Pulse of the Peninsula: Greatest threat to U.S. – ourselves

Pulse of the Peninsula: Greatest threat to U.S. – ourselves

Resurgent Russia, Surging China but Greatest Obstacle to US global Power? Us

The resurgence of a nationalistic, militant Russia, the emergence of China as an economic and political world power, climate change and changing demands for resources, mobile technology giving power to the people – all of these are giving rise to the third Post-World War II global power architecture, says Dr. Ralph Buultjens, professor at New York University, former Nehru Professor at Cambridge University, consultant/adviser to the United Nations, author of 10 books including “The Decline of Democracy: Essays on An Endangered Political Species,” former chairman of the International Development Forum and the Society of Asian Affairs, and syndicated columnist. 

This is the continuation of the talk he gave to Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, March 28 in which he addresses China, Russia and the future of the United States as a world power (spoiler alert: whether the U.S. can retain its global leadership largely hinges on domestic politics):

Challenge: the extraordinary rise of China. Ten years ago, China was not much; today China is a political and economic giant – increasing competition with America for being No. 1 in world affairs – a leading manufacturer, exporter, its outreach to Latin America, Africa, where you never saw Chinese before. China is more and more engaged in the Mideast because it has to import oil.

China has grown tremendously in size, importance, which has given them extraordinary self-confidence. 

Can we compete or will China displace the US in the generation to come?

In the meanwhile, a particular part of Mideast which has some relevance to America and China: Iran.

We have been dealing with this somewhat differently. Until recently, the U.S. demanded Iran give up its nuclear technology and change its government. Now we say Iran can keep nuclear tech (but not militarize, allow inspections).

Those talks will go on and on, and better to talk, talk than fight, fight.

The Chinese are very interested in this. As they get involved in Mideast, they are beginning to take sides – Iran oil is of great importance to China.

Our own approach to this should be to get less involved in the Middle East – and if the Chinese want to get involved, fine. Fires burning in Mideast, let them burn in Mideast, there is no reason for us to be singed. 

China – no nation in human history has moved so fast from the margins of advancement to the top. Countries take centuries, certainly 40-50, 100 years – but in just 10 years they’ve moved

We haven’t found answer in how to deal with China.

But China has also reached an interesting point.

People talk about China as the Supermen of the 21st Century, but certain developments in China which suggest will be more difficult to govern than before.

The Chinese government is losing control of its economy. There is more private business, more talented people being employed outside government, and then the government loses control – on salaries, etc. – and those people who work outside government will want more freedom, flexibility. 

The Chinese Government losing control of talent.

In 1978, only 400,000 graduated Chinese university, now 8 million a year graduate and most are employed in private enterprise. 200,000 study in US, most go back and join business. Their ideas of how to run the country are different from the government’s.

And the Chinese government is losing control of information, with unprecedented access of people to mobile [communications technology]. 

Will it be a great problem for future? Possibly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a Digital Tiananmen Square [the site of 1989 protests].

Chinese are flocking to cities as never before – 30 percent of the population lived in China’s cities 10 years ago, now 50 percent. This means a rising middle class, more urbanization. People who live in cities are more restive in politics than peasants in countryside.

Some big changes are taking place in China.

At the moment, the Chinese government is in control. People are happy; the country is doing well. But when you look at sudden, unexpected upheavals in Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, I wonder whether quite suddenly something could develop in China.

China is formidable, the government is managed quite well, and its rise becomes a concern for U.S. We have to decide how we will deal with China in future.

China is trying to reach out to areas where they never were before: Latin America, Africa, Mideast. They are involved in Central America, financing a new canal across Nicaragua, which will rival the Panama Canal (except that Chinese already manage both entrances to the Panama Canal). 

We will have to decide whether we are to engage China as we have, fairly consistently for 40 years: We give them our markets, they allow us to invest in China, we supply them with products and they don’t give us trouble in rest of world.

How will we deal with China? As partner, as adversity, or some new relationship? That needs to be decided in the next 10 years.

My own view is that what is happening in Ukraine and Russia is a distraction from the big challenge: China.

Russia is not challenge to us, Ukraine is not important to us, we’re not happy – but the real long term focus must be China.

Third challenge: Reemergence of Russia. Ten years ago, Russia was a basket case, 17th in world, today it is 6th.

Putin is not a nice man – but he is decisive, ruthless, and very fast moving leader.

Under his leadership, Russia begun to emerge in a way no one could imagine. It seems Russians have deep resentment at loss of territories used to control in Central Europe – they are upset they don’t have seat at table of high politics and think the West grabs every opportunity to downgrade them.

Whether this is true or not, it’s how they feel.

This year was a good year for Russia – Sochi Olympics took place without the problems that were foreseen, and now they have Crimea back.

Russia’s anxiety increased when trouble began in Ukraine and the West was hinting Ukraine might come into NATO and the European Union.

I pose these questions as to what determines Russian policy: Is the recovery of Crimea to Russia, worth more than friendship to the US and Western Europe? Will any Russian with a chance to get Crimea, refuse? Is it more important for Putin to be popular in the West or Russia? What will history say to leader who has recaptured Crimea for Russia? How much pain can his people sustain?

Our idea is that the more pain we can inflict on Russia, the more it will make them change.

But the Russian notion, as expressed by Putin, is ‘We know you will inflict pain on us. So did the Mongols, Napoleon, Kaiser, Hitler. We will take any pain for our nationalism’. 

I’m asked whether Putin will invade east Ukraine and other parts. The answer is he will if he wants to. Because he knows there is nothing we can do politically to him. We can’t invade Russia, we won’t have nuclear war.

It’s not easy for him to take Ukraine – he may take some parts, but Ukraine has 35 million non-Russians, the Russian Ukrainians are 10 million – and the non-Russians will fight him.

Putin’s ambition will be confined to Crimea and maybe some parts of eastern Ukraine. But we have to think about Russian nationalism.

How much pain? He seems confident Russia will take the pain. The real question is can he do a deal with China to get him out of this situation economically. Putin is visiting China in May and it is possible China may have energy deal [with Russia] at discounted prices.

Who benefits [from Russia’s incursion]? China – they are smiling.

And Germany – this has finally brought the recognition that Germany become the leader of Europe – nothing can happen in Europe without Germany’s consent. Germany, in 2014, has become what she failed to do twice since 1914, the leader of Europe –

Ten years ago, none of these things existed. These changes so sudden and unexpected in world affairs, and are the building blocks of the third post WWII system.

United States.

Our own place in that system looked promising 10 years ago – we had developed a kind of method of running a society with defeated Communism, globalized capitalism and western-style democracy.

But the past few years, our ability to offer a model for the world has been somewhat tarnished – the Recession of 2008 [to which I would add the Iraq War, the $1 trillion price tag of that war, and our own politics which are made us ineffectual domestically and internationally].

Globalism is the greatest producer of wealth in human history but produces wealth that is not well distributed – [globalism has produced the greatest inequality] and shaken faith [in governmental institutions].

Democracy. We are offering democracy to the world – it is one of the claims of American greatness – but problems. The great democratic nation of all time, U.S., is paralyzed.

Second – very low voter turnouts – how can you recommend a system to the world if you don’t’ practice it yourself. 

Turnout in the Presidential election is below 50 percent; the midterm, is 35-36 percent.

[There is a growing] perception that politics is entirely a money game.

Unless we can correct these impressions [we are in danger of failing]. And if America fails, the world fails.

We are the only great state of the 21st century that remains standing – others not strong enough to be leaders in the world.

There are two views of [America’s] future: this is a country in decline and we are going the way of Rome.

The other view is that we have all the basic ingredients for a great American recovery – energy prospects, best population balance (not too many people, like India, China and not too few like Western Europe, Japan); great diplomatic opportunities [despite the concern about] a rising China and Russia.

I don’t know which vision of America will unfold. Much of it depends on the governmental system – which is broken.

For almost 250 years, America had political system that delivered for most Americans – not all. [In all our history, there have been 600 million Americans who have lived, of which 300 million are alive today]. We’ve tremendous gains – huge safety net for our citizens- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, benefits to veterans, antipoverty program, expanded voting rights. We ended slavery, gave women the vote, expanded civil rights.

With that system in past 100 years, we went into the world, and became leaders of that world. Now the world has changed, the world is coming into America, into foreign policy, civil society. We need to refresh our system – invest in education, infrastructure, national debt. 

Today, American political system less able to deliver the same benefits, if we don’t adjust it – if we don’t, we will be overwhelmed.

It’s not a Democratic or Republican problem –it’s a national problem.

If we can overcome some of the problems, the future will be extremely bright – if not, we will have great problems and go into decline.

Our failure of politics is the failure to look beyond politics. 

The engine is very sound, the batteries need to be recharged, and the great task for the next decade or so is to do that. If America will be an important part of the world, if a new, post WWII structure will develop where America has important place, we must make sure we have a good place at home. 

The greatest danger to America today is America.

At the same time that [poet] Matthew Arnold was talking about two worlds, one dying, one struggling to be born – Dickens was writing his introduction to A Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times, the worst of times…’

That also is a pretty good description of the world today – whether it is best of times or worst of times depends on where you stand – for China, it is the best of times, for Somalia, the worst.

America has had a pretty good run. The challenge of the next generation is to extend that good run, because if we don’t, it will certainly be the worst of times.

The extraordinary thing is that it is within our grasp. We know what to do. It depends on whether we do it.

Looking at this third post-WWII global order, this arrangement of America is very important – how America will be seen and secure its place in the world.

Our task then is to define that future in the next 10-15 years. That is why the stakes for America have never been so high.

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