Diplomacy thriving, but without U.S.
The fall election and an era of diffused power may be factors.
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Mr. Kupchan of Georgetown cites what he calls "mutually reinforcing explanations" for a world stage where the US is not playing the lead role.Skip to next paragraph
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First, "The clock is running out on the Bush administration," he says. That encourages others to try to solve problems without the US, especially in a regional context.
Second, a global shift in the distribution of power has de-emphasized American primacy. "The US is still No. 1," Kupchan says, "but globalization, the price of oil, a tanking US economy, all have joined to accelerate a dramatic shift of power towards China, the world's energy producers, and certain regional powers."
Third, he says, the post-cold-war assumption that the West's democracies "led the pack" is being challenged by the rising influence of countries such as China, Russia, and even Iran, which have a different vision for the exercise of global power. "Countries that are performing well economically or that hold a key to global prosperity are able to hold sway the way they couldn't before," Kupchan says.
This vision of the waning primacy of Western democratic ideals is developed by international-relations expert Robert Kagan in his recent book, "The Return of History and the End of Dreams." In it, he foresees a return to an era of competition for spheres of influence.
But that vision paints too dark a picture of the future, some experts say.
Mr. Henriksen of the Hoover Institution notes, for example, that China has played a crucial role in the US-led effort to shut down North Korea's nuclear program.
"Nonproliferation is on everyone's list of the top international challenges that lie ahead," he says. "And this is a case where we couldn't have got where we have without the Chinese."
That example is one leading some experts to suggest a dawning "era of opportunity" for the US to join a more equal and like-minded world in addressing what they see as key challenges: terrorism and nonproliferation, the threat of pandemic disease, and global warming.
"When it comes to the two or three issues that really matter, we actually have much more in common than we ever have" with other world powers, says Nina Hachigian, a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
China and Russia are working closely with the US on proliferation and other security issues in ways that suggest how the US can benefit from an era of more equal world powers, says Ms. Hachigian, coauthor with Mona Sutphen of "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise."
She notes that the current "hand-wringing" over China's rise is reminiscent of similar consternation over Japan in the 1980s. "Now, as then, we can get worked up about other countries having power," she says, "or we can focus on the opportunities this new era presents."
Another example is Russia, she says: With Russia a key player in international weapons security efforts and in negotiations with Iran, "it doesn't make sense to talk in terms of minimizing engagement with the Russians, as in kicking them out of the G-8."
But it will take two changes for the US to take advantage of this "new era," she says: first, a US that no longer sees global power in the "zero-sum" terms of the cold-war era and second, an America that remains strong economically and diplomatically by investing more in education, infrastructure, and sciences at home.