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Hichem Karoui: World leading… so easy?
February 17, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

A story recently published by an American magazine headlined “40 Ways That China Is Beating America,”  says:

“China produces more goods than we do, China does more total trade in goods with the rest of the world than we do, China produces more cars than we do, China produces more gold than we do, China consumes more energy than we do, China produces more coal than we do and China produces more steel than we do. Every single year, we buy far more from them than they buy from us, and this has made them exceedingly wealthy. Our politicians regularly make trips over to China to beg them to lend us back some of the money that they have taken from us. Today, we owe China more than a trillion dollars and the Chinese are sitting on the biggest pile of foreign currency reserves that the world has ever seen.”

A more serious US official report did not find better prospects.

The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends Report (NIC), published every five years, says the world is “at a critical juncture in human history.” In-depth research, detailed modelling and a variety of analytical tools drawn from public, private and academic sources were employed in the production of Global Trends 2030. NIC leadership engaged with experts in nearly 20 countries — from think tanks, banks, government offices and business groups — to solicit reviews of the report.

Important shifts in influence and power are expected. According to the report, “The diffusion of power among countries will have a dramatic impact by 2030. Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power, based upon GDP, population size, military spending, and technological investment. China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030.”

The report found, “Intrastate conflicts have gradually increased in countries with a mature overall population that contain a politically dissonant, youthful ethnic minority. Strife involving ethnic Kurds in Turkey, Shias in Lebanon, and Pattani Muslims in southern Thailand are examples of such situations.” Looking forward, “the potential for conflict to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to remain high even after some of the region’s countries graduate into a more intermediate age structure because of the probable large number of ethnic and tribal minorities that will remain more youthful than the overall population. Insufficient natural resources — such as water and arable land — in many of the same countries that will have disproportionate levels of  young men increase the risks of intrastate conflict breaking out, particularly in Sub-Saharan African and South and East Asian countries, including China and India. A number of these countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Somalia — also have faltering governance institutions.”

The risks of interstate conflict are also increasing “owing to changes in the international system,” says the report. “During the next 15-20 years, the US will be grappling with the degree to which it can continue to play the role of systemic guardian and guarantor of the global order. A declining US unwillingness and/or slipping capacity to serve as a global security provider would be a key factor contributing to instability, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.”

The report expects the conspiration of “three different baskets of risks” in increasing  the potential of interstate conflict. These are: “changing calculations of key players — particularly China, India, and Russia; increasing contention over resource issues; and a wider spectrum of more accessible instruments of war.” However, it is not unlikely that  future wars in South Asia and the Middle East include the risk of a nuclear deterrent.

Noticeably, the report predicts the end of “Islamist terrorism” by 2030, although terrorism is “unlikely to die completely.”

Regional instability in the next two decades concerns particularly the Middle East and South Asia.

“In the Middle East, the youth bulge — a driving force of the recent Arab Spring — will give way to a gradually ageing population. With new technologies beginning to provide the world with other sources of oil and gas, the region’s economy will need to become increasingly diversified. But the Middle East’s trajectory will depend on its political landscape. On the one hand, if the Islamic Republic maintains power in Iran and is able to develop nuclear weapons, the Middle East will face a highly unstable future. On the other hand, the emergence of moderate, democratic governments or a breakthrough agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have enormously positive consequences.”

South Asia faces internal and external conflicts. “An increasingly multipolar Asia lacking a well-anchored regional security framework able to arbitrate and mitigate rising tensions would constitute one of the largest global threats. Fear of Chinese power, the likelihood of growing Chinese nationalism, and possible questions about the US remaining involved in the region will increase insecurities. An unstable Asia would cause large-scale damage to the global economy.”

Is the USA ready to cope with these expected shifts on the global level? There is a stormy debate about the US strategy, in the wake of the State of the Union address.

Marco Rubio, a member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine about what he called “US failure to lead the world,” forgetting that in order to perform such a big and complicated task as world leader, the world should first admit democratically this role to a single state. This is not the case. There has never been such an agreement between states on giving the USA or any other power such a role.

Obama has humbly recognised the limits of world power, although he did not withdraw the USA from its responsibilities.

“Potential instability in East Asia, caused by China’s rise and North Korea’s ongoing provocations, will directly impact our economic security and the system of alliances we have constructed in that region,” says Rubio, who still refuses to see that sanctions did not work against North Korea, as well as against Iran.

However, he believes, “a crisis in East Asia or the Middle East will impact the bottom lines of many American households. It’s not an exaggeration to say that what happens in faraway places such as Yemen and Mali might be felt by those living in the heartland of America – and if not today, then very soon.”

Very well said. But since so many years, Mr Rubio and the Washington political elite know that what happens in the Middle East for instance, because of the Israeli-Arab conflict, would sooner or later affect America, as it surely did through several wars, 9/11 included.

But what did they do about it? What did successive administrations do to fix the problem?

If America is powerless, then why pretend to lead the world?

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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