Monday, 21 November 2005

Threat or Opportunity

In a recent fit of dismay over America's direction and the future of the planet I mused that maybe our best hope now is that China, in spite of her deeply flawed recent past, and burgeoning development in the face of dwindling resources, will somehow "get it right", and become the leader that keeps us afloat. There's plenty of reason for skepticism, with a human rights record which leaves much to be desired, and, for instance, the huge Three Gorges Dam hydro project there which hardly seems the model of environmental stewardship. Nonetheless, the sheer number of Chinese is a sobering reminder that their handling of their own development may be the single most important factor in determining humanity's future over the next century.

Mark Satin in his most recent Radical Middle newsletter, suggests that our greatest hope may lie in not perceiving the rising economic powers of China, India, and Brazil as threats, but rather as partners with whom our cooperation is essential if we are to move forward with everyone's interests in mind. He suggests following the advice of policy analysts such as Joseph Nye, Jr of Harvard and Lawrence Korb and Robert Boorstin of the Center for American Progress, who suggest a new approach in our engagement with these developing nations.
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.
Sure, it's more than a little bit frightening to realize our fate depends on good faith partnerships among cultures which have condoned suppression of freedoms, honor killings, and oppression of women. But we see our own strengths in spite of deep flaws, so we should welcome an honest exchange with others in spite of their flaws, or else face the consequences of an antagonism which will bring out the worst in all of us.

By humbly acknowledging our own warts, perhaps we will give permission for new partners to do the same, enabling us to work together toward solutions with a little less of the bad stuff, drawing from the strengths that each of us have to offer. Every possible course is fraught with danger, but if we are to choose hope we must be willing to engage other powers in a cooperative spirit of mutualism, encouraging our better natures to blossom, while facing our common problems boldly and honestly.

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