Wishing Away the World Without the West


Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steve Weber in The Monkey Cage over at the Washington Post (photo Takaki Yajima/AFP):

In our original World Without the West essay (2007), we argued that emerging powers are preferentially engaging with each other — “routing around” the Western liberal order rather than joining it or trying actively to undermine it. This argument attracted two main criticisms. Consistent with realist theories of international politics, the first critique posits that what we’re witnessing today is simply the early stages of an eventual attempt to overthrow the liberal order. (We disagree, but we’ll save that one for another day.) On the other side of the spectrum, however, is the view articulated by Voeten that a combination of interests, inducements and constraints will lead countries like China to ultimately conform, more or less, to the way the United States and the West have done business for the last 70 years.

The crux of our disagreement with this liberal internationalist perspective largely revolves around two questions. Will Chinese-led multilateral institutions “really fundamentally challenge the existing order or have profound implications for China’s ties to global multilateral institutions?” And even when they have similar functional objectives — on issues like regional stability, counterterrorism or poverty alleviation — will their approach be sufficiently different from liberal practice so as to diverge from prevailing norms and institutions? Voeten thinks the answer is no to both these questions.

We disagree because we think it’s overly optimistic to assume that Chinese interests and behavior will conform quite so neatly to the post-WWII system. And, to put a finer point on it, we believe both logic and evidence are now frequently pointing in the opposite direction.

More here.