I think it is. When I was a kid, the right used to taunt the left as fuzzy-thinking one-worlders. Even into the 1970s, John Lennon advised people to think globally and act locally.
But the left is not down with globalization anymore. And that means it may be drifting into isolationism.
If you're into tracking American culture, one of the great, sober, leftish events in the United States is the annual gathering of Maine organic farmers. This isn't California-style Burning Man self-indulgence. Rather, these are hard-working people (you try growing stuff in a state with a six-month-long winter -- and then, when you thaw out, be swarmed for five months by no-see-'ems, black flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes the size of Blackburnian warblers). Modern Puritans, if you will. I mention this because this year, one of the events at their big annual fair is anti-globalization storytelling.
By Katherine Kidder
Best Defense office of Communist Chinese capitalist studies
China's growing role in Africa over the past decade-or-so has raised some eyebrows. Questions surrounding China's motives for investment abound: Are they purchasing U.N. votes? Simply extracting natural resources? Expanding the rhetoric of revolution, as it did in the 1960s?
Yet most of these questions presuppose state-led investment in Africa. Xiaofang Shen, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS China Studies Program and former investment climate specialist at the World Bank, said in a recent talk at SAIS that the more notable increase over the past decade has been the rise in Chinese private-sector investment on the continent.
Pre-2001, Chinese private investment in Africa was negligible; by the end of 2011, there were 879 private companies and OFDI projects registered with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Contrary to the image of state-led extraction, Chinese entrepreneurs focus their energies mainly on manufacturing and service industries. They increasingly are forging relationships with local management, and aware of the value of learning local customs, religions, and languages.
So, what does this mean for the West? Interestingly enough, Chinese private investment in Africa may be a hat tip to Western models of development and governance: Xiaofang Shen's study finds that going overseas to do business was much easier for up-and-coming Chinese entrepreneurs than starting a business in inland China.
Most of China's industry grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, with little-to-no regulation. By contrast, many African laws (at least on paper) were copied and/or imposed by the West through such mechanisms as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). As a result, Chinese entrepreneurs find African processes more conducive to business, from obtaining licenses and navigating the bureaucratic process to trusting that the food they eat for lunch is safe. African governments face higher incentives to improve infrastructure and devote resources to political stability and regulatory efficiency in order to attract capital -- precisely the same goals reflected in SAPs.
By Alexander Sullivan
Best Defense department of psynology
Contrary to some of the more sensationalist appraisals of China's rise in world rankings, David Shambaugh argues in his new book, China Goes Global: The Partial Power, that despite China's undeniable achievements, it has succeeded in becoming a global actor but not a global power. Hence the word "partial."
Shambaugh, a George Washington University political scientist, introduced his book last week in a February 13 talk at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He focused less on China's "vertical" rise -- its skyrocketing GDP and increasing military sophistication -- than on the extent of its "horizontal" expansion of its influence to the rest of the planet. He analyzed China's current global presence along five vectors: diplomacy, global governance, economics, culture, and security.
China has expanded its reach in most of these areas: It is the world's second largest economy and possibly the largest trading nation; it has relations with over 170 countries; it sits at the main table in most global multilateral fora; its official media outlets are opening new bureaus abroad; and it just launched its first aircraft carrier to lead its navy ever farther out in the Western Pacific. But according to Shambaugh, all the government's efforts along these lines have yielded precious little in the way of real power, as understood by people like Joe Nye -- that is, influence exerted to make actor A do thing X.
On the face of it, Shambaugh's conclusions are not unwarranted. China remains a "lonely power" with few genuine friends in the world. Increasing assertiveness in the East and South China Seas has helped roll back diplomatic gains made in its neighborhood since the Asian financial crisis, and even in African and Latin American countries where Chinese investment dollars (untrammeled by governance guarantees) had gained fast new friends, the picture is becoming less rosy.
One of Shambaugh's most interesting arguments is that while China's economic statistics are worthy of admiration, its "multinational" corporations have abysmal international brand recognition and an overall poor track record of breaking into overseas markets, calling into question whether China's corporate sector is really as much of a global business player as it is assumed to be.
He acknowledged that China has tremendous latent potential as a true global power and that its capacities will likely increase. What provoked by far the most interest during the Q&A session was one of his explanations for why China has so far failed to convert its potential into power, namely that Chinese elites are divided over China's identity in the world and the values it should represent. The lack of coherence among decision-makers in China, he said, has been one of the biggest impediments to their effective exercise of power. Absent consensus, the one thread that runs through it all (yi yi guan zhi) is poorly disguised, narrowly defined self-interest, which inevitably provokes counterbalancing by other international actors.
One of my favorite writers on strategy is Hew Strachan, the Oxford historian, so I was delighted to see that he was speaking at conference I attended Thursday and Friday at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The theme of his talk was that the world isn't changing as fast as we think it is, and so there is a lot more continuity in the world environment than is generally recognized. The state is still the main actor in war, and the things that lead to war are generally the same, he said. "The pace of change is slower than we tend to assume," he said.
He also emphasized the importance of clear thinking about strategy. Everyone talks about "the narrative" these days. But he said, "You cannot have a coherent narrative if you do not have a coherent strategy."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.