November 18, 2009ChinaForeign AffairsIndiaIranRealismrealpolitikRussiaUnited States

Brzezinski & Obama’s bipolar disorder

The world doesn’t become bipolar by wishing that it is

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, like many others who came of age during the Cold War, believes that a bipolar world is much easier for the United States to manage’ than a multipolar one. That might even be correct. The problem is—the world is not bipolar—even in the face of China’s emergence as one of the world’s great powers. Instead of dealing with the world as it is—an eminently realist enterprise—Mr Brzezinski recommends dealing with the world as he believes it ought to be. Earlier this year, after commemorative event in Beijing, he called for an informal’ G-2 comprising of the United States and China.

It is one thing to argue that the US-China bilateral relationship is one which is most important to the world, but quite another to call it G-2” suggesting it would engage, in some form, in the task of global governance. Mr Brzezinski misses the point that an important reason why the US-China relationship is seen as important is because it is a problem. It is important to the rest of us in the same way as Pakistan is for international security. So just like how you wouldn’t entrust Pakistan with the job of ensuring international security, you wouldn’t entrust the United States and China with the task of global governance.

Unfortunately, this G-2 mindset is not merely Mr Brzezinski’s hobby horse, but is influencing the Obama administration’s foreign policy. US-China consultations regarding India and Pakistan,” the former argued, can perhaps lead to more effective even if informal mediation, for a conflict between the two would be a regional calamity.” Sure enough, the joint statement at the end of President Obama’s summit with President Hu Jintao included a words that said that the two sides welcomed efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia.” Clearly, there is an attempt by the two countries to get China involved in India’s relations with Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan.

It shows that President Obama thinks or wishes that the world is bipolar. But it is not. New Delhi is unlikely to be too impressed with such gratuitous references—in fact, it should react with deliberate irrationalism. Diplomatic games apart, the idea of Chinese involvement in India-Pakistan relations is dead on arrival. Mr Obama perhaps forgot what happened after he floated the idea of appointing a special envoy for Kashmir, during his election campaign.

In any case, the simultaneous appearance of pro-China governments in Japan, Taiwan and Australia might convey an impression that these countries will play second fiddle to Beijing. Yet this can change at their next elections, or even earlier. Also Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to join the US or China camps.

Unfortunately for the United States, a combination of national indebtedness and a declinist narrative have found purchase in Barack Obama’s worldview. The Brzezinski bipolar disorder isn’t making the world any more bipolar. If President Obama continues on the path he has taken during his China trip, the world will become, paradoxically, more multipolar. That’s because the relative power of the United States will decline, China’s will improve and the two will be in the same league as handful of others.

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