Likewise, we tend to forget, especially in Europe, that Western countries retain considerable advantages. Not only do they dominate the word's international institutions, but Western countries still enjoy colossal wealth and economic power. The West comprises 58 percent of global GDP and 40 percent of international trade when you include Japan. Moreover, the American capacity for invention and creation remains unrivaled, and its soft power unequaled. The United States has won 39 percent of Nobel Prizes ever awarded and 48 percent of prizes in the sciences, medicine, and technology. What's more, the West boasts almost all the top global universities, and its education levels are still higher than in other parts of the world.
Finally, Western countries retain a military advantage that they are unlikely to relinquish anytime soon. U.S. defense spending continues to represent close to half of global military spending, and France and Britain have maintained their military capabilities. Moreover, the prospect of American disengagement is deeply worrying to neighbors of the largest emerging powers, strengthening the United States' position worldwide and making possible proposals like President Barack Obama's plan to establish a trans-Pacific free trade zone that would exclude China. Lastly, American cultural supremacy is beyond question and to that we can add the vitality of Francophonie (even if the French elite is losing interest in it) and Hispanidad. In short, the West is in no danger of being eclipsed by the rest.
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So what will the future hold? It seems clear that the West will never recover the unique position it held from the 16th through the 20th centuries, nor will the United States regain the kind of unchallenged power it enjoyed in 1945 or during the hyperpower decade of the 1990s. It will no longer be the only force shaping the world. At the same time, however, it is highly unlikely that China -- assuming that it even wants to -- will dominate the world as America has done, for the last century, with its hard power and soft power. Nor will Asia as a whole, much less the many emerging powers, whose interests are far too diverse to form a permanent bloc. We will not be entering a "post-American world" anytime soon. The United States will almost certainly retain its position of leadership -- albeit a leadership that is relative, contested, and challenged -- even after the overall size of China's economy has surpassed it around 2020.
It is likely, however, that China will try to tighten its grip on its neighbors and extend its influence over countries whose economies depend heavily on Chinese imports or investment, particularly those in Africa and Latin America. The balance of power among the world's major powers will thus continue to oscillate, following French analyst Pierre Hassner's prediction of a long chaos, or at the very least strategic disorder. Competition will be the defining feature of world politics.
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Faced with these challenges, how should Western countries proceed? Formulating -- and sticking to -- a coherent strategy will be paramount if the West is to maximize its interests, even as the balance of power shifts in favor of emerging countries. Inevitably, this will mean accepting the necessary adjustments to international institutions and reaching agreements with new powers on rules and norms, as well as on reasonable timetables for any changes agreed upon. All this will require Europeans to re-embrace strategic and historical thought, start thinking of Europe as a power, focus on broader projects, end institutional bickering, and coordinate with each other (at least the largest countries) in order to make Europe a leader in the re-regulation of globalization run amok.
As often as possible, Europe should coordinate policies and strategies with the United States. Together, they should forge alliances, issue by issue, with one or more emerging powers. The West must also restimulate economic growth -- not just any kind of growth, but sustainable growth that will drive a "greening" process guided by new economic indicators that are more relevant than stale, simplistic measures like GDP. This growth must be based on market economies re-regulated by sensible rules and safeguards, in which the financial sector is scaled back to reasonable proportions and discouraged from seeking artificial financial gains and engaging in unlimited speculation that is largely unconnected to the real economy. The reordering of the economic sphere, in turn, will depend on our ability to re-legitimize our democratic systems and make them effective once again, perhaps by redirecting some of the energy produced by protest movements or "direct" democracy and better protecting our political systems from the tyranny of focus groups and incessant polling.