The Emerging Overbalance of Power

When good guys have preponderant power, things tend to be all right—even with a Chinese accent.

Appeared in: Volume 10, Number 1 | Published on: August 22, 2014
Richard Rosecrance is adjunct professor and director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on U.S.-China Relations.
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  • Anthony

    This is a most Insightful, informative, and historically expansive essay in light of power balances. Definitely in line with TAI quality standard.

  • Lazarus

    Thee points: First, this essay seems to disregard the important role of the British Empire as the principal “balancing power” of the 19th century. The world moved on British-controlled maritime trade routes, governed by British Admiralty courts, and English as the “lingua franca” of economic power. The U.S. occupies a very similar role today. Most international traders want to learn Mandarin Chinese, but it remains doubtful that it will replace English as the language of trade and Finance. Second, China is a fragile economic power. If Vietnam or Mongolia could make all the material sold in Walmart, that company and every other would change locations in a heartbeat leaving China weakened economically and sitting on a growing volume of pollution/waste from years of environmental neglect. Finally, China is essentially prohibited from fully “joining” the west due to its oppressive mercantilistic Communist government. SInce WW2, real, full membership in the “western” community has been limited to those nations who get in line with the same representative govt, free market trade, and human rights ideals. China remains far distant from the west in those categories and will not likely join soon.

  • valwayne

    A fascinating article, but the U.S. is stuck with the worst, weakest, most inept, INCOMPETENT, useless, worthless President in all of history. Obama is systematically weakening our economy, our military, and our standing in the world. Nobody trust the U.S. most especially our allies and friends, and they are right not to trust anything Obama says or does, especially Israel the focus of Obama’s open hostility as he openly favors the terrorists of Hamas. I wish that Professor Rosecrance were advising our NO STRATEGY President, but alas. You have to be an incompetent, dishonest, Marxist to get into that group.

  • Mr. Hack

    Much of what is expressed in this article pertains to Russia as well. China should closely monitor Russia’s progress while it isolates itself from its Western neighbors. It’s plain for all to see, that in another year or two, if Russia persists in its antiquaited foreign policy missteps, its reserved spot will remain in an economic cesspool.

  • Brett Champion

    Under these circumstances, China doesn’t need to join the West to prosper; it just needs to keep from being ostracized by it.

  • ltlee1

    Overbalance is really not any kind of balance. Just look at the US, the Republican party and the Democratic Party together have formed an overbalance against any potential independent third party. Is such over balance of power a good thing for the US?

    • kctaz

      That is a good question, but whenever I think that a third party would be a good idea, I am forced to remember that that is how Hitler came to power with only 32% of the vote and that was the last free election Germany had until after 1945.

      We labor under the delusion that a third party would be perfect, right all wrongs, not have venal politicians and be all that we imagine it to be neglecting that we all imagine different things and that it would be the first time in human history that such a party existed.

      Almost always, a third party is composed of a radical minority not representative of the whole in any way who, by virtue of their ability to influence legislation with a tiny number of members, leave nations much weaker and more divided and more incapable of addressing problems, not less.

      All we really need, as our Founder’s told us, is an educated and informed electorate who will not tolerate dishonest, power-mad politicians.

      “Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people. When the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers press upon them so fast, that there is no resisting afterwards. The nature of the encroachment upon the American constitution is such, as to grow every day more and more encroaching. Like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour. The revenue creates pensioners, and the pensioners urge for more revenue. The people grow less steady, spirited, and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependents and expectants, until virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, and frugality, become the objects of ridicule and scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality swallow up the whole society. ”

      — John Adams, Novanglus Letters, 1774

  • This is the most wishful thinking article that I have ever read. For it assumes that the Chinese economy can’t innovate, or that China is a fragile state. This is one of those feel good articles that make others in the US, feel as if they have the destiny of China in their sight. Hence, I hate to break to you, but the western’s governed world order is over bar the shout of the fat lady.

    Also, ask any state in the pacific (apart from Japan, and Philippines) whether they wish to join any coalition-of-the-willing against China at the behest of the US, and the answer is most definitely no, even, the Vietnamese who have their own local difficulties with China at the present time, would never agree to join on US side against China, since, their economic life-line depends decisively on China much more than any western’s nation or even with America.

    Secondly, China is not Russia, where few sanctions can hurt her economy. And in fact it’s the largest trading nation in the world (in bilateral volume) bar none. So, the idea that so many non-western countries will line up to slit their economic throat just because the West wants to contained China, is singularly wishful thinking that one couldn’t imagine a learned person (like the author of this piece) could have thought it’s possible in the first place.

    Moreover, the issue of the IMF and the World Bank as well as the world reliance of the US dollar is what keeping the western liberal hegemony of the present time. And, in here, in case it hasn’t occurred to you, the Chinese are building (with their friends) multilateral institutions along the lines of the BRICS and various other financial institutions, that will start on a bilateral basis, but will in due course expand into the whole gamut of economic and financial superstructure,
    which in turn, will allow the Chinese state (and those countries like Russia) to step out of the western hegemony, so that finally they can have a multilateral institutions of their own that doesn’t run on the dictates of Washington.

    Hence, to assume others are “prisoners” of your agenda, and without even paying attention as to how others are doing their level best to end once and for all the western’s hegemony, is so short sighted, and indeed it forces one to wonder as to why a premier paper like this has ever bothered to give space to this sort of tendentious drivel.

    But, then, again, it’s one those irony, in which a more of it one sees it nowadays, particularly the blind assertions, the hubristic argument, which, in totality suggest that others are condemned to dance to western lame tune, even, if the fact is, that others are busily building their own hand-made tune-turner, in which, say, 20 years from now on, they will dance, heartily, their national jig with it.

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