Brooks is wrong, FINALLY!

By , 4 August, 2008, 1 Comment

For the last seven years (as long as I’ve been writing opinions pieces), I’ve had a grudging respect for the genius of David Brooks, referencing him in several columns and linking to him from most of the posts on this and previous blogs. That’s odd, because Brooks is a classic Burkean conservative, and I’m a pretty unabashed liberal, and most of the time I disagree with his policy proposals. What I like about Brooks is his social and cultural approach to political subjects, his explanation of elections and geostrategy through technological change or class hierarchies. He’s asking the questions I want to be asking, and even if we come up with different answers, our differences are matters of values, not a sign that one of us is more right than the other.

His most recent column, however, breaks the mold. For the first time in years, I think David Brooks is wrong and I feel like a cross between the child who finds out his parents aren’t superheroes after all and the proverbial martial arts student who defeats his master in one-on-one combat.

Brooks wrote on Friday about the rise of a multipolar world. America’s demise as THE single superpower will not usher in the rule of China, or India or Brazil or even a consortium like the EU, but the rule of nobody and everybody. To Brooks, this means we are doomed to anarchy, because any one power has the ability to cripple the international process–witness the collapse of the Doha talks and the lack of action on Darfur. He seems to think that the international process and international institutions depend upon the ability of a few (Perm5, G8 etc) players to keep everyone in line.

In fact, the opposite is true. Yes, the world has gone multipolar. Not in the sense that all powers have suddenly become equally powerless, but in the sense that different kinds of power are focused in different places. Technological power is centered on both sides of the Pacific; military power in America, China, Russia, and Israel; economic power in India, China, Brazil and if they get their act together the EU, political power in China, Russia, and the OPEC countries etc.

But instead of yielding a world in which no country can exercise whatever kind of power it’s got, the multipolar age means every country has an increased vested interest in the international process TO exercise that power. When you only control one small niche, and when that niche is part of so many global relationships (India’s economic power is all linked up with the technological power of Silicon Valley, for example), you NEED the international process to make your power valuable. The problem with our current international institutions is that their hierarchical setup isn’t suited to multipolar power dynamics. The P5 or G8 nations are unrepresentative of today’s power dynamics, but simply adding more countries (or bringing EVERYONE to the table, a la Doha) is inefficient.

Instead, imagine a United Nations with 3 or 4 possible Security Councils. Depending on the resolution up for debate, a different Council would be in session, allowing say Brazil to trump Russia if the topic is trade, but Russia to trump Brazil when the topic is disarmament. Just as individuals are dividing up their world in more niches as technology allows, so the international process can become more issue focused, allowing many powers to become the central pole of their own niche.

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