My Comments: An attempt here to start the week with a more positive spin on what many of us see as the world in chaos. Yes, I’m supposed to see the world through the eyes of an investment specialist, and mostly, I do. But the role played by the US, and by extension, each one of us as voting members of the republic, has a bearing on the standard of living that will be enjoyed, or not enjoyed, by our children and grandchildren in the next couple of decades.
In general, I think Hillary Clinton did an outstanding job resetting the image of the United States on the world stage. My expectation is that John Kerry will take it to another level. In the meantime, however, Tom Barnett is saying that Hillary and company, either by design, or lack of vision, are missing a element that is going to greatly influence how the next two decades plays out.
By Thomas P.M. Barnett
For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.
That kind of long-range argument logically requires a good couple of decades to actualize, especially given the strategic distrust visible today among all three parties. But that’s the whole idea about thinking strategically: You lock in on the “inevitable,” however inconceivable it may seem from today’s perspective, and you lay the groundwork for that future, year-in and year-out. Strategic shifts are generational tasks, so these seeds need to be planted with the Millennials now, in the hope of their fruition come 2030.
Readers familiar with my old column here will remember how I’ve taken to describing that 2030 future as the C-I-A world, as in, one run by China, India and America. But recently, thanks to a series of long-range simulations run by Wikistrat, where I serve as chief analyst, I’ve found myself thinking that renewing the trans-Atlantic bond with Europe may be the best way to assure the right kind of U.S. global leadership as we move toward that 2030 horizon.
Today’s globalization is suffering a populist blowback on a nearly global scale. Indeed, the only places not suffering such blowback are Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, frontiers where globalization’s widespread wealth creation is still resulting in very positive outcomes. Just about everywhere else, whether in the old West, the rising East or the Arab world, we’re seeing a build-up of social anger at globalization’s inequities and excesses that is stunning in its scope and persistence. In short, the world seems destined to either re-balkanize itself over these tensions or enter into a lengthy progressive era that corrects these imbalances and cleans up these corrupting trends.
Here’s where the value of the trans-Atlantic bond comes back in. For, remember, the old West has already processed the very same sort of mega-cycle back at the turn of the 20th century, when the world’s first version of a middle class initially came into its own as a potent political force. In that scary millenarian maelstrom, as today, terrorists, revolutionaries and radical fundamentalists abounded. In the end, both extremes of the ideological spectrum reached their catastrophically evil expression in the form of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.
But not everybody in that old West got it wrong. Indeed, America and, to a lesser extent, Britain got it spectacularly right. Their shared Progressive Era was a classic example of co-evolution, in that both sides of “the pond” fed off each other’s experiments and successes — the women’s suffrage movement, social welfare, modern police departments, sanitation, mass transit, labor reforms, food and drug safety — while learning from their mistakes. But through it all, an economic landscape was substantially re-graded, leveled out, as it were, in a “fair deal” to the workingman that tamed all that raging populist anger. The leadership that was seen during the Progressive Era, embodied by the career of Theodore Roosevelt, is the same sort of leadership that America, and the world, needs today.
Getting back to my “C-I-A” world of tomorrow, these three superpowers — two in the making, one actual — are currently in a race to see which can process its own domestic populist rage faster and more effectively. It’s not a matter of which one arrives at 2030 “faster,” but which one, having made it further down a progressive agenda, arrives there in the best shape.
When you look at America’s competition with India and China in this light, you start to realize that neither of those two Asian giants really has anything to teach this country. Instead, both are doomed to cover a lot of difficult ground that our system has already mastered. They need to “play up” to America’s developmental level, not the other way around.
So, if the U.S. is really looking for a strategic partner for further co-evolution amid a second Progressive Era, our natural choice is Europe. We have the same problems — and the same strengths. We share common languages and heritages. We know how to screw up globalization (World War I), and how to rebuild it even better (the U.S.-engineered international liberal trade order following World War II).
And just as importantly, we know how to handle bullies given over to feverish bouts of nationalism.
America’s European security partners no longer represent a quorum of great powers able to rule the world. Those days are long gone, and frankly, the world needs China and India to eventually step up and start policing their own global interests. But what Europe and America can do together is to lead by example on efforts such as taming capital markets, shifting off oil to natural gas and renewable energy, and recasting retirement and its cost structures, among others. Such a Progressive Era 2.0 would be far more globally beneficial than the tragically antiquated logic of President Barack Obama’s “strategic pivot” to Asia. The West doesn’t need to “box in” China, or enlist India in that fool’s errand. Instead, it needs to show China and India and the rest of the South’s future rising pillars how to go about taming modern globalization.
Instead of tripping over each other to see who can simultaneously stand-up to, and kowtow before, a rising China and India, maybe the old West needs to look into the mirror and realize that this is all familiar territory: frontiers that we’ve collectively tamed before and can again, if we’re smart enough to recognize and employ our collective experience and strengths.
Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst at Wikistrat and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His eBook serial is “The Emily Updates: One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived” (September-December 2011). Reach him and his blog at thomaspmbarnett.com.