Brent Scowcroft believes the world is “at an inflection point but a much different one than end of Cold War.”
Scowcroft, the former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and current chairman of the Atlantic Council International Advisory Board, was the featured luncheon speaker at the Global Trends 2030: US Leadership in a Post-Western World conference.
He believes that Westphalian system of state sovereignty is “under assault” from multiple vectors. Globalization has made states interdependent while undermining their ability to control their own economies.
At the same time, information technology has empowered individual citizens, for good and ill. As we’ve seen in the Arab Spring and other mass protests, it’s easier than ever to rally against oppression. “Organizing used to take a lot of effort,” noted Scowcroft, but “today you post it on Facebook and the next day you meet.”
Alas, the same tools enable non-state actors, including terrorist groups, to act in a way that’s difficult for states to fight. “We declared a war on terror, but how do you declare war on a killing method?” asked Scowcroft. How observed, because al Qaeda isn’t a state, “There is no leadership to target or flags to conquer.”
Moreover, China, which many believe is poised to became a central actor in world affairs, “didn’t have a hand in developing the current international system.” He observes that, because in the Chinese view “There is China and then everyone else,” it was “the only major power that did not participate in Westphalian system.” Indeed, Scowcroft explains, “China feels itself a victim of Westphalian system.”
Because of this, Scowcroft contends, “China can’t be a responsible stakeholder” in a system where states operate as equals. Even so, he sees “no unresolvable fundamental issues between the US and China.” But the United Nations, which Scowcroft sees as having been “built for a world that has disappeared,” is unlikely to be the venue for resolving those differences.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. This is part of a New Atlanticist series exploring Envisioning 2030.