Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:08 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:08 | SYDNEY

Managing the rise of the rest


Sam Roggeveen


7 May 2008 14:22

Last week I linked to Steve Clemons' Washington Note, where a debate was starting on the proposition that the US is in relative decline in global affairs, thanks to the rise of India and China. As Clemons said, the debate about American decline does seem to be high on the list of priorities among global 'big thinkers', with new books from Kishore Mahbubani and Newsweek's foreign editor, Fareed Zakaria (you can find a long extract from Zakaria's book here, and an interesting rejoinder here).

The best contribution to this debate I have read so far came overnight on Clemons' blog, from John Ikenberry. Ikenberry does not disagree with the broad proposition of an Asian rise and a relative American decline, but he says East vs West is the wrong framework for the debate. Much better to think of it in terms of those who want to preserve the post-World War II rules-based international order, and those who want to revise it. Ikenberry says China may come to value and support this order as it rises, and that it is very much in America's interests to reinvigorate that order, so as to protect its interests as the Asian giants rise.

I think Ikenberry is right, and as an aside, if the next Administration embraced this idea, it would open up a number of opportunities for (dare I say it) creative middle powers to exercise their diplomatic energy and nous. But what Ikenberry is asking of the US is to manage its own decline (or, in other words, to create the mechanisms and conditions that will allow the US to bow out of unipolarity gracefully). Sensible as that sounds, it would clearly be a deeply unpopular task for any American president to take on.

As is pointed out here, even the most liberal and internationalist of the three presidential candidates, Barack Obama, is proposing a far more ambitious foreign policy that more or less assumes continued American dominance. So who's going to take on this job of managing America's decline?