Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 20:04 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 20:04 | SYDNEY

More on the emerging global order


Sam Roggeveen


9 May 2008 15:16

The debate over America's decline and the emerging global order continues on the blogosphere (my previous post here), with the most interesting new contribution coming from Jim Manzi at The American Scene. He argues that what observers like Fareed Zakaria think is new about the global order — relative American decline against the rise of new Asian powers — is not new at all: 'US share of world GDP in 1945 is estimated to have been about 50%; this more than halved between 1945 and 1980.' As Manzi points out, we heard talk of US decline in the 1980s with the rise of Japan, and it came to very little.

I'm not sure Zakaria would disagree too much, and in fact the graph Manzi shows of how stable American GDP has been as a share of world GDP over the last two decades actually supports Zakaria's argument that US decline is not absolute. But Zakaria does need to explain why we should consider the rise of China and India as being qualitatively different to that of Japan (and to a lesser degree South Korea) two decades ago. Perhaps he does so in his book.

A far more parochial take on the rise of Asia appears in today's Australian Financial Review, by Kishore Mahbubani (it came out first in Foreign Affairs). Unfortunately, the AFR and Foreign Affairs keep the essay behind a subscriber-only firewall. My short review is that Mahbubani attributes more power, more folly and more unity to the West than is justified. I will try to review Mahbubani's argument in more detail if it becomes available free online, but I can't let the subject pass without noting this passage about the Iraq war:

Even if George W. Bush and Tony Blair had no malevolent intentions, however, their approaches were trapped in the Western mindset of believing that their interventions could lead only to good, not harm or disaster. (Emphasis added.)

A sentence like that requires one to ignore not only the copious criticism of the invasion that came from Western sources, but also several centuries of a Western political tradition that, in the foreign policy realm, goes by the name of 'realism'. This tradition is built largely on support for prudence and the warning that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The wisdom of political realism is not confined to the East. Nor is the hubris that led to the Iraq war peculiar to the West.