A Partnership with China to Avoid World War

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Pete Souza/White House
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing, November 2014

International cooperation is in decline both in the political and financial spheres. The UN has failed to address any of the major conflicts since the end of the cold war; the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference left a sour aftertaste; the World Trade Organization hasn’t concluded a major trade round since 1994. The International Monetary Fund’s legitimacy is increasingly questioned because of its outdated governance, and the G20, which emerged during the financial crisis of 2008 as a potentially powerful instrument of international cooperation, seems to have lost its way. In all areas, national, sectarian, business, and other special interests take precedence over the common interest. This trend has now reached a point where instead of a global order we have to speak of global disorder.

In the political sphere local conflicts fester and multiply. Taken individually these conflicts could possibly be solved but they tend to be interconnected and the losers in one conflict tend to become the spoilers in others. For instance, the Syrian crisis deteriorated when Putin’s Russia and the Iranian government came to Bashar al-Assad’s rescue, each for its own reasons. Saudi Arabia provided the seed money for ISIS and Iran instigated the Houthi rebellion in Yemen to retaliate against Saudi Arabia. Bibi Netanyahu tried to turn the US Congress against the nuclear treaty the US was negotiating with Iran. There are just too many conflicts for international public opinion to exert a positive influence.

In the financial sphere the Bretton Woods institutions—the IMF and the World Bank—have lost their monopoly position. Under Chinese leadership, a parallel set of institutions is emerging. Will they be in conflict or will they find a way to cooperate? Since the financial and the political spheres are also interconnected, the future course of history will greatly depend on how China tackles its economic transition from investment and export-led growth to greater dependence on domestic demand, and how the US reacts to it. A strategic partnership between the US and China could prevent the evolution of two power blocks that may be drawn into military conflict.

How did we reach this point of global disorder? During the cold war the world was dominated by two superpowers. Each maintained some degree of control over its allies and satellites, and avoided direct military confrontation with the other because of the danger of Mutually Assured Destruction. It was a MAD system but it worked: it produced a number of local military conflicts but it avoided a world war.

When the Soviet empire fell apart the United States had an opportunity to become the sole superpower and the guarantor of peace in the world, but it did not rise to the occasion. The US was founded on the principle of individual freedom and it was not predisposed to become…


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