In his 2008 international bestseller The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria wrote, “The future is already here.” If there were any doubts as to the veracity of that claim, the whirlwind events of the last three years have settled them.
Even Zakaria’s most forward-looking projections haven’t been able to keep pace with the acceleration of the “rise of the rest,” the indelible phrase he coined in 2008 to describe the economic and political ascendance of emerging powers such as Brazil, China, and India.
Now, in a fully revised and completely updated edition, The Post-American World (Release 2.0) Zakaria reviews the shifts of power he originally identified, marvels at how quickly they have occurred, and discusses the vast political and economic implications.
As he reminds us,
“In one month in 2008, India and Brazil were willing to frontally defy the United States at the Doha trade talks, Russia attacked and occupied parts of Georgia, and China hosted the most spectacular and expensive Olympic Games in history. Ten years ago, not one of the four would have been powerful or confident enough to act as it did.”
Furthermore, the financial crisis of 2008, instead of slowing or reversing this shift as one might expect, actually narrowed the gap between the West and the rest. While the United States and other wealthy economies have floundered through a prolonged period of slow growth, high unemployment, and crippling debt, the countries that constitute “the rest” have rebounded quickly.
India’s annual growth rate dropped to 5.7 percent in 2009, but jumped back up to 9.7 percent in 2010. China’s GDP growth has held steady at 9 percent or higher since the financial meltdown.
As a result, Zakaria points out, our world already appears post-American in many ways.
“The tallest building in the world is now in Dubai. The world’s richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese. The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is in India, and its largest factories are all in China….The biggest movie industry, in terms of both movies made and tickets sold, is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Even shopping, America’s greatest sporting activity, has gone global. Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States; the world’s biggest is in Dongguan, China.”
Coupled with such rapid economic growth is a surging sense of nationalism from emerging powers, along with a determination to shape their own future. The revolutions and protests sweeping through Iran, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East, taking place without overt American intervention, are only the most recent examples of this phenomenon.
This presents America with a unique challenge. While we still live, militarily speaking, in a single superpower world, the distribution of power in other spheres – cultural, industrial, educational and financial – has already begun to shift.
As other countries grow in importance, the central role of the United States shrinks. No longer can America play the traditional part of dominating hegemony; it must become a more pragmatic, honest broker, sharing power as it attempts to build coalitions, reclaim its lost legitimacy, and continue to define the global agenda.
None of this will be easy for a country whose leaders have become accustomed to unquestioned dominance, and the obstacles facing the United States have only grown taller since the original publication of the book.
But the rise of the rest is the great story of our time, one that will shape the future of global power, and it has arrived earlier than anyone expected. Can America adapt to this new era, or will it become the only country that, in a globalized world of its own making, forgot to globalize itself?