The following is a first draft except from a book on politics in developing countries currently being written:
The economic and strategic rise of China can be argued to be a relatively normal phenomenon, making up for a long decline in what, historically, has been a major world power. Similarly, the relative decline of the US in economic and strategic terms, if still at the time of writing the most powerful state, reflect what might be referred to as the faster turnover of ‘empires’. This may, in one sense, reflect not just ‘taking turns’ but the changing characteristics of global economics which, in the two decades since the mid-1990s, has also been accompanied by and then surpassed by technological change. It may be that some states were better positioned in terms of the relationship between their economic structuring and political culture to take advantage of these two sets of changes, while others were less adaptable.
Adapting Pena’s analysis of the distinctions between Brazil and Argentina, the distinction between China and the US may devolve to the extent to which transnational norm diffusion and governance has been ‘adequately designed and promoted by influential and legitimate actors but … also has to ‘resonate’ culturally with potential users and prospective supporters’ (Pena 2016:9, 40-46, see also Benford and Snow 2000, Snow and Benford 1992). In this sense, Pena uses the term ‘cultural’ to refer to internalised political norms and behaviors based on past experience. This more ‘active’ resonance is in contrast to a more passive ‘active North- ‘passive’ South model which implies the nature of norm diffusion as universal but the extent varied by local capacity.
Pena argues that if ‘resonance conditions are positive (i.e. alignment between semantic/institutional dimensions in the incoming frame and the receiving conditions) it can be assumed that this will have an amplifying effect over the brokerage abilities of and influence of certain types of players’ (Pena 2016:46). This might apply to China’s successful adaptation to changing global market conditions, initiated in the 1980s but which developed quickly from the mid1990s. By contrast, low resonance ‘implies limited compatibility between global norms’ and local political culture and hence reduced capacity to adapt to the ‘incoming frame’. This might in turn be seen to apply more to the US, in which the global norms, or manifest economic and strategic reality has not been matched by the US’ capacity to adequately adapt given its normative reference points that were dominant approximately between 1976 and 2000 but which began to fragment around the time of the end of the Cold War.
The world went, from around 1990, from being bi-polar in terms of superpower rivalry to uni-polar but, by around 2010, increasingly moving towards being multi-polar. As this was being written, in 2017-18, a number of medium global actors, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea, were exercising relatively high and somewhat disproportionate levels of regional influence. The economic growth but, more importantly, strategic reassertion of Russia, the economic rise of India and Brazil, the internal turmoil but economic strength of the EU and the effective superpower status of China, the ‘frames’ of understanding both economic and strategic realignments have fundamentally shifted.
The US has therefore found itself addressing a vastly more complex global economic and strategic environment, and arguably one that does not ‘resonate’ with nor reflect the ‘brokerage abilities of and influence’ of its key political and economic actors. Indeed, not only has the US found itself somewhat at cross-purposes with and hence unable to understand and adapt to this changing environment, one could argue that the Western political party system and perhaps even the method of politics in the West, developed in response to a relatively stable capitalist industrial method of economic organization, is not well suited to adapting to these changes. That conventional Western political parties are increasingly in disfavor with their electorates, with the fragmentation and polarization of party politics, could be said to reflect this trend. The high point of this politico- economic model in global terms, identified by Fukuyama as ‘the End of History’ (1992), was what became known as ‘the Washington Consensus’.