No One’s World – Charles Kupchan

The recent signing of a spate of climate agreements between China and the United States have reignited debates on the return of the ‘G-2’ – a putative partnership between the two most important countries on earth to collaborate and tackle pressing collective action problems that confront humanity. Ideas about a G-2, however, was preceded by Ian Bremmer’s claim that we live a G-Zero world where no major power or the hegemon has the power nor capability to singularly address major global problems. In a G-0 world, anarchy reigns. Dovetailing with this idea comes Charles Kupchan’s recent book No One’s World which aims to advance a similar argument – that the international order is currently in and will be in a state of institutionalised anarchy where multiple powers who hold multiple and distinct views on international politics and governance will vie with each other for supremacy and leadership. In other words, the world as we know it characterised by American primacy and leadership has given way to a world where America is one amongst the major powers or nations hoping to effect change in international politics. Kupchan makes this argument by parsing through centuries of history, charting how the West ascended to its place at the top and remained there fora long while before being buffeted by several crises that also precipitated the rise of a slew of emerging powers.

After that, Kupchan presents the rise of the rest, contextualising how they ascended and importantly, giving due attention to their differential visions of the world and politics and how that will only widen cleavages between major powers in the world today. The key argument here is the notion that contrary to what many liberal internationalists claim – a normative chasm has emerged between major powers on critical matters of politics and governance that cannot be easily reconciled through commerce and international cooperation. What ensues is a power struggle within the order between major powers. To allay the potential and expectedly pernicious costs of this competition, Kupchan calls for greater humility and understanding from Europe and the United States, impelling them to work together to create a workable accord such that a more amenable future can be charted out for global peace and prosperity. Unlike other scholars, Kupchan also details the malaise that has afflicted the west over the past decade and the resultant loss of economic and geopolitical influence. Paralleling this waning is the rise of rest that Kupchan breaks down into different categories – Autocrats (Communal or China, Paternal or Russia and Tribal or the Emiratis), Theocrats that fuse religion and statecraft (Middle Eastern Countries), Strongmen (African leaders), Populists (Latin American countries) and ‘other’ difficult democracies (India, etc.). These countries are presented as the ‘other’ countries that have conceptions of order and governance and are keen on conforming to so-called universalist ideas and visions of modernity. Their respective countries and political traditions are shaped by historical trends over generations which appear resistant to socialisation. 

Kupchan’s breakdown is refreshing from earlier accounts that list the rest as a homogenous and monolithic creed when in fact these countries vary greatly. However, by doing so, he also effectively dismisses elements in these countries, special interests and other interests, that are actively pushing these countries to reform and converge. Moreover, Kupchan also fails to adequately account for and of the leadership inclinations in these countries and their growing desire to organise themselves through mechanisms like the BRICS and its offshoots. There is not but one game in town anymore. Options exist and these countries are now exercising their will in that respect. Also, Kupchan fails to realise the growing fissures within the west itself. In fact, over the recent past, countries like Japan and Germany, staunch American allies for over fifty years have been irked by American preponderance and are chafing against it more than ever before. Across all these countries, domestic forces and elements will direct their onward trajectory in the international order. It is thus important to look and deftly map and outline their agency to get a better sense of the ‘rest,’ their attitudes to the ‘west’ to gauge the coming ‘global turn.’

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