Fingar, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, emphasized the key distinction between the perceptions of power and its actual implications across the globe during a recent lecture luncheon entitled “Another BRIC Hits the Wall,” which is part of a series hosted by the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). In the post-Cold War era, the rise of other nations has different implications for the U.S. than it did during the Cold War. During the Cold War, the clear division of power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union meant foreign policy gains and losses could easily be measured and attributed to one power or the other. The bipolar nature of the world meant that as the Europe rebuilt after World War II and East Asia boomed during the 80s, their alignment with the U.S. meant increased power for the United States and decreased power for the Soviets. In this way, it was a simpler world.
Today, however, the rise of the BRICs occurs in a world where the U.S. has been the world’s sole superpower for two decades. And whereas during the Cold War, Americans viewed the rise of Europe and East Asia as positive because their growth helped increase America’s influence, today they are wary of the BRICs’ rise, said Fingar. Today, Americans see the increase in the BRICs’ power as a driver of decreased American power relative to other nations.
But during his lecture, Fingar made it a point to illustrate that American power is not in jeopardy. He maintained that America is by far the most powerful nation on this globe. Economically, militarily, defensively, scientifically, and demographically—the U.S. continues to dwarf all other nations. The gap between the U.S. and its next competitors is so considerable that the rise of other nations is not as threatening to the U.S. as some make it out to be.
Nonetheless, as Fingar stated, the BRICs are increasing their power, and while their growth is being slowed by the global economic recession, it is not halting it. Therefore, the U.S. must confront the implications of their rise, which are simply more complicated than the previously polarized “good for America” and “bad for America.”
For instance, the BRICs are large countries with large populations. Fingar holds that they are entering with a sense of entitlement that leads them to pursue roles that would traditionally be held by established world powers. Russia and China already hold one of these major roles—a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, while Brazil and India are often mentioned as contenders for permanent seats should the Council expand. Furthermore, three of the nations—Russia, India, and China—are already nuclear powers and Brazil has the capacity to develop a nuclear program should it decide to do so.
However, the fact remains that the BRICs still do not have the capability to perform the tasks that the U.S. has performed across the globe for decades. None of these nations is prepared or able to take the lead in the world. China and India are wealthy nations with large, impoverished populations. Economically, Russia is simply too weak. And Brazil, despite being the most economically diverse of the BRICs due to its oil, agriculture, commodity, and manufacturing revenue, still lacks vision for what role it wishes to play in this world. These nations are experiencing a rise in power, but they lack the stability and ability required to be dominant in the way that the U.S. is and has been for so long.
Moreover, because the rise of nations comes in waves, Fingar predicted that in the next 10 to 15 years, there will be another that it will include Indonesia, Turkey, and Iran. And just as the U.S. now analyzes the implications of the BRICs’ rise today, it will do the same for whichever the future rising nations are. And should they be Indonesia, Turkey, and Iran, Fingar predicted that though they are Muslim nations, religious classification will be far less meaningful to their standing in the future. Rather, their economies, regional standings, and other factors will determine their influence in the international realm. In short, the conditions under which nations rise has and will continue to shape their trajectories.
In Fingar’s view, dominance is relative, but power is not.
America is just as powerful as ever, and the sheer magnitude of that statement means this nation will continue to maintain its position as the most powerful and influential nation in the world. Arguably, America’s post-Cold War dominance was unsustainable, because other nations were bound to gain enough power to allow them to play significant roles in the international spheres—roles that would somewhat limit the influence of the U.S. Yet, America’s influence is unique in that it is massive and sufficiently varied across various fields. This nation is exceptional, and that simply will not change.