Numerous experts have argued that the deepening global financial crisis has significantly damaged U.S. power, influence and credibility in the world and perhaps even signals the end of two centuries of U.S. and European dominance of international affairs.
As many have observed, the global order that is emerging has a distinct Asian tilt because of the rise of China and India as geopolitical forces. The two countries’ growing power may stimulate an “Eastphalian” order that challenges the Western-led approaches that dominated the Age of Imperialism, the Cold War and the post-Cold War period.
The term “Eastphalian” plays off the description of the international system as “Westphalian,” a moniker traced back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that established the modern state system. Through Western imperialism, populations in the Americas, Africa and Asia were incorporated into the Westphalian system, a brutal process that labeled non-European societies as “uncivilized” as long as they had societies that did not resemble what prevailed in Europe and North America.
The idea of “Eastphalia” communicates that conditions have emerged in which Asian countries have a say in world affairs not dictated by, or subordinated to, Western ideas and interests. Hints of an Asian perspective emerged in the immediate post-Cold War years in the “Asian values” debate. Even though this debate faded, the growth in the power and importance of China, India and Asia as a region draws attention to how Asian countries would use their power to influence global affairs.
The power of India and China in international relations is increasingly palpable, as demonstrated at the World Trade Organization in climate change negotiations, in controversies about humanitarian intervention and in responses to security threats such as North Korea, Pakistan and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Asia’s rise creates worries for some in the West, particularly in the U.S., over intensified competition for power and influence. But Asia’s prominence also creates competition in the world of ideas–the norms and principles that should guide global governance in the 21st century.
Ideas for world politics are something the West had in abundance, as revealed by the post-Cold War, U.S.-led agenda of promoting democracy, protecting civil and political rights, pushing free market economics and expanding the rationales for using military force (e.g., humanitarian intervention, self-defense in response to terrorist attacks and pre-emptive self-defense against WMD threats).
At present, the normative content of an Eastphalian perspective appears underdeveloped. In the post-Cold War period, from Asia has come emphasis on the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states. These principles oppose broad notions of the right to use force in self-defense, favor pluralism in political and economic regimes and reject the homogenizing zeal of democracy promotion; prioritizing civil and political rights; and advancing the “Washington consensus.”
Stressing sovereignty and non-intervention is, however, largely defensive, reactive and negative in nature, more befitting poor, vulnerable countries emerging from imperialism than rising great powers with global interests and influence. China and India’s support for alternative frameworks during the Cold War, such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the New International Economic Order, provide no basis on which to ground an Eastphalian perspective in the early 21st century.
If Western leadership is declining, more is required of India and China than nationalistic policies to increase material power. What, in addition to this power, will China and India bring to the new global order? How India and China answer this question will determine whether Eastphalia represents warmed-over bits of the Westphalian system, or emerges as a distinct vision that serves the interests and values of people globally.