Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Trade, Energy, and the Rebalancing of Global Power

James Skillen


July 10, 2006

Today in the international arena we are witnessing a turn toward anarchy that seemed to have been held in check during the Cold War. It is the kind of anarchy that Americans did not anticipate after the collapse of the Soviet Union, because American preeminence was supposed to secure a world order in which democracy and prosperity could spread worldwide.

Instead, what we see is a determined quest among the nations to achieve greater self-determination, often precisely in opposition to American preeminence. And that quest includes new modes of international networking to rebalance power in the world. Americans may not be recognizing and coming to grips with these developments quickly enough.

Consider, for example, the collapse of global trade talks in Geneva on July 1. Representatives from 149 countries who are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) quit their negotiations early because of hardened positions that would not yield to compromise. The current round of WTO talks (called the Doha round, which started in 2001 in Doha, Qatar) was supposed to be about development—particularly the economic development of poorer countries. And the chief goal was to reach agreement on reductions of American and European agricultural subsidies so poorer countries could expand their own agricultural sectors and sell more products on world markets. The Bush administration's representative, who was not the only dissident in the negotiations, insisted on coupling other free-trade issues with subsidy reductions but got nowhere.

The point to emphasize is that the U.S. was stymied in Geneva in a portentous way. The world's largest economy, agricultural producer, and military power became just one country among many, with too few allies to overcome unyielding opposition from whole blocs of nations in order to reach a compromise. And who was the leader of the largest bloc of opposing countries? It was the Indian minister of commerce and industry, Kamal Nath. Keep in mind that Nath represents the government that the U.S. is now trying to win to its side through a new nuclear energy pact. We want India to be more closely aligned with us in order to help balance the growing power of China and Russia. But India is going to look after India first, thank you, and that means opposing the U.S. in one setting while cooperating in another, all in its own interests.

And there is more to this illustrative story. India recently participated as an invited observer in a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Chinese-led grouping of nations which are developing an energy alliance. The SCO includes Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. In addition to India, the SCO also invited Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Iran to participate as observers. Yes, that's right, Iran, our enemy, together with three of our allies. Moreover, the American request to be included as an observer in the meetings was rejected by the SCO members.

You see, the new world order that Americans may have hoped for, in which the U.S. leads and other nations cooperate, is not the world that is emerging. Nor does it appear that Americans are coming to grips with the implications of this weakening leadership role of the United States in world affairs. Our vast military power achieves less and less. North Korea and Iran, with sympathy from China and Russia, are playing their game, not ours. And countries that we want to count in our alliance network are rapidly developing new networks to provide a balance of power against American hegemony. We and our political leaders need to catch up with what's going on in the world and to work quickly to develop an approach to cooperation and leadership commensurate with these changing realities.

—James Skillen, President
    Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”