This week’s discussion on the shifts in balance of power across the globe and the change in America’s dominant economic and political position, reminded me of Fareed Zakaria’s book, The Post-American World (2009). The book covers a lot of interesting ideas, however for this post, I will stick to talking about a few remarks that Zakaria made which caught my attention the most. Although, the book predates the major political changes that have been set into motion in the Middle East this year, Zakaria notes that since the end of the Cold War, major political, economic and technological changes in the world have ushered in an era of global growth. This does not signify the decline of America, to him, rather it is a relative rise in the power of other states and non-state actors of the world.
I think Zakaria assumed a very interesting perspective in looking at the economic, political and cultural shifts in the world, however parts of his argument seem almost neo-imperialistic. While he agrees that the power shift is a good thing overall, hiss primary concern in the book is how America can maintain it’s dominance as a superpower while allowing other countries and non-state actors to be shareholders. He assumes that “most major powers share some basic interests and ideas with the United States. Those shared incentives should keep the world moving in a direction toward greater stability and increased prosperity […] The United States myst provide rules, institutions, and services to help solve the world’s major problems, while giving other countries–crucially the emerging powers–a stake in the system.”
Firstly, do most major powers really share similar interests and ideals with the United States? Are countries like Russia and China very much aligned with the American perspective on the world? Secondly, is it up to the United States to “give” other countries a stake in the system? The current global economic, political and military situation seems to indicate otherwise. American military and political influence in the Middle East and Asia is very much on the decline especially with the increase in the presence and visibility of non-state actors such as activists leading “revolutions”, insurgents and Islamic militants.
I do give Zakaria credit for highlighting how the rise of non-Western, non-American media such as Al-Jazzera or channels in local Indian, Chinese and other languages have played a key role in generating powerful alternative narratives representing a variety of different perspectives. However, his idea that the world is “going America’s way”, and countries are becoming more “open, market friendly, and democratic”, which provides the United States an opportunity to “remain the pivotal player in a richer, more dynamic, more exciting world” seems a bit myopic, neo-colonialistic and American-centric to me.
The process of change in the world is a good opportunity for the America to redefine how they see the rest of the world. Rather than focusing on maintaining influence and control over other countries and setting the agenda to suit (their interests) and thereby conferring “legitimacy to what constitues a problem, crisis or outrage”, as Zakaria puts it, perhaps it’s time for America to stand back and let people of other countries decide for themselves what direction they want to choose for themselves. A change in the balance of power should help end human rights violations that have continued for decades around the world, it should be a positive move towards more democratic societies where people’s voices are heard rather than oppressed by dictators (some of whom have been supported by America in the past). It shouldn’t be an occasion for the U.S. to realign its strategy to fit it’s national and foreign interests.
[Disclaimer: In the past two years, in the interest of being fair, I have tried to read this book twice only because even though I find many things wrong with this book, Zakaria does attempt to put the global shifts in their historical context. He does make some intelligent analysis, and looks at the bigger picture by connecting economics, politics, culture and technology, but I find it hard to take him seriously when he mentions on the same page that not all Muslims are aligned with Al-Qaeda, and then goes on to use expressions such as “musings of every crackpot Imam” and “late-night TV musings of every nutcase who glorifies martyrdom”. At such instances, even his logical arguments start to turn into rants.]