Cool War: The Future of Global Competition
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A bold and thought-provoking look at the future of U.S.-China relations, and how their coming power struggle will reshape the competitive playing field for nations around the world
The Cold War seemingly ended in a decisive victory for the West. But now, Noah Feldman argues, we are entering an era of renewed global struggle: the era of Cool War. Just as the Cold War matched the planet’s reigning superpowers in a contest for geopolitical supremacy, so this new age will pit the United States against a rising China in a contest for dominance, alliances, and resources. Already visible in Asia, the conflict will extend to the Middle East (U.S.-backed Israel versus Chinese-backed Iran), Africa, and beyond.
Yet this Cool War differs fundamentally from the zero-sum showdowns of the past: The world’s major power and its leading challenger are economically interdependent to an unprecedented degree. Exports to the U.S. account for nearly a quarter of Chinese trade, while the Chinese government holds 8 percent of America’s outstanding debt. This positive-sum interdependence has profound implications for nations, corporations, and international institutions. It makes what looked to be a classic contest between two great powers into something much more complex, contradictory, and badly in need of the shrewd and carefully reasoned analysis that Feldman provides.
To understand the looming competition with China, we must understand the incentives that drive Chinese policy. Feldman offers an arresting take on that country’s secretive hierarchy, proposing that the hereditary “princelings” who reap the benefits of the complicated Chinese political system are actually in partnership with the meritocrats who keep the system full of fresh talent and the reformers who are trying to root out corruption and foster government accountability. He provides a clear-eyed analysis of the years ahead, showing how China’s rise presents opportunities as well as risks. Robust competition could make the U.S. leaner, smarter, and more pragmatic, and could drive China to greater respect for human rights. Alternatively, disputes over trade, territory, or human rights could jeopardize the global economic equilibrium—or provoke a catastrophic “hot war” that neither country wants.
The U.S. and China may be divided by political culture and belief, but they are also bound together by mutual self-interest. Cool War makes the case for competitive cooperation as the only way forward that can preserve the peace and make winners out of both sides.
Praise for Cool War
“A timely book . . . sharp, logical and cool.”—The Economist
“Noah Feldman’s dissection of the United States–China relationship is smart, balanced, and wise.”—Robert D. Kaplan, New York Times bestselling author of The Revenge of Geography
“Compelling . . . Feldman’s book carries enough insight to warrant serious attention from anyone interested in what may well be the defining relationship in global affairs for decades to come.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A worthwhile and intriguing read.”—The Washington Post
“Masterfully elucidates China’s non-democratic/non-communist new form of government.”—Publishers Weekly
with one another. They may not mete out punishments as effectively as the WTO, but they partake of a similar legal structure. The European Union is the product of international treaties, and it functions as a legal order. It creates laws, and its members follow them. All this international law being followed by states is a crucial component of the cool war world. What if the WTO model of enforcement through tribunals that allow parties to punish each other were deployed in other contexts beyond
secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs: “The demands, mostly unanticipated, of the martial campaigns in the Middle East have had the additional consequence of diverting the United States away from the rapidly changing strategic landscape of Asia precisely at a time when China is making enormous strides in military modernization, commercial conquests, diplomatic inroads, and application of soft power. Rarely in history has a rising power made such prominent gains in the
school typically see international relations in positive-sum terms. See, e.g., Andrew Moravcsik, “Robert Keohane, Political Theorist,” in Power, Interdependence, and Nonstate Actors in World Politics, ed. Helen V. Milner and Andrew Moravcsik (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009), 243, 246: “Stated preferences about the management of world politics are a potentially positive sum variable, rather than a zero-sum constant, as realists had claimed” (emphasis in original). Two very
(London: Springer, 2009), 219. 18. Under the GATT, there was a “morality exception” to allow countries to discriminate against others who, for example, engaged in the slave trade. See Steve Charnovitz, “The Moral Exception in Trade Policy,” 38 Virginia Journal of International Law 689 (1998). But what I am describing runs in the opposite direction: accusing a country of trade discrimination because it enslaves people. 19. International investment treaties, like trade treaties, typically require
military capacity meant the British could not seriously contemplate fighting China the way Britain had fought (and defeated) Argentina. When Deng Xiaoping made it clear that the Chinese expected Hong Kong to revert to them, Thatcher had little choice but to agree. China offered a fig leaf in the form of “one country, two systems,” allowing Britain to salvage a modicum of dignity when capitulating to the realities of power politics. But the structure was still coercive. After the meeting where