Most China-watchers are of the view that it is fast becoming a superpower. I do not disagree with that proposition; however, I believe it has a long way to go in that direction. In the meantime, it must ensure that its economic growth is not affected by any domestic or international negative trend. An interesting conceptual exercise would be to figure out how a great power becomes a superpower? Almost all great powers have the reasonable potential of becoming a superpower. Some stay as great powers for a long time; some may retrench, as was the case with Great Britain; some may lose its status as a superpower when it implodes and its successor does not fill its superpower role, as happened with the USSR and Russia. Why don’t all great powers end up as superpowers? Is there a template that each great power must follow to become a superpower, or must each potential superpower develop a sui generis path of becoming one? My sense is that the latter statement is true.
The United States went through a near-miss terrorist attack during the Christmas holidays. A Muslim, this time a Nigerian Muslim, was involved. Consequently, the country is going through another silly season whereby a number of “experts” with diarrhea of the mouth are eagerly expressing their idiotic views. At the government level, there is an outcry for finding who (which bureaucrat or which bureaucracy) was sleeping on the job, or who failed to “connect the dots.” The process of condemning Muslims is on with a vengeance. One suggestion is that the United States should abandon the attitude of political correctness and racially profile every Muslim traveler. After all, they say, Israel is doing that as a matter of course. However, no one stopped to think that Israel is an island, a small and insignificant nation, compared to the lone superpower, which claims not to be at war with Islam and Muslims. Sarah Palin, who desperately tries to sound intelligent and coherent in order to peddle her book, made the news by stating that profiling Muslims is quite appropriate.
If the United States is the declining hegemon, then who will replace it? Are we entering an era when another global hegemon will replace the U.S., or will we witness the emergence of power blocs? There are two schools of thought in the West on this issue. The first school of thought suggests that the alternative is the emerging alliance of autocracies–China, Russia, and the oil states–that will challenge the hegemony of the lone superpower. American neocons, who represent the second school of thought, suggest an alliance of democracies is evolving as a countervailing force to the aforementioned bloc. These debates are interesting and thought provoking. But how relevant are they in reflecting the emerging global realignment of power?
The confluence of the waning months of the Bush presidency–when the lameduck factor is looming large– the continued insistence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S. set a timetable of withdrawing from Iraq, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and the forced resignation of General Pervez Musharraf–President Bush’s favorite strongman in Pakistan–are creating a new buzz globally. That buzz can be highlighted along the lines that “Washington is forced to watch other powers shape events,” that a superpower is reborn (in reference to Russian military action against on Georgia), that a new world order is emerging, and that America’s decline will not easily be reversed.
There is something imprudent about strategic thinkers when it comes to history. For some reason, for some of them, it has to come to an end when an idea experiences a temporary–but significant–success. But when that idea appears to fail, they make an equally rash extrapolation, and start talking about the “return” of history. Francis Fukuyama became ebullient regarding the “end” of history when the Soviet Union–the archetype of communist totalitarianism–collapsed. For him, the triumph of liberal democracy in a dialectical sense was an end of history, where no idea emerged as a superior one. Robert Kagan, in his new book, The Return of History and the End of Dreams, argues that history did not come to end when the Soviet Union imploded or when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. The triumph of liberal democracy–which then appeared as a shining example of success–proved illusory. In this sense, he sees a “return” of history. The end of dreams might be another hasty conclusion regarding the sustained survival of autocratic regimes.
If the 1990s and the first eight years of the first decade of the 21st Century represented an era when transnational terrorism dominated world attention, the remainder of this decade and the next one promise to be a period of a new global crisis, which might be even more obdurate than fighting global terrorism. Robert Zoelick, President of the World Bank, described this era as marked by the “double-jeopardy of food and fuel prices,” which will defy solution. These issues will also make a number of countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America favorite places for the mushrooming of drug cartels, transnational crimes, small arms trade, and even terrorism. The search for solutions for this new crisis might require a radical reconfiguring of global decisionmaking structures, an issue on which major powers must reflect with utmost seriousness.