For a decade and a half, Americans dealing with foreign policy have been talking about the “new unipolar world,” with the United States—“the sole superpower”—being that one pole. There has even been speculation that this unipolar world might develop into an American empire. China’s ability to assume the Soviet Union’s former role to create a new bipolar world appeared remote, and the more immediate challenge from the Islamic world was hardly recognized at all.
Now, after the Islamist terrorist attacks of 9/11 and after the demanding and draining U.S. counterinsurgency war in Iraq, there is little talk about a unipolar world, and even less about an American empire. Although the United States does not yet confront any other power great enough to be considered a “pole,” it certainly faces a growing number of challenges to its own power. For the United States, the unipolar world has become a multi-challenge one.
China: The Economic Challenge
In the long run, the greatest challenge to the U.S. role in the world may be posed by China, which represents a specter of future power, a sort of ghost of the challenge yet to come. The military dimension of China’s power has not yet really materialized, but the economic dimension (enhanced by growth rates of its economy which exceed 10 percent a year) already is having a massive impact on world affairs. Accordingly, three of our articles in this issue of Orbis focus upon China’s economic policy, particularly upon its energy policy. German economist Peter Cornelius and British economist Jonathan Story review the large and growing effects China is having upon the global energy market. David Lei, a noted American expert on business strategies, provides us with an innovative and revealing analysis of the Chinese government’s strategy for rapid economic development and its effective exploitation of the widely discussed phenomenon of outsourcing by Western corporations. Matthew Chen demonstrates the close connection between China’s energy policy and its policy toward countries Americans see as rogue states, engaged in large-scale and systematic abuses of human rights. Together, these three articles demonstrate that, in regard to China, economic strategy is at the core of national strategy, and energy strategy is at the core of them both.
The Islamic World: The Ideological Challenge
At the current time, however, the challenge that concentrates the minds of the Bush administration and of most Americans concerned about foreign policy is that posed by the Islamic world, which represents the ghost of the challenge of the present. This challenge is not from the economic dimension of power, or from the conventional military one. Rather, it comes from unconventional—terrorist and insurgent—forces. More fundamentally, it comes from the cultural and ideological dimension of power (even if that ideology, Islamism, has features of a religion). Accordingly, four of our articles focus on Islamic countries and movements that embody this challenge. Vanni Cappelli provides us with an enlightening tour of one of the darkest, most sinister states on the planet—our putative ally, Pakistan. Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason provide us with a parallel tour of Pakistan’s neighbor, Afghanistan, and particularly of Pakistan’s ally and our enemy, the Taliban.
Of course, for Americans today, the Islamic country that is most violent and dangerous is Iraq. Laurie King-Irani shows us that it was not always thus, but that U.S. policy has gravely damaged the underlying, historical bases of Iraqi culture and society. In bringing this about, the Bush administration became not only an enemy of much of the Iraqi population (both the Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arabs), but its own worst enemy as well.
And then there is that other putative U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia. Benjamin Schwartz shows that this too is really a dark and dangerous state, long engaged in the spreading of the Wahhabi and neo-Salafi ideologies—really pathologies—throughout the globe. It is little wonder that Schwartz concludes his article with a discussion of prospects for the partition of Saudi Arabia and the breakup of this rogue state.
Russia: A Continuing Challenge?
Finally, there is that once-great nation, Russia, which represents the ghost of the challenge—and the power—of the past. Of course, Russia still possesses more land mass than any other country in the world and nuclear weapons comparable to those of the United States. It therefore still looms large on some military dimensions of power, and some energy analysts worry about the political influence Russia’s energy exports can bring. It is certainly the case that today a large number of figures involved with U.S. foreign policy—ranging from Vice President Dick Cheney and his neoconservative allies to liberals who promote human rights and open societies—claim that Russia under President Vladimir Putin presents a challenge to the United States. Accordingly, this issue includes two articles on Russia and another on NATO, the organization the United States has traditionally employed when dealing with Russia. Nikolas Gvosdev gives us an informed and nuanced understanding of how Russians think about their own identity in relation to either European or Western identities. Daniel Treisman provides an illuminating and innovative analysis of the new Russian elite—the successors to the oligarchs of the 1990s—that has arisen under Putin. Andrew Michta brings us up to date about the current issues and tensions operating within NATO and about their likely development.
Our two review essays nicely complement our other articles on the Islamic world. Bruce Berkowitz, an experienced and prominent defense analyst, provides a discerning and integrated account of three very important and useful books about Afghanistan. Finally, Samuel Karnick helps us to put the current challenges facing the United States within the broader, and deeper, perspective of the long historical development of Western civilization. He focuses in particular upon two ongoing streams within that civilization—one well-represented by the religion of Christianity and the other well-represented by the secularism of the Enlightenment. A question today is which of these two streams is most capable of meeting the challenges—especially the one posed by the Islamic world—which the West and the United States now face. Karnick concludes that the Enlightenment, now so dominant in Europe, is likely to fail in this test, but that Christianity, now far more vigorous in parts of Asia and Africa than in its European homeland, could prevail. If so, the United States could find that its most loyal and most important allies in its future struggles will be the rapidly expanding Christian communities found in China and in much of the “global South.”