Welcome to Finland, syksy 2008
?Russia is up, America is down and Europe is out?. This is the sentiment in Moscow according to Dmitri Trenin, a well-known expert on Russian foreign policy. China is also riding the waves of new-found self-confidence. Indian companies are conquering the world. At the same time the United States is struggling with the subprime crises and an unfavourable image in most parts of the world.
The plate tectonics of world politics are clearly in motion. The structure of the world economy is changing. Who are the winners? Who are the losers?
During the past 18 months a number of books have sought to explain the momentous change the world is witnessing. The titles of some of the best selling books are revealing. One is called The End of the West. Another is named The New Asian Hemisphere. A third is titled The Post-America World.
The change of sentiment is tremendous. Ten years ago global intellectuals penned books about the victory of capitalism and the new American century. A few years ago pundits sought to explain why the European dream was eclipsing the American dream and why Europe was destined to lead the 21st century. Now the books on current affairs are all about the virtues of state capitalism, the importance of oil and gas and the decline of the West.
The chattering classes have a fickle mind. In a few years time editorial writers and best selling authors may be writing about an entirely new set of issues. Nevertheless, these recent books do force Europe and the United States to face up to some uncomfortable questions about their future.
The most obvious query is whether the United States can cope with the rise of the rest. This is the question that Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek international, is trying to answer in his new book The Post-America World.
Zakaria is convinced that China and India will become political and economic behemoths. Yet, he points out that this is not the first time American supremacy has been challenged. In the 1950s Sputnik made Americans wake up to the prowess of the Soviet Union. Watergate and the first oil crises convinced most observers in the 1970s that America’s time as the undisputed leader of the West was over. At the time, Western Europe and Saudi Arabia were looked upon as rising powers capable of challenging the United States. In the mid-1980s Americans believed that Japan was about to become the leading economic power in the world. What will happen this time? Will America be able to sustain the rise of China and India?
Zakaria is an optimist. The dynamism of American capitalism combined with the prevailing entrepreneurial spirit will continue to be engines of growth in the future as they have been in the past. The problem is, he claims, that the American political system has lost its ability to solve problems. The educational system, pensions, healthcare and public spending in general are ridden with problems. The lack of energy efficiency in everything Americans do is hiking up costs and contributing to climate change. Corporate taxation, which used to be comparatively low, is now among the highest in OECD countries. If politicians cannot fix these problems, America may indeed decline.
Much depends on the next president of the United States. The warm welcome that Senator Barack Obama received during his European tour shows that Europeans are ready to enter into a more cordial relationship with America. Yet, it is quite clear that one person will not be able to change the course of history ? even if this person becomes the President of the United States. And the course of history will be known only in hindsight.