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Foreign Policy Experts Ponder Geopolitical Future


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

America stood as the world's dominant superpower for at least half a century, some would argue longer. But in the 21st century, several global powers, including China and Russia, are on the rise. A new book says this growth could actually make the U.S. stronger and safer. That book is called "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise." It's written by Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen. Both were foreign policy experts in the Clinton administration.

Sutphen argues that America can no longer afford to go it alone.

Ms. MONA SUTPHEN (Co-author, "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise): Primacy really doesn't deliver results. And if you look, we have been the sole superpower now since the end of the Cold War. But it turns out that's led us into a war in Iraq, it's led us into questionable policies here and there, created lots of potential enemies around the world. And then finally, most importantly, if we're telling the world we have to be the sole superpower or the strongest power by any margin, you encourage other countries to try to knock us off of that mantle.

NORRIS: You know, it sounds, in listening to this, that you're almost advocating a weaker U.S.

Ms. NINA HACHIGIAN (Co-author, "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise): Absolutely not. This is Nina. No, absolutely not. In fact, a central message of our book is that we have to reinvest in American strength, and that we have to change the country that we actually have the power to change, and that's the U.S. And we have to work hard on fixing some of our domestic problems at home in order to thrive in an era with bigger powers.

If we say that we have to always be the strongest power by a given fixed margin, Mona's absolutely right, we're encouraging other countries to see power as a zero-sum game, and it's just not anymore. Just look at the example of North Korea. We cannot, without China's deep involvement, roll back North Korean nuclear program.

NORRIS: But you know, the - power can be used in many ways. And when it comes to a country like North Korea, sometimes it is more beneficial to take a much more aggressive stand. I mean, that seems to have worked at least to some degree with the current administration.

Ms. HACHIGIAN: There's two issues. There's the carrot and the stick and then it's working with the other powers. I mean, if we can get together with - this is Nina - if we can get together with China, and Russia, and Japan and South Korea, and be tough on North Korea, then it very well might work. And in fact, it did work. After they tested, China voted for tough U.N. sanctions against North Korea, something that they've never done before.

Ms. SUTPHEN: Actually - and this is Mona - to that point, I mean, the Bush administration has been - was talking tough, but they were doing it alone and it wasn't getting them anywhere. In fact, you know, the deal that they've struck now with the North Koreans is more or less the same place that we were, you know, seven years ago. So had they been engaging with the other major powers all along, perhaps we could have gotten to this result two years ago before they managed to produce enough fissile material for multiple weapons.

NORRIS: Nina, you say that when you talk about rising powers, that America's fear of growth in countries like China and India is more damaging to the U.S. than the growth itself.

Ms. HACHIGIAN: That's right. And that's because we really need to work with these powers. That, for security reasons, for economic reasons, that we are much better off if we are thinking of them as on our team, basically. I mean, it doesn't mean that we aren't going to have great disagreements, and they could be profound disagreements, but basically, they are our teammates.

NORRIS: Is that a hard sell? The Russians are our teammates?

Ms. HACHIGIAN: Yes. Yes, particularly now that is a hard sell. But the fact is that they are on some important issues, you know, we will have all kinds of disagreements with them. But they are the cofounder and co-leader of a group of 50 countries that are trying to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists.

Ms. SUTPHEN: Of course, right now, today, right, Russia and China and India are undisputedly on the rise. But if you go back just 20 years in our history, you can track - I mean, we started in the late '80s, and obviously the Soviet Union was a big threat, then it was Japan, then it was Germany, then it was the E.U. Then the E.U. fell off, Germany fell off, then China came on, India has popped up on the scene, Russia is now back in play. So you know, it is true that these powers are growing, but they may not rise at the same trajectory forever.

And the key point for us is when you look at the threats that could kill lots of Americans today, those threats are not emanating from these major powers. Technically, they're - you know, Russia's a nominal, only knows - God only knows exactly what kind of "democracy," quote, unquote, it is, and China certainly is not. But neither are they trying to push their ideology and change forms of government all around the world. They're busy just trying to figure out how they're going to continue to grow their economies. And that's a really fundamentally different situation that we face today than, say, you know, 30 years ago.

NORRIS: If you're talking about rising powers and if a truly hostile superpower does emerge, or reemerge, I guess, a real and direct threat to the U.S., either militarily or ideologically, where is that likely to come from? Who's that likely to be?

Ms. HACHIGIAN: I mean, I actually, personally, don't really see the, at this point, the writing on the wall about which of these major powers could be a threat down the road because I really - firmly believe that the world that we're living in is one - the technological change and the impact of globalization has meant that non-state actors and countries that used to never have the ability to challenge major powers, now have the means to do so because they can get their hands on nuclear technology. And we're seeing that obviously with, you know, terrorists of smaller states like Iran and the like.

I actually think that those threats are going to be with us for a very, very long time. And 25 years from now, we will be wanting as many strong powers as possible because we're going to need them for the states that are stable, that are managing, you know, trying to manage and keep the world moving in a positive direction. There will be this banding together to stave off the forces of instability that are kind of creeping up all over the place.

NORRIS: You're talking about forces like al-Qaida.

Ms. HACHIGIAN: Al-Qaida and - I mean, if you look in many, many countries and places, you know, even the situation in Kenya, which I find so unfortunate -the developments there. But you have lots of places that have instability lurking under the surface - Pakistan, Kenya, Venezuela, lots of places. States no longer can guarantee their own security, right? You need other countries to help you protect your own country. And that is fundamentally new in the world, in the international system.

NORRIS: Thank you very much for speaking with us. It's been a pleasure to speak to you.

Ms. SUTPHEN: Thank you.

Ms. HACHIGIAN: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was Mona Sutphen and Nina Hachigian. They're the authors of "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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