For an altogether different, but not necessarily inconsistent, take on the post-unipolar moment than Richard Haass’ nonpolarity, Robert Kagan offers The End of the End of History. And if you can get past the first few paragraphs (ie. characterizing Russia and China as “the forces of autocracy”), he raises some very compelling points that are worth examining whether or not, as he argues, the leaders of Russia and China really do have a fundamental attachment to autocracy, and a hostility towards liberal democracy as an ideology.
The usefulness of Kagan’s analysis, I think, lies less in the natural hostility he identifies between autocracy and democracy in a philosphical vacuum, so much as the emerging tensions between market democracies and market autocracies in the geopolitical arena. Regardless of whether values determine interests, the latter are increasingly being piggybacked upon the former:
. . .For three centuries, international law, with its strictures against interference in the internal affairs of nations, has tended to protect autocracies. Now the democratic world is in the process of removing that protection, while the autocrats rush to defend the principle of sovereign inviolability. . .
. . .Rather than accepting the new principles of diminished sovereignty and weakened international protection for autocrats, Russia and China are promoting an international order that places a high value on national sovereignty and can protect autocratic governments from foreign interference. . .
Kagan spins the argument as an autocratic reaction, but it’s obvious how the perception is reversed when seen from Moscow and Pekin. Be that as it may, this is an astute observation:
China and Russia may no longer actively export an ideology, but they do offer autocrats somewhere to run when the democracies turn hostile. . .
Kagan’s vision overlaps with Haass’ in that the world it describes is inherently unpredictable. But unlike Haass, the exceptions (where interests cut across ideological boundaries) prove the rule of a world divided on ideological lines:
. . . As in the Cold War, strategic and economic considerations, as well as cultural affinities, may often cut against ideology.
But in today’s world, a nation’s form of government, not its “civilization” or its geographical location, may be the best predictor of its geopolitical alignment. . .
For proof, he points to the U.N. Security Council, which:
. . .on most major issues. . .has been sharply divided between the autocracies and the democracies, with the latter systematically pressing for sanctions and other punitive actions against autocracies in Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Burma, and the former just as systematically resisting and attempting to weaken the effect of such actions. . .
Again, the power of Kagan’s analysis seems to be its practical, descriptive application rather than its theoretical, predictive one. You do not need to posit a historical/ideological attachment to strong, centralized autocratic rule to explain why strong, centralized autocratic rulers would feel threatened by an international order based on democracy-promoting interventionism. Moreover, Kagan recognizes the many instances where Western liberal democracies have placed and continue to place their interests ahead of their values (most notably by propping up Middle Eastern repressive regimes).
More than anything, this essay in combination with Haass’ provides a sort of bookend to the major tensions that must be reconciled in order to formulate a coherent foreign policy in an inhernetly volatile and unpredictable historical moment: stability vs. democracy, interests vs. values, interventionism vs. sovereignty. Oddly enough, the age might shape up to be nonpolar, but the choices it presents remain distinctly bipolar.