TIMOTHY R. HEATH, NOVEMBER 30, 2015
Strategic Asia 2015-16, Foundations of National Power in the Asia-Pacific, Ashley Tellis, Alison Szalwinski and Michael Wills (eds.)
In an age of fragmentation, all of the world’s great powers confront enormous domestic and international pressures. Disappointments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the shocking savageries inflicted with seeming impunity by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and their imitators, North Korea’s defiant brandishing of its growing nuclear arsenal, and Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory reveal the limits of American power and an alarming spread of disorder. The European Union remains gripped by economic tensions that threaten to rip it apart, even as its member states fend off waves of desperate Middle Eastern refugees. Despite the efforts of an energetic prime minister, Japan appears incapable of arresting the steady erosion of its economic power and demographic decline. Russia, while flexing its muscles in Crimea and Syria, anxiously awaits the effects of a looming recession on its fragile economy and a bleak demographic outlook. China, meanwhile, has expended enormous resources to strengthen control of a vast, uninhabited maritime domain, even as its leaders accelerate a ruthless crackdown to curb social unrest as its juggernaut economy cools.
These developments have coincided with a broader dispersion of power both internationally and at the societal level. The United States remains the single most powerful nation by far, but its share of world GDP has ebbed from a high of 27 percent in 1950 to 24 percent in 2015. China, meanwhile, has seen its share increase over the same time period from 5 percent to 15 percent. Indeed, the relative decline of the industrial world in recent decades has coincided with a “rise of the rest” as developing countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America experienced tremendous gains in income, life expectancy, and well-being for their populations.
At the societal level, the phenomenon of angry citizens taking action to show their frustration with their leaders hasrepeated in capitals the world over. Economic prospects have stagnated and public budgets weakened at the same time that more people have gained more access to information technology and modes of travel than ever before. The contradiction between rising public expectations and constrained government resources to address those demands underpins much of the gridlock, political polarization, and turmoil that have unsettled politics throughout the world.
Asia’s growing importance in shaping international order