to be thinking about it. It may end as the twenties, with some resentful country wishing to take revenge and rule others, and a desperate war and a new world order. China has a big load of historical resentment, for example.posted by: jaim klein on 01.31.07 at 10:25 AM [permalink]
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