Russia has great latent capacity, but poor social organisation. It has a very weak state and it has terribly predatory elites. The Russians have not made the kinds of investments in national capacities that are necessary to sustain a great power role, and though they continue to have significant technological capabilities, these resources are actually diminishing in terms of long-term investment. And so Russia is likely to end up being a major supplier of primary and military goods, but not a serious geopolitical challenger to the United States as the Soviet Union was in the past.
Japan in contrast has great technical, financial and social-organisational capacity, but a very poor resource and demographic base. The situation confronting Japan today is the same that confronted it prior to 1941: its dependence on an international market for raw materials, energy, and revenue generation limits its capacity for autonomous action. And the experience of the Second World War demonstrated to the Japanese that any attempt to dominate the international system on its own-unconnected to the United States-will be an effort that ends in disaster.
And so we end up with essentially two great countries, China and India. Both are large continental-size states that are latent great powers, but both are still developing in terms of their technical and social-organisational capacities. These are certainly rising powers, but it is important to recognise that their ability to challenge the United States must not be exaggerated.
To begin with, all predications about China overtaking the United States, even in the out years, rely greatly on contestable assumptions or favourable measurements. Further, China, like Japan, is excessively dependent on the international market both for resources and revenue generation, thus limiting its ability to play the challenger at least in the prospective future. Finally, the continuing contradictions in China’s effort to create a market economy married to a command polity leaves us with some uncertainty as to whether the Chinese experience of high growth can be sustained over the long term.
The liberal internationalist model essentially asserts that the way to deal with rising powers is either to democratise them, because democracy ensures the creation of pacific union and the absence of war, or Norman Angell would say, increase their economic interdependence because economic interdependence increases the costs of conflict “¦
When one looks at China and India together, therefore, there is a clear recognition within the United States that there are sharp differences between these two countries. There is a recognition that China, which is growing more rapidly than India, exhibits a more determined “will to power,” and that makes the task of integrating China into the international system a far more difficult challenge than that involving India. Moreover, China and the United States are actually locked into military competition: India and the United States clearly are not. And finally there is that business, the squishy but important business, of values. India and the United States are tied together by a commitment to democratic politics which changes the character of the relationship between our two countries in very dramatic and fundamental ways.
Where does all this leave us? I think it leaves us with three important bottom lines when one thinks about the future geopolitical environment. First, there is no country in Asia at the moment that is close to becoming a consequential geopolitical challenger of the United States, at least where control of the global system is concerned. But such a threat could arise over the long term, and if such a threat does arise, most people would bet that it would emerge from China rather than from Russia, Japan or India. Second, even though there is no true peer competitor that is likely to arise in Asia in the near-term, the United States must be cognizant of the challenges that can be mounted by less-than-comprehensively powerful states. The Soviet Union is the best example in this regard. The Soviet Union was always a unidimensional superpower. And there is no guarantee that, in the future, the United States might not be confronted with another unidimensional superpower. The fact is, whether we like it or not, there is a prospect- not a certainty, but a prospect-of an emerging power transition involving China. And, therefore, dealing with the prospect of a power transition will be the most consequential challenge for the United States in the coming century, even though American dominance is likely to endure for the next two decades.
The American Response
Having said all this by way of a baseline, let me go to the second part of my presentation: How should the United States respond to this challenge? There are three models in international politics that one could imagine as vying for dominance in US policy. The first is the classical realist model associated with Niccolo Machiavelli and his prescriptions in the commentaries on the ten books of Titus Livy. Machiavelli has a very simple solution for dealing with prospective power transitions. He says that when a state is faced with such a challenge, there is only one solution that successful regimes have used historically and that solution is preventive war. And he gives the example of the Romans attacking Greece long before the Greeks were actually strong. Because he says to the Romans who were masters “at seeing inconveniences from afar,” and in recognising that delay only brings more perils, were justified in attacking Greece earlier rather than later. So that is the classical realist prescription: undermine the growth of your rivals by preventive war if necessary.
The United States maintains these capabilities through a defence budget that is larger than the defence budgets of at least the next fifteen countries in the international system put together, and yet these defence burdens are only about 3% of US GNP.
The second model is the conventional realist model, the model associated with George Kennan and implemented during the Cold War, and that is the strategy of comprehensive containment. This model, in effect, declares: Don’t attack your adversaries; don’t undermine them; don’t try to destroy them, because doing so is costly. Instead, create an iron fence which prevents them from creating trouble for you in any way possible. This is an interesting and attractive ideal, but it has limitations. Its greatest limitation is that it is extremely hard to build a containing coalition when the threat is only prospective and not actual, when the threat is only latent and not imminent.
The third model is the liberal internationalist model, which is associated with Immanuel Kant on the one hand and Norman Angell on the other. The liberal internationalist model essentially asserts that the way to deal with rising powers is either to democratise them, because democracy ensures the creation of pacific union and the absence of war, or Norman Angell would say, increase their economic interdependence because economic interdependence increases the costs of conflict to the point where war becomes impractical.
These three ideas, in various forms, have populated the American debate. And yet none of these three solutions offers self-sufficient strategies for dealing with the challenges we face. And so, what I think the United States has done is to marry both realism and liberalism in another classic example of American exceptionalism, in the process crafting a strategy that has not been followed before. And I’ll say a few words about what makes it so unique. The core of the strategy, fundamentally, is not to push China down but rather to engage it, while simultaneously investing in increasing the power of other states located on its periphery. So unlike the classical realist prescription of undermining China’s growth or the conventional realist prescription of containing it, the core of American strategy has been to engage China, not undermine it, but even as Washington engages Beijing, (it is trying) to build a new set of relationships aimed at increasing the power of various countries located along China’s borders. This is indeed a unique solution. When the Bush administration announced in March 2005 that the United States was now committed to encouraging the growth of India as a great power, there was a good deal of sceptical commentary both in the United States and in India about the novelty of this strategy-because it had never been implemented in this form before. And the critics were right on one count: it has not been the norm historically. But there is a reason why it has not been a favoured strategy in the past-and that is because, in a world that was not tightly interdependent before, containment in various forms was simply cheaper than the current alternative. I will focus more on this issue in the third part of my presentation. But, for the moment, let me just end this second part of my talk by simply laying out for you what the other component parts of the current American strategy are.