Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Robert Samuelson writes:

With hindsight, we may see 2006 as the end of Pax Americana. Ever since World War II, the United States has used its military and economic superiority to promote a stable world order that has, on the whole, kept the peace and spread prosperity. But the United States increasingly lacks both the power and the will to play this role. It isn't just Iraq, though Iraq has been profoundly destabilizing and demoralizing. Many other factors erode U.S. power: China's rise; probable nuclear proliferation; shrinking support for open trade; higher spending for Social Security and Medicare that squeezes the military; the weakness of traditional U.S. allies, Europe and Japan.

By objective measures, Pax Americana's legacy is enormous. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear device has been used in anger. In World War II, an estimated 60 million people died. Only four subsequent conflicts have had more than a million deaths (the Congo Civil War, 3 million; Vietnam, 1.9 million; Korea, 1.3 million; and China's civil war, 1.2 million). Under the U.S. military umbrella, democracy flourished in Western Europe and Japan. It later spread to South Korea, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Prosperity has been unprecedented. Historian Angus Maddison tells us that from 1950 to 1998 the world economy expanded by a factor of six. Global trade increased 20 times. These growth rates were well beyond historic experience. Living standards exploded. Since 1950, average incomes have multiplied about 16 times in South Korea, 11 times in Japan and six times in Spain, reports Maddison. From higher bases, the increases were nearly five times in Germany and three in the United States.

From the 2005 Human Security Report:

Over the past dozen years, the global security climate has changed in dramatic, positive, but largely unheralded ways. Civil wars, genocides and international crises have all declined sharply. International wars, now only a small minority of all conflicts, have been in steady decline for a much longer period, as have military coups and the average number of people killed per conflict per year.

The wars that dominated the headlines of the 1990s were real—and brutal—enough. But the global media have largely ignored the 100-odd conflicts that have quietly ended since 1988. During this period, more wars stopped than started.

The extent of the change in global security following the end of the Cold War has been remarkable:

° The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40% since the early 1990s (see Figure 1.1 in Part I).

° Between 1991 (the high point for the post–World War II period) and 2004, 28 armed struggles for self-determination started or restarted, while 43 were contained or ended. There were just 25 armed secessionist conflicts under way in 2004, the lowest number since 1976.3

° Notwithstanding the horrors of Rwanda, Srebrenica and elsewhere, the number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80% between the 1988 high point and 2001 (Figure 1.11).

° International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001 (Figure 1.5).

° The dollar value of major international arms transfers fell by 33% between 1990 and 2003 (Figure 1.10). Global military expenditure and troop numbers declined sharply in the 1990s as well.

° The number of refugees dropped by some 45% between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end (Figure 3.1).

As for the economic growth that comes with peace, just a reminder:

The world economy is booming. To see the evidence, check out the back page of The Economist. There is a column showing the GDP growth rates of 27 developing countries. In a typical copy from the late 1990s as many as one-third to one-half of these could have minus signs in front of them.

Today, every single one of these developing countries' growth rates is positive. Substantially positive. The slowest growth rate, in Brazil, is still a respectable 3.4 percent.

In the 1990s, the GDP of developing countries grew at an average of 3.6 percent. Now a faster rate of growth seems to have set in. In 2003, developing countries' economies grew by 5.6 percent. In 2004, they achieved a sizzling 7.1 percent, then settled back to a still-impressive 6.4 percent in 2005. Rich countries are growing, too -- the OECD economies grew at 3.2 percent in 2004 and 2.7 percent in 2005 -- but at more a pedestrian pace.

If anything, 2006 looks to be even better. China's economy grew at 11.3 percent in the second quarter of 2006. India's busy economy is growing at about 8 percent. US GDP grew at a 5.6 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

The trend is towards more Pax, though possibly less Americana. Of course, Samuelson could be proved right if the trend of the past 10-15 years experiences a sudden reversal in 2006. But Samuelson is missing two important points. First, in his blind homage to stability (see the rest of his article), Samuelson forgets that some of that stability took tyrannous and totalitarian forms that many regarded as worse than war. (At least as of last April, "[t]hree-fourths of Iraqis (77%) said in January that ousting Saddam was worth it despite any hardships they may have suffered since the 2003 invasion, while 22 percent said it was not worth it.")

Second, if China's rise continues, China will eventually surpass us. I think "the American century" will turn out to have been neither the 20th, nor the 21st, but half of each: the century after World War II, 1945-2045 or so, after which China will be the world's dominant nation (though India will give it a run for its money). Now, China has a strong interest in stability, but is, at this point at least, fairly indifferent to freedom. We should make the world that China inherits as liberal a one as we can. For that reason, toppling a totalitarian dictator like Saddam-- and the fall of Saddam is more important than anything that followed; at the time, events' news coverage is to some extent proportional to the time they take up, so that the liberation was a blip and the transition a saga, but history is more discriminating-- is an excellent precedent to set.


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