Monday, March 17, 2008

A Multipolar World?

Ever since the war in Iraq and Afghanistan broke out, antipathy to American hegemony has been being intensified among leftists and nationalists across the globe. Some even anticipate challenging powers like Russia and China, and emerging economies like India and Brazil to expand their stakes in global political economy, in order to change the American world order into a multipolar one. Is it really desirable to the global community? Can emerging powers replace the United States, Europe, and Japan? In the last post, I have quoted a Financial Times discussion between Robert Kagan and Gideon Rachman.

Neither Russia nor China has any ideology of universal appeal. Despite high-handed diplomacy these days, both powers are isolated. Russia feels uneasy with eastward expansion of NATO and the EU. China draws suspicious attention from its neighbors facing Chinese threats. New European nation are willing to get out of Russian influence, and join the West. The Japanese take pride in the status as the only nation in the Asia Pacific to share chief executive seats with Americans and Europeans.

While those who resent American or Western supremacy may be pleased that Russia and China counterbalance the West, the global community does not expect their leadership role in the world. In other words, multipolarism is based on negative psychology to liberal world order under American hegemony, but not on innovative instinct to create a new world order. Remember that the transition from British hegemony to American hegemony was relatively smooth, because both empires share common universal philosophy to manage the globe. On the other hand, both Russia and China are more preoccupied with national and neighbor affairs than Anglo-American liberal hegemonies.

Some opinion leaders argue that Russia expands its influence through energy diplomacy. However, as witnessed in the fall of OPEC, energy resource is no useful device to be a real super power. Eventually, resource export countries will fall dependent on industrialized nations. Moreover, both Russia and China are bidding to join the IMF-WTO regime, Western system of global economy. For this purpose, they need to upgrade the level of freedom, human rights, and transparency to that of the West.

However, as I quoted “Illiberal Capitalism” of the Financial Times in the last post, some leaders in the developing world regard the Russo-Chinese authoritarian capitalism as a model for their economic policy. While Russia is dependent on high energy price, China is likely to enjoy continual high growth. Some developing countries welcome Chinese aid more than Western one, because no political reforms are required to accept aid from China. The problem is, both giants have political weaknesses such as turmoil in Tibet, Chechnya, and other regions of ethnic minorities.

Regardless of some rises and falls, the Economist asserted that the United States still enjoy overwhelming advantages in hard power and soft power, as mentioned in a previous post “A Review of the Economist’s Assessment on American Hegemony”. Also, I would like to mention the structural power model, invented by late Susan Strange, Professor Emeritus of the London School of Economics. In global political economy, there are two powers, structural and relational. Structural power decides how things shall be done, while relational power simply let others do something which they would not otherwise do. The United States is the only power to excel four dimensions of structural power: production, finance, knowledge, and security (“States and Markets”; p. 24~29; Susan Strange). This power owes substantially to universal liberal values. Even Islamic radicals appreciate Western liberalism as I said in a previous post, “Five Questions on Islamic Radicalism”.

The only power that can rival or replace America is a unified European Union. It has the economy of scale, brains, industry, technology, financial institutions, and universal ideology. However, none of the nations in Europe are willing to sacrifice national sovereignty for unification. Also, people are cautious of Brussels bureaucracy. In finance, euro may become another key currency, but it will be no alternative for dollar as Britain stays out of it. Despite fundamental advantages in science, technology, and the economy, Europeans are not willing to build up military power to match evenly with that of the United States.

Will the world evolve into a multipolar one? The answer depends on how you define a “multipolar” world. Challengers may be able to “protest” Pax Americana, but not furthermore. They cannot create a new world order and the system.