Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The New Global Architecture

While the U.S. plays the game of "White Man's Burden" in the Middle East, Noam Chomsky argues in today's Guardian that America's quintessential sphere of influence, Latin America, has a new streak of independence marked by its drift toward Asia, another Brutus to America's Caesar. (Read it for a more detailed account of the new plate-tectonics of the global order.)

While I'm pleased by social democratic developments in Latin America, an Asian bloc led by China scares me. While Washington has been a perpetual bayonet in the bellies of both Latin America and Asia for over a century now, it was precisely Washington's hypocrisy between its liberty-loving rhetoric and its imperial actions that led to protest movements at home and abroad that stymied imperial designs intermittenly. The relatively open democracy of the U.S. allowed the American people to reign in their government as best they could (i.e. Vietnam).

If this century is going to be marked by a rising dragon and a fluttering eagle, what will stand in the way of an authoritarian China, unchecked by its populace, from being a more brutal hegemon than the U.S.?

While I'm indebted to Chomsky for the way I analyze global politics, I'm continually surprised he doesn't offer any analysis of whether a world marked by a more or less dominant China would be better or worse for the global south as well as the post-industrial north. Does he think a weaker U.S. would join with Europe and Russia (and possibly India) to check China's ascendency? Or would Latin America, India and Russia join with China to ensure U.S. defeat?

Certainly American hegemony since WWII has been horrific for much of the global south, but wouldn't an authoritarian, capitalist China be even worse?

These are the questions that keep IR a tragic discipline. They are also the questions that show the left's nearsightedness by seeking an end to U.S. hegemony without asking what will take its place after its fall. I want to see -- as much as the next lefty -- a world marked by at least social democracy, but if that's not possible, I'd much prefer liberal democracy over authoritarian capitalism anyday.

It's something for all of us on the left to ponder for awhile.