The Barbarians are coming!” – cries Charles A. KUPCHAN from up there, inside the crows-nest high up above the deck of the Good Ship “West”, which reels and pitches in the heavy seas of contemporary history. And then he politically corrects himself: “The rising Rest are coming!”
Look: They are not democracies! – and only democracies are peaceful. And even if they were all democracies! great-power rivalry is often the product of competition for prestige and status. Economic interdependence won’t do either! deepening economic ties are usually a consequence rather than a cause of political reconciliations. The future is bleak, the future is scary, and the work of the prophet dreary.
Based on such arguments the author concludes: Accordingly, the West must work with emerging powers to take advantage of the current window of opportunity and map out the rules that will govern the “next world”.
Let’s look at the author’s operative conclusion first. According to him the West must “work WITH emerging powers”. No longer does a hegemonic order bestowed by the West upon the (hopefully grateful) “rising Rest” seem possible. Colonialism is dead, and neo-colonialism is increasingly dicey. “Let’s cut a deal as long as the dealing is good” – is the second best solution the author seems to suggest. As if such a “deal” could withstand the rushing forces of history.
It is unclear how such a “mapping of the rules” could come about. The most recent attempts at centrally planned, world-wide approaches to problem-solving have foundered. The UNFCCC framework lies dead in the water; the Doha Round is laboriously being towed to the Geneva shipyard for heavy dry-dock work. A new Congress of Vienna anyone? The most notable success of that Congress was the elimination of a plethora of German principalities, thus preparing the ground for German unification, and by implication, the demise of the order it had set out to establish. So much for blowback. And you, over there, stop mumbling: “Münich, appeasement”!
One of the author’s premises – that democracies don’t fight – is not even worth discussing, after the greatest democracy has committed itself to unending preventive war – on Dick Cheney’s 1% rule.
“Deepening economic ties are usually a consequence rather than a cause of political reconciliations”, says the author. As if the great powers were autarchic economies today, anxiously awaiting fair political weather before venturing out on the Sea of Globalisation. France and Germany will never go to war again – simply because their economies today already are so integrated that neither country could, even at a political pinch, put together a self-contained weapons industry with which to fight the other.
The author furthermore has failed to examine the deeper lessons of Iraq. A country may win a war – winning the peace is another matter. Ten years after the invasion, Iraq economically is still far from pre-war levels of production (let alone development). The Americans left because they came to realize that their dream of controlling Iraq’s oil had revealed itself to be Fata Morgana.
We all dream, like Alexander, of cutting the Gordian knot. We are all so in thrall of the story that we forget the basic fact: the knot tied something or the other together. Having cut rather than unwound the rope, the cord could no longer be used for putting together again what needed joining.
War is politics by other means. War today is a dead-end street, for practical, not moral reasons. In 1940 the Germans had the hardest of times getting Laval and Quisling to mobilize their respective countries in order to sustain the German war effort in any meaningful way. Today, this would be simply impossible. International and national supply chains as well as populations unable to cope with a war situation would prevent it. Just sit back and try to imagine for a moment: how would you live without an ATM, or your regular shopping at the supermarket? Who lives by “just in time” dies by it.
What to do? Forget the West, forget the Rest. They are divisive labels. They prevent one from seeking a solution for tomorrow, for they hark to the past, and project it into the future. In “The Leopard” Prince Lampedusa sees it clearly. In order “for everything to change so that nothing changes” he gives his son away to the daughter of an upstart commoner (she happens to be pretty and dark-eyed Claudia Cardinale to sweeten the unseemly deal).
Just think: “the best”. If all “best” powers genuinely seek understanding and see the benefits of cooperation, they’ll move forward. But once more, you can’t look forward while busy looking back to inspect the pecking order.
 See: Charles A. KUPCHAN (2012): No one’s world: the West, the rising Rest, and the global coming turn. Oxford University Press. For a summary, see: Globalist Bookshelf Global Governance: Charles A. KUPCHAN, Monday, April 16, 2012: From the American Century to the Competition Century.