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Issue No. 79 (November 15, 2005) -- Mark Satin, Editor
Al Qaeda may be our most visible enemy. But to hear many politicians and journalists tell it, the biggest developing countries -- China, India, and Brazil -- are our biggest long-term threats.
They’re the first, second, and fifth most populous countries in the world -- and now, finally, each is among the ten largest economies in the world (as measured by GDP). “[W]e regard [those three countries] as having the potential to become the major economies of the 21st century,” one U.S. Treasury undersecretary recently said.
You would think that the rise of these three formerly impoverished nations would be good news to every human being on the planet. But that’s not how conventional politics works.
“[S]ome high U.S. officials . . . find China’s rise to be a source of anxiety,” Time Magazine warned (27 July 2005). The Economist was even more blunt: “[N]ews that the peril to the east is growing even faster than expected is the last thing politicians in the developed world wanted to hear” (17 Oct. 2005).
It got almost no play in the U.S. media, but Treasury Secretary John Snow visited Brazil last summer, China last month, and India last week, and conveyed the Bush Administration’s judgments and preferences to officials of all three nations. You can be sure they listened politely.
Another approach called for
Having high U.S. government officials ply the three great rising nations with judgments and advice may be better than treating them with benign neglect. But it generates little loyalty or trust.
“[A] conviction is growing among Chinese policymakers that the U.S. is bent on curtailing China’s rise," Singapore policy analyst Kishore Mahbubani recently reported. Many Indian and Brazilian policymakers are equally suspicious and resentful.
Are there other ways of relating to the three great rising nations? Ways that are more likely to avoid re-runs of World Wars One and Two and the so-called Cold War (over 10 million dead in “proxy” wars)?
According to policy analysts like Joseph Nye, Jr., of Harvard and Lawrence Korb and Robert Boorstin of the Center for American Progress, a different approach is possible.
It involves de-emphasizing the “hard power” (economic and military carrots and sticks) routinely wielded by top officials like John Snow, and vastly increasing what Nye calls “soft power” -- a willingness, even an eagerness, to listen to each other, learn from each other, and work cooperatively with each other on the common problems that confront us all.
(In this view, to the extent that American values are “superior,” they’ll be adopted naturally in the course of cross-cultural exchange and common endeavor. The John Snows of the world will have little to do with it.)
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have embraced the soft-power-first approach. It requires policymakers to embrace such dicey characteristics as humility and magnanimity, and to commit themselves to focusing more on long-term interests than short-term positions.
It involves basically three moves:
It is actually easier than it sounds. . . .
Inoculate yourself against “us / them” thinking
As U.S. residents, we’ve been exposed thoughout our lives to media reports that treat Brazil, China, and India as deeply “foreign,” deeply “other.”
As a result, we’ve managed to convince ourselves that people living in Arizona or Rhode Island are US, but people living in Brazil, China, or India are THEM.
One way to break down our sense of estrangement is to read some of the wonderful books that are now available on the three great rising nations (see RE:SOURCES below).
Even a cursory look at some of that literature will be enough to convince you we are so in the same boat.
The Brazilian legislature adamently refuses to balance its budget -- just like another national legislature I’m familiar with.
The Chinese are as worried about their “little emperors” -- spoiled only-children -- as Americans worry about their next generation.
India has as hard a time firing government deadwood (including poor teachers) as we do in the U.S.
All three countries suffer from massive unemployment (much of it hidden). All three suffer from regional economic disparities, and China’s local and provincial governments are up in arms about “unfunded mandates.”
There are rising environmental movements in all three nations.
Hardly anyone wants to stay on the farm anymore. Anywhere.
A little humility
We don’t just share an extraordinary amount with the three great rising nations. Each has much to teach us. For example:
-- There is more racial, cultural, and religious blending in Brazil than there is in the U.S. For many, mulatto is the racial ideal;
-- Family ties are much stronger in China (even urban and industrial China) than in the U.S.;
-- The richest 20% of the population in India earns five times as much as the poorest 20%. In the U.S. the ratio is 11 to 1.
Ways of mingling
Once we become familiar with the three great rising nations, we should go there and mingle with the people. As travelers, if necessary -- but ideally as part of citizen exchanges.
Our best known exchange program is the Fulbright Academic Exchange Program. It gives grants to American and foreign grad students and teachers. But the number of grantees has always been small, and even that’s on the decline -- from 6,518 in 1993 to 5,099 in 2002. We should place at least 20,000 American grad students and teachers in each of the three great rising nations ASAP, and each of them should place at least 20,000 grad students and teachers in ours.
Another ongoing program, the International Visitor Program, brings professionals from abroad to meet with their counterparts in the U.S. for up to 30 days. But it involves even fewer people than the Fulbright exchanges. We should make sure that at least 10,000 Brazilian, Chinese, and Indian professionals get to meet with their counterparts in the U.S. each year, and we should make sure that at least 10,000 American professionals get to hang with their counterparts there. And we should define “professionals” broadly to include secondary school teachers, union reps, religious leaders, political activists, all the kinds of people that make our burgeoning nations go.
In an under-reported speech last month at George Washington University, Karen Hughes, now Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, proposed that cabinet members have “listening events in the places they visit and then . . . give us the feedback.” It’s a wonderful idea, and why confine it to cabinet members? Members of Congress, corporate CEOs, heads of NGOs, and many other influential Americans could visit Brazil, China, and India in order to weave other people’s thoughts and feelings into their minds, and ours. And we should bring a steady stream of influential Brazilians, Chinese, and Indians to living rooms and auditoriums in this country, and engage them in heart-to-heart conversations they’ll never forget.
It isn’t enough just to exchange experiences, though. If we truly want to turn the three great rising nations into partners -- if we truly want to shift our global policy emphasis from hard power to soft power -- then we have to engage in common endeavors with people from those nations. Important and necessary endeavors.
One such endeavor would be to foster military-to-military exchanges among the four nations including, e.g., strategy discussions, officer exchanges, and joint training exercises. Wang Jisi, Dean of the School of International Studies at Beijing University, is supportive: “The best way to reduce tensions is through candid and comprehensive strategic conversations [and] military-to-military exchanges.” William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, is also on board. According to Prof. Nye, Perry believes that “military-to-military contacts can constitute an aspect of ‘preventive defense.’”
Another key endeavor would be for the U.S. to get together with the great emerging countries and -- in Prof. Nye’s words -- “craft a proposal for the gradual reduction of agricultural subsidies that would be accepted by the developing world.” At this point, probably only an alliance of hyper-developed countries like the U.S. and emerging giants like Brazil and China would have the credibility to sell a comprehensive trade pact to the WTO.
For the U.S. legal profession, the rise of mediation has been sudden and unnerving. U.S. attorneys and mediators could learn much and give much if they developed a joint project with mediators from the three great rising nations, each of which boasts a long and storied tradition of community-based mediation.
A final suggestion: for different reasons, the U.S. and the three great rising nations are all averse to putting caps on greenhouse gas emissions. So let's launch a joint project focused on developing technological advances as an alternative to applying Kyoto-style caps. Already Britain and China are seeking to expand cooperation on cleaner technologies to tackle global warming, Beijing University’s Wang Jisi has called on the U.S. to explore ways to cooperate with China “on energy issues through joint projects,” and ecological architect Bill McDonough is working with the Chinese government to build an “environmental showcase village” in northeast China.
Two versions of normalcy
For many U.S. politicians, it may be normal to approach rising great nations with anxiety and dread. Fists up! Another competition is on!
At the radical middle, though, it feels more normal to lead with soft power. So much of life is what we make of it, and who would forgive us if -- after the carnage of the last century -- we don’t even try to build a win-win world?
For wonderful (readable but fact-rich) introductions to the three great rising nations, all of which I relied on for this article, see Marshall Eakin, Brazil: The Once and Future Country (1997); John Starr, Understanding China: A Guide to China’s Economy, History, and Political Culture (rev. 2001); and Shashi Tharoor, India: From Midnight to the Millennium (1997). Eakin teaches history at Vanderbilt (and is executive director of the Brazilian Studies Association), Starr’s book is based on a seminar he taught at Yale for 17 years, and Tharoor -- an award-winning novelist -- has worked at the U.N. since 1978.
Other introductions that were recommended to me by smart people and that are more politically explicit than the above include Joseph Page, The Brazilians (1995) (politically left); Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, China Wakes (1994) (center-left); and Gurcharan Das, India Unbound (2001) (center-right).
If you enjoy being an “armchair traveler,” the Insight Guides / Discovery Channel travel guide series features reasonably socially aware commentary and exquisite photographs. Moreover, Insight Guides: Brazil, Insight Guides: China, and Insight Guides: India all cost -- miracle of modern technology! -- under $25 each.
For the definitive guide to “soft power” (which also & not incidentally succeeds in putting soft power in larger context), see Joseph Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004). For a treatment that “merges the many and varied powers of the U.S.,” see Lawrence Korb and Robert Boorstin, Integrated Power: A National Security Strategy for the 21st Century (2005).
Other materials I relied on for this article include, in order, Kishore Mahbubani, “Understanding China,” Foreign Affairs (Sept./Oct. 2005); Juliet Sablosky, “Recent Trends in Department of State Support for Cultural Diplomacy,” Center for Arts and Culture (2003); Karen Hughes, “Remarks to the 2005 Forum on the Future of Public Diplomacy,” U.S. Department of State (14 Oct. 2005); Wang Jisi, “China’s Search for Stability With America,” Foreign Affairs (Sept./Oct. 2005); Christopher Moore, “The Historical Practice of Mediation” and “Mediation Around the World,” sects. 5 and 7 of chap. 1 in ibid., The Mediation Process (3rd ed. 2003); and Bill McDonough, “Growth Without Eco-Disaster,” Fortune (4 Oct. 2004). Most are freely available online.
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