For the moment at least, the debate over eurozone economic policy has been settled in favor of iron-fisted Merkelian rule. But the election of François Hollande in France has opened a crucial parallel debate about growth and the appropriate balance between efficiency and democracy in Europe. As a result, it is not impossible to imagine a compromise involving reforms that are not overly harsh or hasty and that are gradual enough to be socially and politically palatable.
It is on this kind of deal-making that the West's future will turn. Given the magnitude of the global shifts under way, the course charted by Western governments today will have a monumental impact on world politics tomorrow. The challenges facing the United States and Europe today are different but intertwined: Europeans must awaken from their strategic slumber; Americans must accept the new global realities and adapt their strategy accordingly.
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The emergence of certain countries, formerly referred to as "Third World" or by the well-intentioned euphemism "developing countries" (even when they were not), is now an undeniable fact. There is China with its more than 1.3 billion inhabitants and staggering economic growth, the whole of Asia, and the BRICS, minus Russia, which is more hovering than emerging. All told, some observers count as many as 100 emerging countries. This means that we now have the older developed countries of the G-7 and the OECD, the emerging or emerged countries (the most important of which are members of the G-20), and the pre-emerging countries from the so-called Global South, most of which are located in Africa. Indeed, half of the world's 20 fastest-growing economics are located in Africa.
A daily barrage of figures and statistics paints a picture of this brave new world. But with the exception of a handful of Western multinational corporations that have a short-term interest in recklessly transferring core or cutting-edge technology, the West remains stupefied by, if not oblivious to, the enormous adjustments that will be required in order to adapt. Already, the West has begun to lose its monopoly on industrial capacity, technical expertise, and even currency, now that China and Japan have begun trading in yuan and yen. Likewise, soft power is now part of the arsenal of a growing list of emerging countries. Even the balance of military power -- as reflected in rising military budgets in China, India, and Brazil -- is shifting ever so slightly, as is the geopolitical clout that is the handmaiden of military might. Indeed, how else can one explain India's and Brazil's decision to ally themselves with Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council to block Western intervention in Syria?
There is no aspect of Western supremacy that emerging countries are not prepared to challenge -- now or in the future -- from the distribution of power within international institutions to the values that underwrite them. For the first time in history, as former U.S. national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft rightly pointed out in 2008, "all of humanity is politically active."
But if emerging powers have grown increasingly assertive on the world stage, they do not appear poised to supplant their more established counterparts -- at least not yet. The meteoric rise of such powers over the last decade has, to a certain extent, obscured the fact that all suffer from vulnerabilities. Political risks, such as the uncertain future of the Russian and Chinese regimes and a limited but growing opposition in many other countries, could eventually impede their development. Likewise, inequality has risen to explosive levels in many emerging countries, just as growth rates are tapering off and high inflation has necessitated "cooling" policies in places like Brazil. Environmental problems, pollution, overexploitation, and scarcity also loom on the horizon.
It is important to remember, moreover, that per capita income is still very low in most emerging countries and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And while demographics can be an asset, they can also be a liability: India is weighed down by overpopulation, China by its aging population, and Russia by depopulation. Russia may have oil and gas, but it is struggling to establish a modern economy. There is also a tendency to overestimate the unity and homogeneity of the emerging powers. They come together to criticize the West and stake claims, but are just as often divided by individual rivalries -- strategic competition between China and India, commercial competition between Brazil and Argentina, and competition between Nigeria and South Africa over leadership in Africa.