The Post-American World
I finally got around to reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. I had read the reviews when it first came out and seen him on The Daily Show a few times, but the book hadn’t made it to the top of my reading list.
As you might guess from the title, it’s about the end of the unipolar, American dominated world that we’ve gotten used to. He makes the obvious comparison to the British empire at the time of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, but points out a number of important differences. The one strength that Great Britain had at that time was that they had started the industrial revolution earlier than anyone else. The United States, on the other hand, has several fundamental strengths (population, natural resources, etc.).
His take is that what is going to change is what he refers to as the rise of the rest. He sees us entering a period where countries have to negotiate and compromise to achieve their national interests. He believes that there are six things that the United States should focus on to be successful in the sort of world he’s projecting.
- Choices – Figure out what is the most important goal in your relationship with another country and focus on achieving that. For example, trying to negotiate nuclear nonproliferation with a country at the same time you’re stumping for regime change in that country isn’t likely to achieve either.
- Build broad rules, not narrow interests – If we establish a set of international rules and follow them now, then other countries will follow them when they become more powerful in the future. Taking shortcuts to get what we want now will set a precedent which other countries will use once they’re able to.
- Be Bismark not Britain – Bismark focused his foreign policy on engaging with other countries instead of simply projecting power. Britain’s more disengaged approach didn’t serve her well as the other countries became more powerful.
- Order à la carte – Richard Haass advocated a foreign policy which used a number of different institutions and organizations to achieve our goals. NATO might be useful in one situation while the UN or the IMF is more useful in a different situation. A single approach isn’t going to work once the world becomes more multilateral.
- Think asymmetrically – We have a powerful military, but we need to understand that there’s a cost associated with its use because it is so powerful. For example, invading Iraq played into Al Qaeda’s hands because the population of other countries can picture themselves in Iraqi’s position in a different situation.
- Legitimacy is Power – He argues that legitimacy is what allows a player to establish the agenda in a time of crisis.
Recommended reading if you’re interested in international politics.