First big global challenges for Obama

While Ahmadinejad and Hamas are making nicey-nice in their first overtures to President-elect Barack Obama, leaders in Russia and China have sent their first rhetorical “shots” across his bows.
The “shot” (challenge) from Moscow came in the fairly familiar language of military threats and escalation: Yesterday President Dmitry Medvedev said he would station surface-to-surface missiles next to Poland if the US stationed an anti-missile system inside Poland.
(Today, there have apparently been moves by both Medvedev and the Bush administration to tamp down tensions over the issue. This is not surprising. Despite the rhetoric and the needs both leaderships have to play to their domestic constituencies, I still think that neither Medvedev nor the Bushites want any very serious tensions in their relations.)
The challenge from China, however, came in a very different form of language: the language of expressing a tough negotiating position, on the issue of climate change.
I have been arguing for some time that climate change is set to become an increasingly big issue in international politics, and this seems now to be happening. Today in Beijing, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told the UN’s chief climate change official, Yvo de Boer, that,

    rich nations [should] transfer greenhouse gas emissions-curbing technology to China and other developing countries, and address climate change responsibly by changing their unsustainable lifestyles.

The position spelled out by Wen has the twin advantages of (a) having a lot of moral validity, and (b) being very popular among the 88% of the world’s population that does not belong to the “rich” western bloc.
On moral validity, we need remember only two important points: (1) Though China’s total annual CO2 emissions are now roughly the same as those of the United, its population is four times greater; therefore the per-capita emissions rate is only one-fourth that of the US; and (2) Historically, the US and the other long-rich countries have contributed considerably more to the “fund” of toxic greenhouses gases that has been accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere over the past 150 years than have China and other long-poor countries.
China’s Communist Party leadership made some extremely wise judgments over 30 years ago, and they seem to have stuck to them ever since. They have maintained a steadfast policy of seeking ever fuller integration into the world’s numerous economic and political networks, and of sticking as much as possible by the rules of these networks to enhance their effectiveness within them. And they apparently also made a strategic judgment a long time ago that seeking to “compete” on the global stage against the US (or anyone else) in terms of externally directed military power projection capabilities was not a fruitful way to proceed. Hence, China has not engaged in nuclear or non-nuclear arms-racing with the US. It maintains only a “minimum deterrent” nuclear arsenal. And it has won positions of real political influence with all the countries around its periphery– and in some areas considerably further afield– not through military domination but through extensive economic and diplomatic/political cooperation.
These judgments and policies have proved to be well chosen. After all, during the past 30 years, the actual utility of military power in international relations has been declining rapidly– a decline that has been in almost direct proportion to the explosion in the efficiency and reach of global communications.
But I, for one, am not surprised that, when China seeks to send a “hey, don’t stomp on me” message to President-elect Obama, it does so in a way that is (a) quite discreet, and (b) absolutely unrelated to the military realm.
It’s an interesting world we live in…

4 thoughts on “First big global challenges for Obama

  1. sergi

    First big global challenges for Obama
    It’s an interesting world we live in…
    and Intelligent,smart world where politeness and dialogue should prevail…….

  2. Dick Fitzgerald

    Excuse me, but how is
    Russia “escalating” the situation when the US put these missiles right on Russia’s border in the first place? How would the US like it if Russia militarized our borders with Canada & Mexico?

  3. menno hert

    Some predictions (for what it’s worth):
    1. Global Warming is worse than people realize: the oceans are dying, the glaciers are melting and the rain forests are disappearing in a much faster pace than even the greatest pessimists feared. Global Warming is now irreversible, though we might still try to prevent the worst consequences of it (though even then no success is guaranteed).
    2. Business elites are running this world, and their duty is to make money for their investors (and for themselves). Therefore, no substantial action shall be taken to fight Global Warming. Measures will be taken, but much too little, and much too late. The real sacrifices that should be made will not be made.
    3. Barack Obama will not be the Messiah he is believed to be by the jubilant masses of the world. He will turn out to be the man he actually promised to be: someone who’s going to expand the US army, and intends to use that army in wars, like the war in Afghanistan.
    He is the candidate of business interests, interests that donated huge sums to his campaign. He surrounds himself with business people and business consultants like John Podesta (whose lobbying firm, “The Podesta Group”, has among its clients such firms as BP, Wal Mart, Boeing and Lockheed Martin), and Spinmeisters like David Axelrod (who is known in the PR business as an expert in “Astroturfing”, a PR technique to manufacture grassroots support. One of Axelrod’s firms is the PR firm ASK, where he uses Astroturf techniques for clients like AT&T and ComEd).
    4. Obama’s Israel policy will be what he prosimed it to be, for instance in his AIPAC speech some months ago.

  4. menno hert

    correction:
    I wrote: John Podesta (whose lobbying firm, “The Podesta Group”, has among its clients such firms as BP, Wal Mart, Boeing and Lockheed Martin)..
    This is not correct; the firm was founded in 1988 by John Podesta and his brother Tony, but it’s Tony who is leading the firm, not John.
    Still, in an article published on september 5, 2000, when John Podesta was Clinton’s Chief of Staff, The New York Times wrote this about the relation between the two brothers:
    “Tony Podesta insists he never calls his brother or Steve Ricchetti to obtain favors for clients, which include biotechnology companies and drug companies like Eli Lilly and Novartis, as well as Dow Chemical, Viacom, CBS, General Electric, Time Warner and the Motion Picture Association of America.
    But Mr. Podesta’s clients say he has opened doors for them elsewhere in the Clinton administration.
    Tony Podesta is a facilitator, a broker, a translator, who helps businesses understand the ways of Washington. As a liberal Democrat, he intuitively understands how Clinton administration officials are thinking. Clients say they value his insights and use him to send messages to the White House and Democrats in Congress. Mr. Podesta said his company had billings of $8.5 million last year.
    Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties group, said: ”Tony is a political operator, a political networker, with tremendous reach. There are many connections between the White House and his firm, that’s clear. They know how to keep those lines separated, but it’s a high-wire act.”

    source: the New York Times
    It won’t be different this time, I guess.

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