Sunday, February 12, 2017

What Comes After Hegemony?

A great piece, from Michael J. Mazarr, at Foreign Affairs, "The Once and Future Order":

The postwar liberal order has proved remarkably stable. But it has always incorporated two distinct and not necessarily reconcilable visions. One is a narrow, cautious view of the UN and the core international financial institutions as guardians of sovereign equality, territorial inviolability, and a limited degree of free trade. The other is a more ambitious agenda: protecting human rights, fostering democratic political systems, promoting free-market economic reforms, and encouraging good governance.

Until recently, the tension between these two visions did not pose a serious problem. For many decades, the Cold War allowed the United States and its allies to gloss over the gap in the name of upholding a unified front against the Soviets. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington fully embraced the more ambitious approach by expanding NATO up to Russia’s doorstep; intervening to protect human rights in places such as the Balkans and Libya; supporting uprisings, at least rhetorically, in the name of democracy in countries including Egypt, Georgia, and Myanmar; and applying increasingly sophisticated economic sanctions to illiberal governments. In the newly unipolar international system, Washington often behaved as if the narrower concept of order had been superseded by the more ambitious one.

At the same time, the United States often took advantage of its preeminence to sidestep the order’s rules and institutions when it found them inconvenient. The problem with this approach, of course, is that international orders gain much of their potency by defining the sources of prestige and status within the system, such as participation in and leadership of international institutions. Their stability depends on leading members abiding—and being seen to abide—by key norms of behavior. When the leader of an order consistently appears to others to interpret the rules as it sees fit, the legitimacy of the system is undermined and other countries come to believe that the order offends, rather than sustains, their dignity.

An extreme version of this occurred in the 1930s, when a series of perceived insults convinced Japan—once a strong supporter of the League of Nations—that the system was a racist, Anglo-American cabal designed to emasculate it. Partly as a result, Japan withdrew from the league and signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy before entering World War II. Today, a similar story is playing out as some countries see the United States as applying norms selectively and in its own favor, norms that are already tailored to U.S. interests. This is persuading them that the system’s main function is to validate the United States’ status and prestige at the expense of their own.

For years now, a number of countries, including Brazil, India, South Africa, and Turkey, have found various ways to express their frustration with the current rules. But China and Russia have become the two most important dissenters. These two countries view the order very differently and have divergent ambitions and strategies. Yet their broad complaints have much in common. Both countries feel disenfranchised by a U.S.-dominated system that imposes strict conditions on their participation and, they believe, menaces their regimes by promoting democracy. And both countries have called for fundamental reforms to make the order less imperial and more pluralistic.

Russian officials are particularly disillusioned. They believe that they made an honest effort to join Western-led institutions after the fall of the Soviet Union but were spurned by the West, which subjected them to a long series of insults: NATO’s attacks on Serbia in the Balkan wars of the 1990s; NATO enlargement into eastern Europe; and Western support for “color revolutions” in the early years of the new century, which threatened or in some cases actually overthrew Russian-backed leaders in several eastern European countries. In a June 2016 speech to Russian diplomats, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained that certain Western states “continue stubborn attempts to retain their monopoly on geopolitical domination,” arguing that this was leading to a “confrontation between different visions of how to build the global governance mechanisms in the 21st century.” And Putin hasn’t just limited himself to complaining. In recent years, Russia has taken a number of dramatic, sometimes violent steps—especially in Europe—to weaken the U.S.-led order.

China also feels disrespected. The financial crisis at the end of the last decade convinced many Chinese that the West had entered a period of rapid decline and that China deserved a more powerful voice in the international system. Since then, Beijing has increased its influence in several institutions, including the IMF and the World Bank. But the changes have not gone far enough for many Chinese leaders. They still chafe at Western domination of these bodies, perceive U.S. democracy promotion as a threat, and resent the regional network of U.S. alliances that surrounds China. Beijing has thus undertaken a range of economic initiatives to gain more influence within the current order, including increasing its development aid and founding the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which it clearly intends to compete with the IMF and the World Bank. China has also pursued its interests in defiance of global norms by building islands in contested international waters and harassing U.S. aircraft in the South China Sea.

Worrisome as these developments are, it is important not to exaggerate the threats they represent. Neither China nor Russia has declared itself an enemy of the postwar order (although Russia is certainly moving in that direction). Both continue to praise the core UN system and participate actively in a host of institutions, treaties, and diplomatic processes. Indeed, China has worked hard to embed itself ever more firmly in the current order. In a 2015 speech in Seattle, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that “China has been a participant, builder, and contributor” in, of, and to the system and that it stood “firmly for the international order” based on the purposes and principles outlined in the UN Charter. China and Russia both rely on cross-border trade, international energy markets, and global information networks—all of which depend heavily on international rules and institutions. And at least for the time being, neither country seems anxious to challenge the order militarily.

Many major countries, including China and Russia, are groping toward roles appropriate to their growing power in a rapidly evolving international system. If that system is going to persevere, their grievances and ambitions must be accommodated. This will require a more flexible, pluralistic approach to institutions, rules, and norms...
Still more.