The Next American Century; How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise

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  • Copyright: 2010-02-16
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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The rise of other global powers is most often posed as a sorry tale, full of threats to America's primacy, prosperity, and way of life. The potential loss of our #1 status implies a blow to our safety, economy, and prestige.But this is a rare moment in history: none of the world's big powers is our adversaries. InThe Next American Century, Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen show that the "pivotal powers" -- China, Europe, India, Japan, and Russia -- seek greater influence, but each has an enormous stake in the world economy and a keen desire to thwart common threats. India is a key ally in the struggle against terrorism. China's help is essential to containing pandemic disease. Russia is leading an effort to keep nuclear devices out of terrorists' hands. Japan and Europe are critical partners in tackling climate change. None of these countries is a direct military or ideological challenger. In fact, their gains largely help, rather than hurt, America's continuing prosperity, growth, and, to some extent, even its values. Will we have conflicts with these powers? Definitely. Some will be serious. But, by and large, they want what we want: a stable world and better lives for their citizens. We live in an era of opportunity, not of loss.To take advantage of this moment, the United States must get its own house in order, making sure that American children can compete, American workers can adjust, America's military remains cutting-edge, and American diplomacy entices rather than alienates. While America must be prepared for the possibility that a hostile superpower may one day emerge, it has to be careful not to turn a distant, uncertain threat into an immediate one. Washington should welcome the pivotal powers into a vigorous international order to share the burden of solving pressing global problems of peace, climate, health, and growth.The avenue to a truly safer and more prosperous world runs through the pivotal powers. With them, we can build a world where Americans will thrive, today and tomorrow.

Author Biography

Nina Hachigian is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she focuses on U.S. foreign policy, U.S.-China relations, and international institutions. Earlier, she was the Director of the Center for Asia Pacific Policy and a Senior Political Scientist at RAND. From 1998 to 1999, she was on the staff of the National Security Council. She lives in Los Angeles. Mona Sutphen was formerly a Managing Director at Stonebridge International LLC, an international business strategy firm. As a diplomat, she served in Bangkok and Sarajevo. Later, she worked as Special Assistant to U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger and as an advisor to United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson. She is currently serving in the Obama administration.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Editionp. xiii
Prefacep. 1
Acknowledgmentsp. 5
Introductionp. 9
Safety in Numbersp. 23
Indirect Threats: The Queasy Feelingp. 53
The Battle of Ideas?p. 66
U.S. Prosperity and the Pivotal Powersp. 85
Repairing the Innovation Enginep. 116
The Powers' Perspectivesp. 131
The Way Forward: Strategic Collaborationp. 164
Making It Happenp. 203
Conclusionp. 233
Notesp. 237
Indexp. 339
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter 3. The Battle of Ideas?

In the last two chapters, we focused on the ways in which pivotal powers affect American security. Here we focus on the principles of individual rights, rule of law, capitalism, and democracy that together form America's unique "creed." How do the pivotal powers affect America's way of life at home and its ability to spread its ideals abroad?

Values at Home

The answer to the first half of the question is simple. Pivotal powers do not affect Americans' ability to live by their ideals at home. They cannot conquer America, and do not threaten to do so. None aspires to dismantle America's ideology, as we will see below, and they do not have much of an impact on how America's values are realized in America. That could change if, for example, elected officials became overly anxious about possible technology transfers to China and began a wide-ranging campaign to prosecute Chinese-American scientists over their research. For now, though, there is no measurable impact.

Contrast the impact of big powers with terrorists. The actions of terrorists, past and potentially future, have greatly affected the degree to which America lives by its ideals. In the wake of 9/11, the federal government has taken a slew of steps that many argue play fast and loose with Americans' constitutional rights -- from provisions of the Patriot Act that allow expanded surveillance of Americans without judicial review, to cases involving the legal rights of detainees held as "enemy combatants," among others.

Beyond Borders

We turn now to the harder question. Will other pivotal powers undermine America's ability to extend its ideas abroad? In all likelihood, yes -- but at the margins.

America is not unique in its passion to see its system reflected around the world. Throughout history, the world's greatest powers have all wanted to spread their ideology. Says political scientist Robert Art, none has been "content merely to stand as a shining example" of a certain form of government; they have been vigorous missionaries, to a one. Some ideas, like Roman concepts of the republic or Great Britain's adherence to laissez-faire economics, were adopted and propelled further by subsequent dominant powers like the U.S.

In the case of capitalism, U.S. promotion efforts have achieved stunning success. Every pivotal power has embraced this economic model. All want and need relatively free trade and open markets. Except for Russia, which is on its way, they are all members of the WTO. And even the Russians, according to prominent scholar Dmitri Trenin, see their "bigger is better" approach to capitalism as akin to America's. Of course, each pivotal power implements capitalism in its own way. The state still has its hands in many industries in China, and the Russian government is busily reinserting its fingers in the oil and media sectors. Most European governments spend a significantly higher percentage of GDP on social programs (23.3 percent of GDP versus 16.2 percent in the U.S. as of 2003) and there often is a stronger regulatory impulse there than in the U.S. Yet none of the pivotal powers would dispute the fundamental importance of competition and private industry.

Liberty for All

The export of liberal democracy, on the other hand, while a permanent fixture in American foreign policy, has a mixed track record. (Here we use "liberal democracy" as shorthand for the complex set of principles and values the U.S. promotes abroad, including the rule of law, individual rights, and an independent media, to name a few.) How will the pivotal powers affect this American practice?

The question for U.S. policymakers has long been how best to encourage liberal democracy abroad, not whether to do so. U.S. policies to this end have fallen somewhere on the spectrum from "exemplarism" to "evangelist and missionary." In America's earliest days, the concerns about "entangling alliances" constrained a more activist stance abroad, although the expansionist impulse was arguably in full view at home. By the eve of World War I, however, President Woodrow Wilson's declaration that the U.S. should make the world "safe for democracy" marked a turning point. Since the end of World War II, every presidential inaugural speech has included a reference to America's need or wish to promote liberty and democracy around the world. Over the years, the United States has moved along the spectrum toward more active proselytizing, as America's national identity, power, and sense of purpose have evolved. "If Americans know one thing for certain," writes senior Newsweek editor Michael Hirsh, "it is that their values are not just right for them, but for the world."

During the Cold War, America sought to shore up European democracies as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism (while at the same time Washington supported numerous anti-communist dictators). New institutions like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- the club for industrialized democracies -- and initiatives like the Fulbright Educational Exchange Program were founded to spread liberal democratic principles. Later, Jimmy Carter focused on promoting the universality of human rights, and Ronald Reagan founded the National Endowment for Democracy, the first institution that overtly funded pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations in foreign countries. At the end of the Cold War, Bill Clinton brought American attention to bear on dozens of electoral transitions around the world and used the threat of military force to uphold democracy in Haiti. Seen through this lens, President Bush's disastrous decision to invade Iraq was not unusual in its goal, just in its method.

Why is America so devoted to seeing its system replicated? A cottage industry explains the reasons for America's drive. Some analysts concentrate on the purported security benefits. As President Bush put it in his second Inaugural Address, "the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." Advocates of the "democratic peace" theory suggest that mature democracies will not go to war with each other and that conflict between them is necessarily bounded. Others believe that liberalism is an antidote to extremism (a 2006 National Intelligence Estimate predicts that greater pluralism in Middle East governance will reduce the growth of jihadists); or that expanding the number of democracies will make American leadership more palatable by aligning their ideals with ours.

Yet others focus on more philosophical motivations, arguing that the American penchant for proselytizing can be traced back to America's religious founders. Alternatively, Georgetown University scholar Charles Kupchan argues that "unlike most other nations that define themselves via cultural symbols, America's identity is inexorably linked to its political system," and thus its democracy promotion efforts validate that national identity.

Average Americans are of two minds. On the one hand, bringing democracy to other countries ranked dead last in a fourteen-item list of U.S. foreign policy goals in a 2006 survey. On the other, Americans clearly seek to do good, and a large majority see democracy promotion as at least a "somewhat important" goal. For the most part, Americans, including us, believe that liberal democracy, with all its flaws, is better than any other form of government around in delivering "ordered liberty" to its people.

The debate about why America does it is the subject of many volumes and need not be settled here. What is clear is that like dominant nations in the past, the U.S. will attempt to spread its ideology while it has the power and resources to do so. Democracy promotion efforts have been a staple of American foreign policy for a long time and will doubtless continue, even after the predictable backlash against them that Iraq will generate. We can only hope that the debate about whether democracy can be induced through military force is now firmly settled.

A Helping Hand

As the pivotal powers gain power and influence, how will their goals, interests, and ideals intersect with America's values promotion? Some pivotal powers will help. Of the five, three -- Japan, Europe, and India -- are thriving liberal democracies. Already, the expansion of the European Union has roped much of Eastern Europe into a system in which liberal democracy and open markets are literally required by law and expected by culture. The EU is a staunch promoter of shared values, declaring, for example, that "the EU will ensure that the issue of human rights, democracy and the rule of law will be included in all future meetings and discussions with third countries and at all levels."

While Japan and India are not as active as they could be in promoting democracy beyond their borders, both are crucial demonstrations of how democracy can thrive in a non-Western context. India is especially important in this regard. As the largest democracy on the planet, India represents, observes leading analyst C. Raja Mohan, "the most enduring example of the pursuit of the enlightenment project outside Europe and North America." Delhi may take a lower-key approach than Washington to promoting liberal ideals, but it does do it, and India is warming to the idea of playing a more active role in democracy promotion. Recently, Delhi and Washington worked together to bring about a peaceful democratic transition in Nepal, for example. Another positive trend is the work of Japanese NGOs in places like Afghanistan, where they assist in sectors like education and health.

America's ideals do not map exactly with these pivotal powers. All three may permit commercial dealings with oppressive regimes that Washington would rather they did not. Nevertheless, as we suggest in Chapter 7, it is only logical that America work harder with these like-minded democracies to further liberal norms.

A Mixed Bag

As China and Russia gain ground, their impact on America's ideology promotion efforts is less certain. Thus far, the energies of Russia and China have largely been focused inward. "The Chinese communist party today does not even seem to possess an ideology to export, even if it were inclined to do so," says China scholar David Shambaugh, and the Russians too are adrift ideologically. Unlike the Cold War era, notes China expert Bates Gill, "Beijing does not seek to spread Communist ideals, establish global networks of ideological client states, or foment revolution in the developing world." The same is true for Russia, which has turned toward "economic nationalism" as a guiding principle. For both, pragmatism, not ideology, is the touchstone, and each remains on the defensive about its approach toward civil liberties and governance.

In practice, both Russia and China have been tinkering with the mix of individual freedom and state control in an "economy first" approach to governance. In Russia, this dynamic is best demonstrated in the controversial moves to renationalize strategic oil assets, crackdowns on the press and civil society organizations, and efforts to centralize political power. As troubling as these developments are to Russia's fragile democracy at home, Putin is not advocating them assertively elsewhere.

Ideology Impact?

In contrast, even though China is not an active proselytizer of communism, some observers raise several ways in which China could pose an ideological challenge to America down the road. (With much of Russia's foreign policy focused predominantly on neighboring states, it has yet to figure prominently in such discussions.) First is the idea that as China's alternative economic development model gains headway around the globe, it will undermine the central tenet that economic growth and political freedom go hand in hand. The second concern is that China's firm principle of "nonintervention" in the internal affairs of other countries will constrain U.S. actions to promote democracy, human rights, and other liberal principles. Third, China's foreign assistance policy of "no questions asked" will reduce America's ability to demand concessions on human and political rights. Finally, some argue that the rise of a nondemocratic China will undermine liberal norms of international governance.

Let us examine each of these concerns more carefully. Some argue that under the banner "peaceful rising" China is promoting itself in Africa and Latin America as the model for ending poverty. This argument suggests that China is offering an appealing alternative to governments from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe that would prefer not to relinquish political control in the quest for economic growth.

The appeal is there, no doubt, but mainstream China analysts do not see the evidence of a concerted effort by Beijing to push an alternative growth model for developing economies. Chinese relationships and investments are driven by pragmatism. Unlike during the 1960s, Beijing is not establishing "thought centers" or posting liaisons in foreign countries to market its system. Its Confucius Institutes teach Mandarin, not Mao. No political parties in developing countries are actively modeling themselves on China's. China simply does not care about the quality or type of domestic government it engages with. This absence of ideology poses a problem for the U.S. but it is infinitely less troubling than the challenge of an active ideological opponent.

Also, while it is not fully consistent with the U.S. approach, China's "market-lite" model is not diametrically opposed either. China does not advocate political repression (though some foreign leaders may nonetheless take that lesson away from Beijing's actions at home). Further, if the Chinese "model" ultimately proves successful, it will have helped some of the world's most impoverished people improve their daily lives -- again reinforcing the benefits of capitalism and perhaps even leading to political pluralism. Democracy theorists have long argued that the more wealthy a nation is, the greater its chances of sustaining democracy.

A second area of concern is China's policy of "nonintervention" in the domestic affairs of other nations. Chinese views on sovereignty are born of a long history of losing territory to foreign aggressors and wanting to safeguard its claim on Taiwan. However, it is not alone in its devotion to the standard of nonintervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The United Nations was founded on this notion, and most U.N. member states staunchly defend it. At the same time, the norm of sovereignty is evolving, and China is not bucking the trend. In 2005, the U.N. General Assembly, China included, agreed for the first time that the international community has "the responsibility to protect" individual citizens from genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. (Interestingly, it was India that held out the longest among pivotal powers before endorsing this concept.)

The record shows China's conception of sovereignty is neither static nor absolute. China did not vote against American intervention in Afghanistan or Iraq as it had earlier with Kosovo, and it also voted in favor of tough sanctions against North Korea after its nuclear test. Further, with its 1,861 troops, China is second only to France as the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping and police forces among the P5 U.N. Security Council members.

The places where China's pragmatism bumps up against U.S. ideology will continue to trigger friction. Business is business, says China's government, no matter how unspeakable the acts perpetrated by the party on the other end of the transaction. Darfur is a case in point. China, keen to protect its 40 percent stake in Sudan's oil industry, serves as Khartoum's protector in the U.N. China blocked U.N. Security Council efforts to sanction Sudanese officials and others implicated in Darfur abuses; abstained (along with Russia and Qatar) on the August 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a force of up to 17,500 peacekeepers; and has been unwilling to use the full extent of its leverage to force the regime to accept U.N. peacekeepers (although in early 2007, President Hu Jintao took the unprecedented step of meeting with the Sudanese leadership to encourage their cooperation, and even the U.S. envoy for Sudan defended China's diplomatic efforts, saying they complemented, rather than undercut, the U.S. approach).

China is not alone in its appetite for Sudan's oil. Democracies also support Sudan's government. In February 2005, India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation was awarded a contract to build a $1.2 billion oil refinery there. In January 2005, French oil concern Total (with its Houston-based partner, Marathon Oil) renewed exploration rights for southern Sudan, and Canadian oil company Arakis Energy has been actively involved in the development of two oilfields going back to 1996. Further, most observers agree that if the United States and Europe had the political will to take more decisive measures, including military ones, Beijing would not stand in the way. Instead, the People's Republic has probably concluded America values its cooperation on Iran and North Korea more than Sudan, and the West remains content to blame China for continued inaction.

Burma is a similar case. The military junta there has kept the country in a stranglehold since the 1990s, holding pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, continuing the widespread use of child soldiers, and becoming one of the world's largest suppliers of heroin. China has embraced this neighbor to the southeast, driven by the desire to reduce cross-border drug shipments, gain naval access, and prevent regional instability from spilling over. (China's concern about northern Burma goes back many decades because nationalist pro-Taiwan troops sought refuge inside Burma and periodically attacked China's Yunnan Province.) Cross-border trade and investment has flourished, reaching nearly $600 million in 2002; the Chinese currency is now the principal trading currency across the northern third of the country.

Again, China is not alone in supporting the junta government. In 2006, during the first visit of an Indian president to Rangoon, India and Burma agreed to a long-term plan to provide gas to India via a pipeline; French energy giant Total has likewise been a longtime investor in Burma's natural gas sector. In January 2007, the Russians and Chinese vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on the situation in Burma, but were also supported by Japan in opposition to U.N. action. Japan remains Burma's largest foreign aid donor, and has refused to join the United States in imposing sanctions. These are all troubling ties, and the U.S. should continue to shine a light on these dealings. At the same time, it is important to recognize that they also can provide leverage, as we discuss in Chapter 7. The ideal approach is to try to forge a consensus and use the collective political weight of the pivotal powers to push for change.

On the question of aid and investment, as we discussed in the last chapter, China's approach -- "no questions asked" -- has increased its influence in the developing world and helped prop up distasteful regimes. If not altered, over time, China's approach will gradually undermine Western efforts to encourage better governance and more respect for individual rights. China has shown little interest in programs that help improve civil society, the touchstone for recent Western aid efforts.

In Africa, over eight hundred Chinese-funded aid projects are under way to build schools, hospitals, stadiums, and the like. To be fair, much of this aid goes to countries the U.S. also actively supports, like Liberia's newly elected government and Sierra Leone, both struggling to rebuild after decades of violence. But China's aid floats despotic leaders too. China is the principal supporter of Zimbabwe's regime of Robert Mugabe, one of Africa's most oppressive governments. In its quest for access to Zimbabwe's gold and platinum reserves, China supplies Mugabe with everything from jets to roof tiles for his new mansion.

China's aid gives despotic leaders more political wiggle room. Mugabe heralds China as the creator of a "new global paradigm." He can take China's unconditional aid or comply with multiple Western demands for fair elections, greater transparency, media freedoms, and human rights. Not a difficult choice. Despots aren't the only ones who welcome China's approach. As Garth Shelton of Wits University in South Africa put it, "if we deal with the United States or West European governments they would bring a list of 33 items requiring restructuring of your democracy, your human rights issues. China would arrive and say we accept you as you are. And that's a refreshing change."

It is unclear how long China's honeymoon in Africa will last and whether its short-term thinking will backfire in the end. Some argue China should prepare itself for a backlash because its actions are reminiscent of "old fashioned colonial powers, using cheap labor -- sometimes imported from China -- to extract natural resources...and selling manufactured goods which undermine local producers." Already, such complaints are surfacing. During President Hu's February 2007 trip to Africa, he canceled a visit to Zambia's copper-producing area for fear of public protests over poor working conditions and low pay; in South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki cautioned against allowing China to replicate Europe's "neocolonialist adventure." Further, though Chinese investments in Africa are up substantially in recent years, reaching just over $1 billion in 2006, these figures still pale in comparison to British and American investment, which topped $30 billion and $19 billion respectively that year.

Finally, there is the question of China's relationship to liberal international norms. As China's influence in the international arena grows, some worry that its very presence will erode liberal norms such as transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption entrenched and reflected in international institutions. As we discuss later in the book, the evidence for this thesis is slim. Moreover, liberal norms have such a large incumbency advantage that they will not easily be supplanted. At any rate, the best antidote is to bring China into the debate and shape its conceptions of how the international order ought to operate, gradually winning over its officials and thus slowly building up a core of right-thinking leaders in Beijing.

Powers on Their Own Turf

We've discussed how pivotal powers affect American values at home and abroad. What about how they treat their own citizens? Russia and China both repress freedom of speech and assembly, deny religious rights, refuse or rig local elections, imprison democracy advocates, prohibit or limit unions, permit deplorable working conditions, limit the independence of judges, torture prisoners, and censor the media, among many other illiberal and abusive practices.

Chinese and Russian abuse of their own citizens rightly angers and offends Americans, but the question is what can we do about it? Can America somehow force China and Russia to treat its citizens better or become liberal democracies as we would like? As Jeffrey Bader, long-time diplomat and now director of the John L. Thorton China Center at the Brookings Institution, explains, "I have spent my whole career pursuing human rights in China, and all we have done is gotten a few prisoners out of jail. The only things that work are being a role model and supporting local NGOs. The other stuff just makes us feel good." Says Susan Shirk, former deputy assistant secretary of state, "Our hopes for political reform in China...will never be realized through outside pressure." Public upbraidings on human rights can give solace to pro-democracy activists, and some on-the-ground programs like those helping individuals bring lawsuits against the government are worthwhile, but the main tool America has is to show these illiberal pivotal powers, through the example of a vibrant democracy with strong rule of law, the advantages of our system. After all, says Beijing University's Wang Jisi, "in China's modern history, the United States has always served as its reference for modernity, nation building and great power status." More on this below.

America has little direct leverage to promote individual rights and political liberalization in Russia or China, however much we wish otherwise. This is especially true considering that large majorities of the citizens of these countries appear willing to accept the implied trade-off between economic stability and greater political and civil rights. In a 2006 poll, 85 percent of Russians approved of Putin's move to renationalize the oil industry, and a plurality (44 percent) also endorsed a "more centrally controlled government." As the World Opinion pollster put it, "A liberal democracy, often bringing in tow messiness and inequalities, is not the majority goal."

Similarly, polling shows that 78 percent of Chinese think the way the Chinese government "manages its economy and its political system" is more of an advantage than a disadvantage for China. In part this approval reflects the fact that China has lifted hundreds of millions of citizens out of poverty in the last decade. In this way, growing pivotal powers, even illiberal ones, can contribute to better living conditions for many. A Chinese journalist suggested her American colleagues would have a different point of view: "They have not had to struggle just to survive, so they do not understand that human rights for many people...is simply having something to eat."

The Actual Obstacles

In assessing threats to America's ability to spread its ideals abroad, there are much more serious contenders than the pivotal powers. First is the growing popularity of radical Islam. Violent jihadists are advocating a form of theocracy antithetical to liberal democracy. Further, as counterterrorism expert Daniel Byman put it, "Al-Qaeda seeks America's unconditional surrender. It wants all forms of U.S. influence -- including cultural -- withdrawn from the Muslim world." Jihadist attacks are a way to further the struggle against the U.S. by "humiliat[ing] and slaughter[ing] those who defied the hegemony of God."

Their ultimate objective of reasserting the golden age of Islam remains unlikely, but, as the National Intelligence Council report on global trends has concluded, "a Caliphate would not have to be entirely successful for it to present a serious challenge to the international order." It is not outside the realm of possibility that a fundamentalist wave could take over successive Middle East governments from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, with serious strategic implications beyond individual rights and conceptions of the nation-state, involving control of the majority of the world's energy resources, state-sponsored terrorism, and access to nuclear weapons.

To the extent that the campaign against terrorists must counter their fundamentalist ideology in order to be successful, the pivotal powers could be important partners. Each of the pivotal powers is a current or potential jihadist target, and each has a keen interest in maintaining the international order upon which their economic prosperity has been built. Counter-radical messages coming from America have next to zero credibility in the Muslim world. Other pivotal powers may be better vectors and, at the very least, public diplomacy coordinated with them is more likely to succeed.

Actions Speak Loudest

Perhaps the largest obstacle to America's ability to promote its ideals abroad is its own actions. Always complicating America's democracy promotion efforts has been a fundamental tension, captured by Henry Kissinger: "As a people, we have oscillated between insistence on our uniqueness and the quest for broad acceptance of our values." How can America replicate its own system when it is intrinsically unique? For that reason and many more, promoting liberal democracy abroad has never been simple.

Two success stories occurred after World War II when the world watched as the U.S. nearly single-handedly funded the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, turning them into stable, democratic, and economically powerful nations. They became the best possible advertisements for the American system, but, for a variety of reasons, their cases were unique. For one thing, the amount America spent per capita in those countries was far in excess of any effort it has undertaken since; planning for post-war reconstruction was rigorous.

More recent, the U.S. track record has been less than stellar. Today, fewer than 20 percent of the one hundred nations once described as "transitional" are clearly on the path toward stable, functional democracies. Most are stuck in a semi-authoritarian twilight zone. Millions of taxpayer dollars of development assistance, civil society programs, retraining of judges, and reforming legal systems have made some progress, but corruption and institutional dysfunction remain stubbornly intact in many aid-recipient countries. The fact that America and its partners have not been able to bring about the transformations they say they will, writes noted political theorist Francis Fukuyama, "undercuts the higher ends they seek."

Friendly Fire

Not only do American efforts sometimes not deliver as promised, but they can actively do harm in the name of democracy. As Stanford University democracy expert Michael McFaul has said, "In the world we have, current U.S. tactics for spreading its ideology are much more destructive to it than any competing ideology of a big state." The Iraq War is the extreme case. While President Bush declares the "grand ambition" to spread democracy worldwide, "[d]emocracy promotion has come to be seen overseas," says Carnegie Endowment democracy expert Thomas Carothers, "not as the expression of a principled American aspiration, but as a 'code word' for 'regime change.'"

The backlash is not just over Iraq. Across the developing world, there are fresh memories of U.S. complicity with corrupt, murderous leaders despite strong rhetorical support for democracy. In Africa, after decades of propping up corrupt dictators during the Cold War, the U.S. largely disappeared, leaving dysfunctional societies to fend for themselves. In too many cases, U.S. disengagement helped unleash conflict, which continues to plague the continent today. This same backlash dynamic is part of what propelled the rise of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. In many ways, the United States is now paying the price for a history of questionable tactics.

Do as I Say

American efforts to promote liberal democracy continue to be undermined by its own hypocrisy and inconsistency. All across the world, from university conferences to dinner tables, for example, American torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib was a daily topic of discussion in 2004 and 2005.

President Bush could not say a word about torture in Beijing when he visited President Hu in November 2005 at the same time as the U.N. rapporteur on torture was also in China conducting an investigation on prisons. It would have been a perfect moment to praise China for allowing the U.N. access (after ten years of stalling), and emphasizing the importance of treating prisoners humanely, but because of U.S. actions at Guantánamo Bay and Iraq had to be forfeited. As Human Rights Watch's executive director Ken Roth put it, "this catastrophic path has left the United States effectively incapable of defending some of the most basic rights...knowing how easily an interlocutor could turn the tables and cite US misconduct as an excuse for his government's own abuses." Further, as Jeffrey Bader explained, American misdeeds send the message that "any government under stress routinely resorts to extreme measures, and that U.S. preaching on human rights and democracy is designed to weaken and divide China, not to live up to some ideal that we ignore under stress." Hypocrisy, real or even apparent, casts doubt on U.S. credibility and moral stature, which in turn strengthens the hands of U.S. detractors and undermines our legitimacy. In addition, concludes analyst Wang Jisi, "So long as the United States' image remains tainted, China will have greater leverage in multilateral settings."

America's inconsistency is also a liability. Venezuela's record on political rights and civil liberties is no worse than America's friend Pakistan's. The U.S., forever a champion of the Geneva Conventions, decided abruptly they do not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Growing connectivity means such contradictions are exposed at the click of a mouse. For example, in 2001, when Secretary of State Colin Powell pressed Qatar's foreign minister to rein in Arab news channel Al Jazeera's negative coverage of the U.S. it triggered a flurry of on-air and Internet opinion pieces, highlighting the contradiction with U.S. proclamations about the need for independent media.

From these inconsistencies and scores of others, outside observers take away a clear message that the U.S. cares about its principles only when its other interests are so aligned. According to Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the head of Pakistan's Islamist party, "the most enduring factor of the U.S.-Islamic world relations is the sheer inconsistency between the high moral ideals that the United States advocates and the practice of successive U.S. governments in their relations with the Islamic world." As democracy expert Thomas Carothers advises, "pursuing democracy as a matter of principle does not mean focusing only on lofty ideals and ignoring hard interests. But it does mean acting with at least a modicum of consistency."

Getting Back on Track

Despite America's recent shaky record, democracy has retained its near-universal appeal around the world. To find further success, America needs to once again become an example of the liberal democratic values it preaches. During that transition and beyond, democracy promotion could use a new, and less American, "face." Seventy percent of Americans in a 2005 poll said the U.S. should promote democracy through the U.N. "because such efforts will be seen as more legitimate." Working together with Europe, India, Japan, and other liberal democracies is the other solution. Together, they can chart a course toward reinforcing shared liberal ideals. America also has to realize that its version of democracy is unique and be willing to support other ways to provide citizens abroad "liberty under law." Finally, America must take a long, hard look at the methods it uses to promote its ideals, to make sure they are as sound as the ideals themselves. Only slow, small, and steadfast steps over a long time horizon will succeed in building stable liberal governments in the end.

The conclusions we reach here are consistent with our security analysis. Pivotal powers pose no threat to America's ability to live by its values at home and the three liberal powers help the U.S. with its mission abroad. While China and Russia do not accord their own people the rights Americans think they deserve, and undermine America's democracy promotion efforts to some degree, their actions are not the biggest obstacle in American efforts to promote U.S. ideals.

This is not to say that a values-driven clash is impossible. Recent wrangling with Russia over U.S. policies toward newly democratized Ukraine and Georgia and ongoing tensions with China over Taiwan prove issues that evoke ideology could evolve into serious conflicts. That there is a "trust gap" between America and these pivotal powers because they have opaque, illiberal regimes, adds to the possibility of a clash. Yet no pivotal power is an active ideological adversary of the United States. Moreover, in confronting the real ideological challenge facing us -- jihadism -- the pivotal powers are willing and necessary cohorts. In its quest to promote its ideology abroad, America must start at home. First and foremost by leading by example, but also ensuring its rhetoric and practice are in step.Copyright © 2008 by Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen

Excerpted from The Next American Century: How the U. S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise by Nina Hachigian, Mona Sutphen
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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