Liberal Democracy is Here to Stay, Thank You—But it Needs to be Tended and Adapted

By Constanze Stelzenmüller

TOKYO/SINGAPORE—“Bull—!“: this was the blunt rejoinder of one Japanese policymaker in Tokyo to the question whether the “rise of the rest” marks the demise of the Western liberal order. Indeed, he has a point. As he and others are quick to note, while China or Russia may act as retardants or spoilers on some international issues (e.g. Syria), they generally stick to the rules in multilateral organizations such as the WTO. The rising powers have mostly declined to accept the notion that they ought to become responsible stakeholders in global governance—but neither have they succeeded in their efforts to establish alternative institutions, processes or norms.

Some of them continue to prod and probe their neighbors and competitors for weak spots and chinks in their protection; at the same time, they are palpably conscious of their own internal vulnerabilities, as well as of their increasing exposure to a volatile world economy. Most importantly, the Japanese bureaucrat said, the attempts of China and others at suasion or coercion only go so far; “they have no soft power.” The “rising rest” may try to lead (or push), but they have very few followers.

Nor is it remotely accurate to say that the West is in decline, or liberal democracy on its way out. On the contrary. All the historical evidence argues that Western-style democracies are better at weathering crises in the long run, because they are more flexible and resilient; whereas the fragile underpinnings of Russian and Chinese authoritarian power are currently on public display. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring has turned into a long, hot and potentially explosive summer, and the unprecedented protests against Vladimir Putin’s self-re-election may yet wither away in yet another interminable winter of Russian politics. All the same, the message at the heart of both events is one of progress: the protesters want not just safety and prosperity, but participation and accountable government as well—and are no longer too terrified to say so.

So liberal democracy is neither dead nor in terminal decline; it remains the model of self-governance aspired to by people living under authoritarian rule all over the globe. Still, that does not mean the existing liberal international order is alive and well. There may be fewer wars and more voters in the world today than twenty or fifty years ago, but the polarization and dysfunctionality of many democracies in the West and elsewhere (including Japan) is hard to deny. There is a pervasive sense that while globalization and integration have made the work of policymakers ever more complex, the world-wide financial crisis has reduced the operating margins for formulating and implementing foreign and security policy to near-zero. It has rendered collective action almost impossible, except on the most urgent issues of crisis management.

A European writer cannot but acknowledge that this is dramatically true for the European Union. Unfortunately, it also holds for Europe’s member states, and even for strong member states like the UK, France, or Germany. Worse, these troubles are not merely cyclical, and we should not rely on the next economic upswing to sweep them away. They are structural; more precisely, they stem from a failure to adapt our systems to deal with the new challenges. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Charles Kupchan, among others, have extensively catalogued the fields in which Western democracies need to repair their machinery or improve their performance, from infrastructure to education to innovation, strategic planning, and foresight capabilities. Yet the real issue is even larger.

The fundamental challenge of collective action and sovereign power under conditions of ever-deeper global integration is the preservation of state legitimacy and effectiveness: meaning a functioning representative democracy which is able to act as the guardian of a decent society. It is neither alarmist nor “declinist” to suggest that all of us, including we Europeans, have work to do here. It is, in fact, the task by which our generation will be judged.

As we do so, it ought to make us optimistic that Asia’s citizens, rather than espousing the collectivist “Asian values” (decreed a decade ago as the only model suitable for the region by Singapore’s patriarch Lee Kuan Yew), are more and more demanding genuine participatory, rule-based and rights-regarding democracy from their rulers. At this weekend’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono compared his own country’s democratic reforms to the Arab Spring, noting that there too “things got worse before they got better”—but he made it very clear that Indonesians are “much better off today.” It was clear that this was also meant as an encouragement for other neighbors in the region—and not just Myanmar.

Constanze Stelzenmüller is a Berlin-based Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

By dtwining Posted in GT2030

A Japanese Perspective on the Future of Liberal Order

By Ryo Sahashi

Power shifts are inevitable. In the late 2020s, the Chinese economy is expected to surpass that of the United States in terms of nominal gross domestic product. If the current trend of a shrinking U.S. defense budget and steadily growing People’s Liberation Army continues, it is possible that China will catch up to the United States in military spending as well in the 2030s. It is also predicted that the level of trade dependence on China among countries in the region will increase. For example, it is predicted that Japan’s trade with China will increase from the current level of 20 percent of Japan’s total trade to more than 40 percent by 2030, according to the gravity model.

Today, in an era of power shifts, the liberal order underpinned by the United States as hegemonic power should be restructured. It is high time for China and India to be given higher roles and status in global institutions, including financial ones. To transform the structure of the international order would be very difficult without major war.  Perception cannot easily be changed for a new reality. However, the power diffusion we are witnessing is more fundamental than those following the wars of the French revolution or the world wars of the 20th century. A globalized world will not sustain itself without proper reform of global governance.

We should not give up our belief in rule-based liberal order. Peaceful resolution of conflicts, international norms on human rights, the role of international law, and other liberal projects should continuously be pursued. For such goals, firstly we should design a united complex of both advanced and rising economies, including China and India. We should not replace the U.S. hegemonic role with the leadership of two superpowers in the United States and China. A contest between them for global hegemony would create vicious circles of superpower competition and compromise, in which the interests of smaller states are sacrificed and the liberal order would not be applied to all players equally.

In other words, a G-2 world would lessen the unity of liberal international order and American partnerships — and encourage neighbors and trading partners to bandwagon with China, rendering it the regional hegemon in continental Asia. Rather, we have to create a flatter, not a more hierarchical, consortium — such as the G-20 — where major powers deem it in their interests to gather, discuss, and share the burden.

Secondly, it is clear that China has the potential to behave aggressively, breaking rules and norms due to its unique values and political regime. We should not be deterministic. China and other autocracies could be transformed if proper guidance and pressure are given. For that purpose, it would be useful to create second united complex of advanced democratic economies — especially the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada and South Korea. Since their political values and life standards are shared, they ultimately can commit to sustain liberal international order.

Without this complex functioning well and setting standards for others to follow, China and other rising economies could be let off the hook to keep refusing responsibility in global governance on issues like climate change, economic liberalization and human rights. Soft power, including diplomatic skills and the power of visionary imagination, would be their big assets to create soft pressure on China to meet basic international norms. This is the reason why a study group in which I participated named our recent report Japan as the Rule-Promoting Power ( It is still uncertain which bodies of governance would take central roles under such an arrangement, but this second united complex of advanced democratic economies should be more important than regional groupings in any forum.

In addition, it should be underlined that the future of liberal international order is a function of the future of democracy. The United States, Europe and Japan confront the difficulty to stimulate seasoned domestic markets and sustain social welfare simultaneously. Democracy works better when it distributes the positive returns from  growth rather than dividing a non-expanding pie. Democratic politics today function too often as a cacophony of dissenting voices, failing to forge progress through consensus or reasonable actions. Autocracy historically works better to force people to sacrifice their interests and lives. It is ironic that autocratic states today experience economic success, but without a fair distribution of prosperity and safety nets to their citizens.

The task ahead for democracy is, firstly, to reform established political systems to create responsible, not populist, governance. Japan would be the best test case: its advanced democracy with the most rapidly aging society now suffers from a lack of social consensus and a defective parliamentary system. Without successful reform and growth of advanced democracies, the value of democracy would be called into question in the eyes of transitional economies where democratic process is still under development.

The rise of the rest is welcome — as long as it leads to better living standards and human dignity for the people residing in these countries. However, without a clear vision of the new world order, all humanity might be brought back to the classical era of great-power competition. We need to be wisely united. We should be confident in the values of liberalism and democracy – and be willing to defend them.

Ryo Sahashi is an Associate Professor of International Politics at Kanagawa University and research fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange

By dtwining Posted in GT2030

Power Shift: How the West Can Adapt and Thrive in an Asian Century

(Washington, DC: The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 2010)


By Ashley Tellis

Simply stated, the success of the current wave of globalization, like the one that preceded it in the 19th century, is owed fundamentally to the existence of a hegemonic power. Since the end of the Second World War, American preponderance has underwritten many of the key components—from the dollar as a global reserve currency to the rules of the international order to the defense of the commons—which have made a successful open trading system possible.

Should the American economy weaken inexorably over time, there is every likelihood that the current successful phase of globalization, although often assumed to be a permanent reality, could atrophy and eventually collapse. Mercifully, such dangers are neither immediate nor inevitable because the U.S. economy, whatever its current troubles, is not enervated by any terminal illness.

In fact, by the canons of contemporary growth accounting, the United States is better positioned relative to most other countries to sustain over the long term the high levels of capital accumulation, labor-force growth, and technological innovation necessary to maintain economic strength because of its size and natural resources, its demographic profile and access to immigration, its wealth and material well-being, its open economic and political systems, and its social and institutional adaptability.

America’s chief weaknesses in this context are twofold: its problematic model of capital formation, which is as much a product of domestic choices as it is a consequence of larger international economic imbalances, and its dysfunctional national decision-making institutions, which although appearing to satisfy its founding fathers’ objective of preventing tyranny have engendered a paralyzing inability to think strategically and act coherently.

While the latter problem is something that must be overcome unilaterally, the former can be most effectively solved collaboratively, at least, if there is to be any orderly solution to the vexed problem of “global rebalancing.” Both the transatlantic and Asian partners of the United States, not to mention China, have great stakes in a successful transition, but this will require all parties to either share the pain collectively or else risk a convulsive dénouement that imperils both globalization and the emerging Asian century.

Even as the United States and its partners hopefully work toward cooperative exits from the increasingly unsustainable current global codependency—where the United States propels world economic growth through continued consumption utilizing resources loaned by others—Washington also needs to pay attention to renewing its military power. Such a requirement may appear odd at first sight, given that the U.S. military remains superior to all others by many metrics of comparison. Yet, on closer examination, American military strength is hobbled by serious challenges including budgetary constraints, unacceptable weapons cost growth, rising personnel costs, strained procurement and research and development budgets, difficult force structure dilemmas, and wily asymmetric threats, all of which—if left unaddressed—could undermine the current security environment that sustains globalization.

The best studies of the regional military balances in the Asia-Pacific, in fact, suggest an erosion of U.S. military superiority and, in particular, a diminishing capacity to protect the Asian allies in the face of rising Chinese power. The importance of arresting these adverse trends cannot be understated. They directly engage the question of whether the Asian miracle can be sustained over the secular period (with all the resulting benefits for American and transatlantic prosperity) and without any compromises in the security and autonomy of America’s regional allies and important neutrals (with all the concomitant gains for American and transatlantic interests).

Addressing these challenges requires the United States and its democratic partners in the East and the West to think about defense research and development, weapons procurement, and technology flows in new and more creative ways. It also requires greater agreement on issues relating to the legitimacy of the use of force. Above all else, however, it requires a greater European appreciation of how U.S. military superiority contributes to protecting a secure and stable Asian geopolitical order that ultimately redounds to the common advantage of both sides of the Atlantic and why that dominance, accordingly, must be preserved indefinitely.

The emerging Asian century undoubtedly represents a great opportunity for sustaining global prosperity. Yet because this era will be fundamentally different from the first iteration of the Asian miracle, in that allies and competitors are now inextricably entwined in a dense web of transactions which increase absolute gains but unevenly, the United States and its partners face many more challenges in maintaining a stable geopolitical order.

In such circumstances, the most effective strategy for Washington, as the leader of the transatlantic community, is not to retrench from its commitment to expanding the open economic system, but to maintain in good repair its own national power and its constituent military prowess in order to mitigate any tensions that may arise either regionally or globally between economic gains and international security.

Ashley Tellis is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

By dtwining Posted in GT2030

The Liberal Order and the Chinese Public

By Andrew Small

In thinking about which powers will sustain – or threaten – the liberal order, China is typically written off as a spoiler. But as China’s public assumes greater influence over its foreign policy in the years ahead, this should not be taken for granted. Despite being portrayed as foaming-mouthed nationalists, Chinese public opinion has proved itself to be more liberal on some issues even than that of the Western powers.

Many, including on this blog, argue that in building a liberal coalition, energy is more usefully expended on the rising democratic powers than on the authoritarians’ best friend and chief exemplar. But over the long-term the Chinese public will also have a crucial role to play in determining which vision of international order wins out. Engaging, influencing, and simply taking account of it is an essential task.

The weight that public opinion plays in shaping Chinese foreign policy is already growing more significant. But it is most frequently invoked in cases where demands for a more assertive and less conciliatory stance towards the United States, Japan, Vietnam, India and others are its main characteristic. However challenging they find these pressures, Chinese officials have generally been happy to play up this strand in the opinions of their public, whether in arguing that they are “boxed in” when it comes to dealing with territorial disputes or simply to emphasize the dangers to the world of a more democratic Chinese political system.

Yet there are other views that Beijing has been less keen to emphasize. Humanitarian intervention, for instance, is usually one of the cleanest dividing lines between the liberal and the illiberal powers. While the Western camp has agonized over the legitimacy and scope of interventions over the years, it is a subject on which the Chinese government has given a pretty consistent answer – no. But it is far from clear that the Chinese people agree.

In a poll conducted in 2006 – at the peak of debates over Darfur – respondents were asked whether the UN Security Council “has the responsibility to authorize the use of military force to protect people from severe human rights violations, such as genocide,” even against the will of the government committing the abuses. Of the countries polled, by far the highest levels of support came from China, on 76%, with only the U.S. public coming close.

More recently, following the Chinese-Russian joint veto in February against UN action on Syria, opinion on Chinese microblogs and informal online surveys ran substantially against Beijing’s stance. A Weibo poll asked users: “The Chinese representative vetoed the resolution on Syria proposed by the Arab League. Does this decision represent you?” Seventy-seven percent voted “No.” Chinese public opinion has also for a long time been skeptical of China’s one-sided North Korea policy, and many Chinese netizens argued forcefully for intervention in Myanmar during the Kokang crisis in 2009.

There is nothing intrinsically inconsistent about a public that would, inter alia, support a more assertive defense of Chinese territorial claims, is fed up with the Chinese indulgence of North Korea, would like to see the Chinese government do more – including militarily – to protect its citizens abroad, and does not believe that China should provide unequivocal backing to mass murderers. Chinese citizens have rising expectations of how China should exercise its role as a great power, and its more assertive and nationalistic voices are often those with more robust views on issues of intervention than government officials who hold on to more defensive norms of sovereignty. The total package is not necessarily a comfortable one to deal with, but it is certainly not the cynical, illiberal China that has been a familiar interlocutor for the West in the UN Security Council in recent years.

Of course, for now, whatever the state of Chinese public opinion on an issue such as massacres in Syria, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) interest in defending authoritarian friends and principles will still tend to dominate. But over the longer term, a more authentic reflection of the views of the Chinese public in its foreign policy is inevitable. While no one is betting on any rapid democratization, the events of this year – from Bo Xilai to Chen Guangcheng – are embryonic indicators of a political transformation that few expect will leave power structures in Beijing looking the same in 2030 as they do today.

Engaging with Chinese public opinion cannot wait for large-scale political change, however. Actions that the United States and other powers take in the coming years will have a profound effect in determining whether a Chinese polity emerges that is comfortable with its place in the world, accepting of the legitimacy of the structures of global order, and capable of giving rein to its more magnanimous and humanitarian instincts.

For the most part, this does not mean much more than taking active account of China’s views and interests while being cognizant that these are not always the same as the views and interests of the CCP. The Syria veto was a good example of an instance where the Chinese government was unable to convince its own people that Western – and Arab – initiatives were illegitimate, rather than its own regressive position.

The United States should be ready to occupy and emphasize this gap when possible rather than enabling the illiberal instincts of the CCP to be consistently portrayed as reflective of Chinese opinion as a whole. The task of building a framework with the existing and emerging democracies that can influence China’s strategic choices is certainly a vital one for the liberal order. But so is dealing effectively with the complex spectrum of voices in China itself.  

Andrew Small is a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

By dtwining Posted in GT2030

Pathways for Asian Security Order in 2030

By Arun Sahgal

The rise of India and China seems to be a bit of an overplayed cliché. No doubt China and to a lesser extent India are fast-emerging economies.  But within the time frame of 2030 they will remain consumed with managing internal social dynamics and their respective economic models to become serious players of consequence.  They will nonetheless yield considerable economic and political influence in shaping the new international economic order as well as impacting policies on the global commons.

If economic projections are to be taken seriously then both economies are likely to taper to around 6 percent GDP growth rates.  These will be extremely robust in comparison to others but will not allow China, in particular, to create a military-industrial complex that could alter the current geopolitical dynamics of the Asia-Pacific. The tussle to carve its own sphere of influence between the U.S.-led alliance system and its periphery will persist, as will jockeying for influence in the maritime domain, including the South China Sea. A politico-economic balancing game is likely to continue to ensue, trapping the Southeast Asian countries, and to an extent India, in hedging strategies.

With regard to India-China relations, the military balance during the period 2015-2030 will be one of strategic vulnerability for India if it fails to develop the dissuasive military capability to manage its asymmetry of power with China.

Relative pathways of China and India could include the following:


(a)                A strong, reformed China enmeshed in growing economic interdependence and thus constrained from posing a strategic threat to the region;

(b)               A repressive political system (return of Maoism) employing nationalism to legitimate China’s growing power and assertiveness internationally;

(c)                An internally weak and imploding China that would not constitute an external threat but could be the source of many regional problems.


(a)        An economically strong India that overcomes its current economic and political inertia to post sustained growth rates above 7 percent. Political expedience gives way to much more nuanced governance, resulting in reforms to the industrial, infrastructural, and social sectors. Defense expenditure keeps pace with the growth in GDP and even at 2.5 percent of GDP, defense expenditure quadruples in real terms to reach a figure of 110 billion dollars by 2030. Growing Indo-U.S. defense cooperation, including transfer of important dual-use technology, provides a boost to the Indian defense industry with significant enhancement in capability.

(b)  A meandering India whose pathway is an extension of the current situation of drift in the context of a shifting geopolitical environment. An indecisive India emerges which is unable to assertively configure its strategic power and is unable to dissuade the Chinese strategic challenge or manage own internal security contradictions. Failing states and adverse demographic trends heighten cross-border migration and the flux of refugees in search of better economic opportunities.

Beyond the regional pivots, Asia’s alternative futures will be dictated by the nature and impact of U.S. regional engagement.  The following pathways of U.S. regional engagement are possible:

a)                  A United States on an economic upswing decides to deal actively with the growing Chinese regional threat. Deterrence based on greater military deployment is put in place. The Air-Sea battle concept is fully operationalized. There is visible economic and military support to allies with aggressive diplomacy against North Korea and China. The United States exercises more basing options in continental East Asia. Integrated AD and Missile defenses, redundant C4ISR and anti-submarine capabilities are boosted. It goes in for deterrence based on escalation using longer range weapons.

b)                  The U.S. economy remains sluggish with only episodic improvement. The United States adopts a diplomatic approach to tackle Chinese competition and leverages ASEAN partners and regional allies by upgrading their military and technological capacities, facilitating more intra-regional trade, and providing stronger diplomatic and political support. Robust economic cooperation is used as an instrument to keep Chinese ambitions in check. The United States exercises control of sea lanes through strategic partnerships with India, Vietnam and Indonesia, in addition to alliance partners. There is deterrence based on direct defense of its interests and allies in the Western Pacific.

c)                  A new administration in the United States raises the ante in the region by undertaking aggressive steps to isolate China regionally. A sign of such is enactment of a new regional architecture in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which attempts to rally democracies and like-minded countries that are U.S. economic partners while conspicuously excluding China.  The United States flexes its military muscle in the region to reassure its friends and allies about its political and security commitments. Its regional commitments are also shaped by the nuclear factor and stridency in terms of developments in North Korea that erode security commitments to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.

It can be surmised that there are multiple pathways that could define Asia’s strategic future and the place of the two rising giants within it. The key drivers of these strategic trends will be the United States, China, and India. Countries and regional groupings like Japan, South Korea and ASEAN are important — but the nature of uncertainty in their pathways and their impact is directly linked to the future roles of the United States and China in the wider region.

Arun Sahgal was the founder and director of India’s Office of Net Assessment and continues to consult for the Indian security establishment.

By dtwining Posted in GT2030