By Minxin Pei
The rise of the rest is an irreversible trend and will fundamentally alter the dynamics of geopolitics. The question being asked most often today is whether rising powers, such as India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Turkey, will help maintain the post-WWII liberal order by contributing to its costly maintenance. This may not be the right question to answer.
Based on recent observations, primarily more assertive or proactive behavior by these rising powers in their respective neighborhoods, we may come to a more ambiguous conclusion. On the one hand, these rising powers are not willing to shoulder a significant amount of the cost of maintaining the existing liberal order because they either do not identify with its values or have doubts about the added benefits they will receive for sharing part of the costs. On the other hand, they are not rejecting the “stakeholder” demands placed on them out of hand because they do derive significant benefits from the existing system. This stance determines that they will behave ambiguously – sharing some of the costs but rejecting others.
At the same time, since these powers have a far greater stake in their regional stability and prosperity, they have demonstrated a greater willingness to exert their influence in their respective neighborhoods. Sometimes, such influence may conflict with Western interests; but at other times, it may benefit the West. We can see such efforts by these powers in regional conflict (Turkey in Syria, for example) and in regional free trade and financial stability (both China and India have become key players in this regard).
Over time, the cumulative efforts of such influence will lead to the rise of spheres of influence. Although such spheres of influence will not necessarily exclude the U.S. or its European allies, American or Western influence in these spheres will gradually decline while that of the regional hegemons becomes dominant.
Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.