A bold and thought-provoking look at the future of U.S.-China relations, and how their coming power struggle will reshape the competitive playing field for nations around the world
The Cold War seemingly ended in a decisive victory for the West. But now, Noah Feldman argues, we are entering an era of renewed global struggle: the era of Cool War. Just as the Cold War matched the planet’s reigning superpowers in a contest for geopolitical supremacy, so this new age will pit the United States against a rising China in a contest for dominance, alliances, and resources. Already visible in Asia, the conflict will extend to the Middle East (U.S.-backed Israel versus Chinese-backed Iran), Africa, and beyond.
Yet this Cool War differs fundamentally from the zero-sum showdowns of the past: The world’s major power and its leading challenger are economically interdependent to an unprecedented degree. Exports to the U.S. account for nearly a quarter of Chinese trade, while the Chinese government holds 8 percent of America’s outstanding debt. This positive-sum interdependence has profound implications for nations, corporations, and international institutions. It makes what looked to be a classic contest between two great powers into something much more complex, contradictory, and badly in need of the shrewd and carefully reasoned analysis that Feldman provides.
To understand the looming competition with China, we must understand the incentives that drive Chinese policy. Feldman offers an arresting take on that country’s secretive hierarchy, proposing that the hereditary “princelings” who reap the benefits of the complicated Chinese political system are actually in partnership with the meritocrats who keep the system full of fresh talent and the reformers who are trying to root out corruption and foster government accountability. He provides a clear-eyed analysis of the years ahead, showing how China’s rise presents opportunities as well as risks. Robust competition could make the U.S. leaner, smarter, and more pragmatic, and could drive China to greater respect for human rights. Alternatively, disputes over trade, territory, or human rights could jeopardize the global economic equilibrium—or provoke a catastrophic “hot war” that neither country wants.
The U.S. and China may be divided by political culture and belief, but they are also bound together by mutual self-interest. Cool War makes the case for competitive cooperation as the only way forward that can preserve the peace and make winners out of both sides.
Praise for Cool War
“A timely book . . . sharp, logical and cool.”—The Economist
“Noah Feldman’s dissection of the United States–China relationship is smart, balanced, and wise.”—Robert D. Kaplan, New York Times bestselling author of The Revenge of Geography
“Compelling . . . Feldman’s book carries enough insight to warrant serious attention from anyone interested in what may well be the defining relationship in global affairs for decades to come.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A worthwhile and intriguing read.”—The Washington Post
“Masterfully elucidates China’s non-democratic/non-communist new form of government.”—Publishers Weekly
Feldman, Harvard professor and a New York Magazine "Most Beautiful Braniac", explains our world's shift from Cold War to "cool war" through the interplay of the US, the current world superpower, and China, the potential soon-to-be world superpower. Unlike the Cold War, where east and west remained isolated, China and the US literally cannot afford to live without each other: simplistically, China gets our debt and we get their trade; less simplistically, countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Iran, and Syria become pawns as the dominant powers negotiate their differences in conflicting ideologies and competitive economies. Russia's collapse is perhaps the greatest inspiration for China's more controlled embrace of global trade and individual freedoms, and Feldman masterfully elucidates China's non-democratic/non-communist new form of government, providing a lens through which he critiques America's own political shortcomings. Moreover, the World Trade Organization has replaced the UN as superpower referee in a context where companies like Apple and Google have much more at stake than the military posturing of aircraft carriers and hawkish politicians. In the end, China maintains that an individual's rights to food and shelter outweigh the importance of the right to vote and free speech, which raises the question: Is democracy enough if burdened by extreme poverty?