Thursday, November 11, 2010

GDP Now Matters More Than Force

Writing for the current issue of the Foreign Affairs, Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, proposed an argument: “GDP Now Matters More Than Force.” Influence is now gained not only by traditional military hard-power but also through economic power between states. Small states benefit from greater competition as part of the global supply chain and major states do not risk threatening these supply chains via armed conflict as their very power is based on this economic interdependence. Deterrence comes into play in that any threat to globalization could result in mutually assured economic destruction. This is a welcome break from last century's model where Germany and Japan used military force to seek hegemony.

Case-in-point -- Obama’s recent Asia trip is more of a “sales” trip than an attempt to form “neo containment” in that region; surely a disappointment to some geopolitical hawks. It is easy for the Westside of the Pacific to view the as "Us vs. Them" where everyone lines up to remind China to stay “inline” as noted recently by an NYT pundit. To counter Obama's Indonesian trip, China offered to invest $6.6 billion in Indonesia’s infrastructure a week prior to Obama’s visit. To quote a different New York Times article: China “laid down a not-so-subtle challenge to Mr. Obama: Show your Indonesian hosts the money.” (here)

The question is, why would smaller players want to choose sides (West/US vs. East/China) when they can play one side against other? This is not an argument in favor of “peace rise” as there is inherent danger in economic hegemony. But for Indonesia, it is still nice to have several suitors.

Leslie H. Gelb’s GDP Now Matters More Than Force

“Germany and Japan placed their industrialized economies at the disposal of their military ambitions. For them, the military domination of others was a cost-effective way to control resources, and it did not strain their internal control. China could not afford such an aggressive military strategy, as Beijing has to subordinate almost everything to upgrading its economy. Because half of China's population is still poverty-stricken -- a reality with explosive, revolutionary possibilities -- the Communist Party feels that it must produce economic growth to stay in power.

Also reducing the likelihood of conflict today is that there is no arena in which the vital interests of great powers seriously clash. Indeed, the most worrisome security threats today -- rogue states with nuclear weapons and terrorists with weapons of mass destruction -- actually tend to unite the great powers more than divide them. In the past, and specifically during the first era of globalization, major powers would war over practically nothing. Back then, they fought over the Balkans, a region devoid of resources and geographic importance, a strategic zero. Today, they are unlikely to shoulder their arms over almost anything, even the highly strategic Middle East. All have much more to lose than to gain from turmoil in that region. To be sure, great powers such as China and Russia will tussle with one another for advantages, but they will stop well short of direct confrontation.

1 comment:

Derrick said...

A very good post and a very realistic view of the world. In that sense, China still lags far behind the US.