Constructing New Leadership

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An area of obvious difference between the Brazilian and American experts in Rio de Janeiro at Cebri was the question of leadership actions by the rising states.  Much like the Obama Administration, many US experts urged that Brazil  – as other rising powers – needed to step up and take greater responsibility for global governance.  The Brazilians were skeptical of the variously expressed views by US experts that Brazil needed to accept a “pay-to-play” approach to leadership.  Like the US Administration many of these experts urged that Brazil  needed to take responsibility first – to shoulder the burden of leadership – and receive leadership benefits subsequently.  As David Shorr, the Program Officer of the Stanley Foundation, co-host of the Brazil meetings, suggested in the “Discussion Summary” “… the United States has not been totally convincing in making the case for urgent action and the un-sustainability of the status quo.” – Yes I know I haven’t done a full review of the Stanley Foundation-Cebri conference, notwithstanding an earlier promise – and it won’t be done here. But I will tackle it – really.

In struggling to construct a new global governance leadership in the  contemporary circumstances there is no more frustrating calculation than understanding the nature of the relationship between the US and China.  Here is the quintessential traditional power-rising power  conundrum.  This is the power transition in ‘spades’. How should China and the United States interact and to do so in a way to move forward on some of the growing challenges to global governance?

In Sunday’s NYT (November 28, 2010) Helene Cooper in “Asking China to Act Like the U.S.” explores the complex nature of the US-China relationship.  As Cooper suggests, the critical question “turns on a question that is, at its heart, an impossible conundrum: How to get Beijing to make moves that its leaders don’t think are good for their country?” What is evident is that increasingly in the China-US relationship, but also more generally in the rising power relationships, the US is apparently asking the new and diverse leadership circle to take actions that fail to be in conformity with their national interests.

Among others, Cooper turns to some of the realists – possibly neo-realists – in the Washington circle.  And you won’t be surprised these folks are hardly supportive of the current Administration.  One of the identified critics is David Rothkopf a former US official in trade and a former managing director of Kissinger Associates – and now a strategic consultant in the Washington beltway.  For Rothkopf the problem is clear – and so is the answer for that matter.  As Rothkopf sees it this Administration is, as he says, “…still struggling with a post-unilateralist hangover.”  Rothkopf concludes:

… the United States is heading into a future in which countries like China, with independent sources of power, are not reliant on or easily influenced by the United States, and so are pursuing their own national interests.

Given this, what does Rothkopf and others offer up – good old fashioned balance of power? So whether its dealing with global imbalances and exchange rate regimes or the problems of North Korea and nuclear proliferation, it would seem that Rothkopf urges a return to the past.  As he says:

… the United States must first determine the areas where China won’t bend, and work with Beijing to find compromises so that America is not in the impossible situation of trying to tell China to act against its own national interests.  … We have moved from the cold war era of bipolar reality through the brief bubble of sole superpower unilateral fantasy into a world of a new multipowered system which requires old-fashioned balance-of-power diplomacy.

Why “Washington” is appealing to the nineteenth and twentieth century tools of international relations – which seldom worked then – and are even more unlikely to work in the complex contemporary global governance world – is hard to understand.  It is familiar but promoting renewed rivalry and competition with the China’s and Brazil’ of the world hardly seem the way to fashion a new leadership.  And I don’t think it will.

What will?  I promise – really – to examine and answer this conundrum in an upcoming blog post.

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