Continent of the Humanities

"India and China Will Catch Up with the United States."

Interview with Paul Kennedy

With his prognoses on international politics he has become one of the most influential authors in the United States. The British historian, Paul Kennedy, from Yale, is considered to have been one of the brains behind the Clinton era. Thoughts on India and China as future super powers, the likelihood of military conflicts, the poker-player Vladimir Putin and the unrecognised strengths of the Europeans.

Kosmos: Professor Kennedy, in your bestsellers "The Rise and Fall of The Great Powers" (1988) and "Preparing for the Twenty-First Century" (1993) you voiced concern about imperial overstretch of the United States as well as about global environmental issues. Given global warming, no one would argue with you about the latter. However, your forecast about America's dark future as a superpower has not come true. What makes you think that the current US government should still be concerned about its decline?
Kennedy: First of all, we are not talking about immediate collapse of the US but about a long-term process of relative decline. A great power needs a long time to decline. The Ottoman empire took 300 years. But there are signs.

Kosmos: What signs?
Kennedy: International opinion has swung against the US. The attractiveness of the US Dollar has gone. The competitiveness of certain key industries like automobiles has gone. Daimler selling off Chrysler is not just economic news, it's also symbolic. The US allowed a massive build-up of very large budget, borrowing and trade deficits leading to an increasing dependency upon Asian nations to bail America out each month through purchase of treasury bonds. It's hard to think that will go on forever. This means dependency, and that's the first sign of overstretch. If the two giant countries of China and India continue to grow at eight or ten percent a year for the next few decades, they will catch up with the United States which is growing at two or three percent. That will mean shift s in the power balance. India and China will be able to pay for greater influence in world affairs and also, crudely, in military establishments.

"Daimler selling off Chrysler is not just economic news, it's also symbolic."

Kosmos: Will industrial growth alone do the trick for China?
Kennedy: The fact that so many foreign businessmen and CEOs and heads of state feel that they have to go to Delhi or especially now to Beijing is only one indicator. Another indicator for Chinese awakening is its foreign policy. China discovers Africa. Just before last Christmas, the Chinese President Hu Jintao made three long visits to African states and signed trade agreements about oil and timber. Just before that, the Chinese government invited leaders of 43 African states to an African conference in Beijing while the US were too busy in Iraq to even notice what was happening.

Kosmos: What risks are there for India and China on their way up?
Kennedy: I am a bit sceptical of visitors to China and India who just visit Mumbai, Shanghai or Hong Kong and then say: Wow, that's the future! In India, in particular, the levels of rural poverty and the gap between rich and poor are widening. There is a rise of ethnic and religious intolerance and murders across India which have shot up in the past five years. And the Chinese government is clearly frightened about massive unemployment in the inner provinces and also very real environmental dangers. They have colossal domestic problems. It's not just inevitable that they grow at eight or ten percent every year and everybody gets richer. When gaps open up in society and internal tensions increase it's quite tempting for the leadership to divert attention to the foreign devils.

Kosmos: Could the fall of the old empire and the rise of new ones lead to military conflicts?
Kennedy: I am afraid that military conflicts are more likely than unlikely. The fi rst indicator is the pretty terrible relationship the USA has got itself into vis-à-vis the Muslim world, or at least the radical parts of the Muslim world, radical parts which not only want to hurt America and Europe but want, of course, to overthrow the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to attack Israel. Secondly, we have an increasing vulnerability of the West for energy supplies, now made worse by the increasing vulnerability of China and India for energy supplies, too. A struggle for energy is already beginning. It would be surprising if there were not actual physical conflicts over control of petroleum supplies. Thirdly, Europe seems to think that naval power is not important to national policy. Why is it that the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indian and even the South Korean naval budgets are going up and up? In Asia a naval race is going on. Under these circumstances, it is pretty hard to stop some clash at sea turning into deeper trouble.

Kosmos: What will be the role of Europe in this scenario? As a military power it is rather toothless.
Kennedy: Admittedly, Europe has no unified foreign policy and it has no unified defence forces. The best it can do are some Franco-German joint brigades or British-Netherlands naval operations. It doesn't have much influence on the military sphere. But in the economic sphere Europe has enormous influence. It negotiates through the World Trade Organisation as a single trading block. And Europe has increased its share in the field of soft power attractiveness. Th e Europeans do a lot more in terms of aid to Africa. And they are way ahead of the US in issues of global warming. Europe has terrific strengths.

Kosmos: But it has difficulties in playing them out. Recently we saw a Russian President who did not seem to be impressed by the Europeans at all. Is this a sign of new Russian strength?
Kennedy: For many years all that the Russian State could do was to reduce the army and the navy. You still see dozens of rusting old Soviet warships. With the rise of oil prices and with the advantage going to Mr. Putin's poker game, he is now saying that they will be putting additional money into modernising the Russian armed forces, including the rocket forces. It now looks as if Russia's strong foundation is the high price of natural gas and petroleum. If that was to come down, which is possibly unlikely, he'd be weakened. Whereas Europe has a variety of strengths - from high technology to cultural influence to strong trade balances. Russia has a single natural resource as its strength. It is also dependent upon energy even though it is an energy exporter. The future, therefore, hangs very much on the sustainability of stable government - not necessarily democratic liberal government - on the one hand and the continuation of the flow of additional moneys to the central treasury on the other - which has allowed Russia, for instance, to start modernising its railway system and its subways. You can do an awful lot when the price of oil has gone up two or three times.

Kosmos: As an historian, you tend to think rather long-term. However, would you dare to make a prognosis about the state of US foreign policy and its war against terror in four years time?
Kennedy: It would completely surprise me if in four years time there was still a US army troop of 165,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Public opinion is against it, the junior officers in the army are resigning as fast as they can and even George W. Bush's Republican buddies are trying to get out of it. And I think that the US could actually strengthen itself by getting out of Iraq. A critic of General de Gaulle said it would be dreadful for France to withdraw from Algeria. In fact, it freed de Gaulle to play a much more prominent role in the world and in Europe. Nixon was freed by getting out of Vietnam. He could do the diplomacy which divided China and Russia. The British were freed when they got out of India and Palestine. They could make much more of a commitment to NATO. Possibly the best argument to off er those who say we have to stay in, is that by staying in, you give advantages not just to the Iranians and the Muslim enemies; but you give Mr. Putin a big advantage and you give the Chinese government a big advantage. They want you to stay in Baghdad. And that's a strong argument to get out.

Kosmos: Your books and you yourself are said to have influenced the Clinton administration. How did this reputation as one of the important minds behind Clinton grow?
Kennedy: That is much exaggerated. I think it was one of my publishers who got it all pretty well wrong. I met Clinton in spring of 1988 when "The Rise and Fall of Th e Great Powers" was a very controversially discussed bestseller. I was asked to address the meeting of the Council of American State Governors which Clinton attended. At that time, he was the Governor of Arkansas. Sometime in the middle of that conference I was stopped by a lot of young and shiny American students. They were all on Clinton's staff and would later go with him in the Presidential campaign. They had copies of my book and said, "Oh, Mr. Clinton has told us all to read it and that it's terribly important, so can you sign it for us." From that incident, I think, grew a sort of legend that I was a kind of eminence grise for the Democrats. It might be good if you could cut that myth.

Interview: Georg Scholl


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Paul Kennedy Paul Kennedy

Professor Dr. Paul Kennedy teaches history at Yale University and is Director of International Security Studies there. He was one of the Humboldt Foundation's Theodor Heuss Research Fellows in Bonn and Hamburg at the beginning of the Seventies. In 2006, his most recent book, "The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations" was published.

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