Time to think about power with others: Nye

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/25 21:33:39

Joseph Nye

Joseph Nye


Editor's note:


Is the 21st century still an American century? Will the US continue to be the dominant global power for at least another couple decades? What challenges will it face? Will it accept a peaceful transition from the American Century to a China Century decades later? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Yabin and Li Aixin recently talked to Joseph Nye (Nye), Harvard University professor, former US assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and former chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, about these issues in an exclusive interview.


GT: In your new book Is the American Century Over?, you suggest that the American century is far from over and the US will continue to be the dominant global power for a very long time.

Could you please give a brief explanation of this view?

Nye: The US has been the largest economy in the world since 1900, but it was not the central country in the world balance of power until after World War II. Since WWII, it has been the largest military power and the largest economy and it helps to provide a global international order. Many people now think that is over - the US is in decline and the global order is about to collapse. But what I argue in the book is that's not true. First of all, the US is not declining. Second, there is no other country in the position to replace the US as the largest country. Europe is equivalent in size, in terms of population and total GDP, but it lacks unity. Russia is in decline. It has major economic and demographic problems. India and Brazil are still very much developing countries. Many people think China would be the country that is most likely to replace the US. But China has an economy of $10 trillion, the US is $18 trillion. By per capita income, the US is much larger than China.

So it doesn't look like there is a country in the position to replace the US in being larger. That then leaves the question - will the US continue to provide global public goods and being seen as having a stable international economy, stable currencies, stable international commons like freedom of the seas, open access to the Internet, or a clean environment, and answers to global pollution questions, global warming questions. I think the US will continue to do that. But I think problems are probably more from internal American attitudes than from external challenges. The US will have to cooperate with other countries to be able to play the role.


GT: What challenges to its status as a global leading power does the US face at home and abroad?

Nye: I think the major challenges abroad come less from another country, as I mentioned. They come more from the growing complexity of the international system, particularly the increasing role of non-state actors.

A good illustration of this is, if you look at the Internet, there are many actors who can use the Internet, some for good and some for crime or attacks. The problem is how you maintain the international order when you have not just other states to coordinate, but non-state actors which range from hackers to terrorists to independent currency manipulators. So that's long challenge, which is the growing complexity of international relations, not just from the rise of the Asian states like China and India, Japan … but the rise of non-state actors.

Another challenge is, will Americans continue to want to play this role. The US became the largest economy in the beginning of the 20th century. But it did not play the role of providing international order in the 1930s, because it retreated into isolation. And the result is nobody stood up to German aggression or Japanese imperialism. Nobody took care of the international monetary system when we had the Great Depression. So in the 1930s, there was no international order. The US, instead of taking the place, turned to isolation. If that were to happen again, I don't think other countries are yet ready to fill that role of providing global public goods.


GT: When you say the American Century is not over, do you mean the US will continue to dominate the world?

Nye: I would not call it dominating the world, because even the US is the most powerful country, it cannot control what happens in all parts of the world. Look at the case in Iraq, the US invasion of Iraq did not allow the US to control Iraq, it did not allow the US to control terrorist groups like ISIS. So I think we don't want to exaggerate how much control the US has even in periods when it is the largest power.

But if you ask do I see another country that will be more powerful than the US in the next 25 years or 30 years, I don't know. China is growing rapidly and has done a very good job in raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, which is a very good thing. But it's also true that China still faces a number of problems. If you ask will the US dominate in the sense of controlling, no, they don't think they do now. But if you ask will the US be the country with the largest economy and the largest military, I think that will be true for another 25 years at least.


GT: The US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy was raised in 2011, and whether or not the strategy has deliberately aimed at China, it has actually created increasing tension between Beijing and Washington. How do you evaluate the gains and losses the strategy has brought to the US?

Nye: I think the general view of rebalance was to reflect the fact that in the first 10 years of the 21st century, we have spent much time and money in the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq was a proof of this. It is understandable because of the terrorist threat. But there is a broad feeling in the Obama ministration that our foreign policy has focused too much in the Middle East.

If you look at the world economy, the most rapid area of growth is in Asia. Not just China, also in India, which is currently growing more rapidly than China. We were focused on the Middle East, which was not growing. So the argument was we needed to rebalance to Asia. This became interpreted as anti-China. But it was not anti-China, it was to benefit from Chinese economic growth as well as Indian economic growth as well as other countries in the region. It became interpreted as a military pose against China. In fact the origin of the policy was to rebalance away from the Middle East, and to focus on Asia, not only militarily, but also economically as well.


GT: What is your comment on the Philippines' recent change in its diplomatic stance? Will it have any influence on US rebalance to Asia-Pacific strategy?

Nye: I don't find it terribly disturbing. I don't think it's going to change American policy very much. If it means that China and the Philippines reach an agreement on something like Huangyan Island, that's a good thing. The US has always said that on the South China Sea, we don't take a position on sovereignty over rock, reefs or islands. So the issue of does Huangyan Island belongs to China or to the Philippines, is for China and the Philippines to settle. The US position is that the waters in the South China Sea are international waters under the law of the sea treaty and that was what was agreed by the tribunal, which China has not accepted. But it is broadly believed by many nations that the nine-dash line cannot turn the South China Sea into a Chinese lake. So US interest in the South China Sea is the freedom of navigation. But it's not protecting the interests of any given country, the Philippines, or Vietnam, or Brunei, over a particular rock, reef or island. That's been our official position for decades.


GT: You said that the American Century will last for at least another couple decades at least. During this period, what do you think China's global role will be? Do you think the US will accept a peaceful transition from the American Century to maybe China Century decades later?

Nye: I don't think it's a good idea to talk any longer about centuries. The US and China will both have to cooperate. There will be conflicts between us, but also cooperation. On many issues, we are only able to succeed through cooperation. For example, if you look at climate change, which is if the ocean rises, it's going to damage China, the US and everybody. But we cannot deal with it alone. We deal with that together. That's an example of non-zero-sum relationship, in which US-China cooperation is going to be essential. What I argue near the end of the book is we are going to have to start thinking about not just power over others, but power with others. If the US and China work together, we are going to deal with some of these problems. And if we work at the opposite ends, we will not.

There has actually been real progress in US-China relations over the last four, five years. If you compare the Copenhagen climate change conference, where we have big differences, to the Paris climate change conference, the main thing is that the US and China had coordinated a common position. Last September, President Xi Jinping and President Obama reached an agreement on cyber espionage of not doing cyber espionage for commercial purposes, that was a good step forward for China-US cooperation. And then the two leaders took it to the G20. That's the kind of model which I see more in the future, which is we are going to have to wind up doing  more things together.



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