November 16, 2009

This Weekend’s News: The Changing World

Last Friday afternoon, Sharon and I were walking back to the CNAS offices after a meeting and chatting about the indicators we see in our natural security research about the ways in which the world is so rapidly changing, and all the unknowns that might – if we could only put our finger on them – give us a clearer idea of what the future world will look like for those charged with securing the nation. Much to my surprise, I awoke Saturday morning (and again Sunday morning), grabbed the newspapers, and found that a handful of reporters were perhaps thinking similar thoughts in formulating stories to shape the narrative around the president’s Asia trip.

One Saturday Washington Post story centered on ginseng farmers in Wisconsin, making the point that China’s import tastes (and what qualities and prices they demand for those imports) are a major force in shaping the global economy. It also provided examples of Chinese investment in U.S. real estate and businesses, and mentions the growing ranks of Chinese students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher learning. The author indicates that residents of Wisconsin are themselves wrestling with what this trend means for their state, with money coming in seeming to be the deciding factor in that judgment. Even without a thorough read, the headline says it all: “The Chinese are 'changing us': Rising global power is reshaping the way Americans do business and live their lives.”

Additional stories in both the Post and The New York Times on Sunday explored how the increasing economic importance of the Asia-Pacific region is reshaping U.S. foreign policy and global security. Perhaps most important in the near term, the United States is finding itself in the hot seat that China and others used to occupy of being lectured by other world leaders on maintaining free trade and needing to guarantee the efficacy of current and proposed policies. As the page A1 Times article described: “unlike his immediate predecessors, who publicly pushed and prodded China to follow the Western model and become more open politically and economically, Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” While this weekend’s news focused much attention on China, given the president’s visit this week, these trends that will reshape the global security environment stem from and extend far beyond one country.

Speaking of a changing world, big news dropped yesterday that world leaders agreed during the APEC summit that next month’s Copenhagen negotiations will not result in a binding climate change treaty on emissions reductions. The goal now is to make Copenhagen a serious first step – still with agreed-upon objectives of some sort – toward an eventual binding treaty. (Andrew Revkin provides a good summary on Dot Earth that he’s updated several times as the news developed.) Many of the private business and military decision makers we’ve spoken to since the last election have indicated that in some cases they feel the need to remain in a holding pattern on making investments until they know the exact nature of federal energy and environmental regulations and mandates. But I think this shift to laying the groundwork at Copenhagen and following it with a binding treaty down the line is a positive development, and I can’t wait to start hearing from folks around town (and you readers, if you care to share your thoughts) about their reactions.

What to Watch This Week
We will be keeping you up to date on news from President Obama’s trip to China through the week. Here in Washington, CNA’s Energy Conversation is hosting a chat tonight on algal energy, including reps from the Navy and Air Force, that is sure to be interesting (Mike will provide a recap here tomorrow); and on the Hill, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is holding a hearing on “the international aspects of global climate change” that should be worth checking out.

Note to Readers: Today marks a small change we’re making to the Natural Security blog: instead of doing a weekly wrap-up on Fridays, we will provide a similar overview on Mondays (like the one posted today) as well as a heads up of things to watch for through the week. On Fridays we will post daily news items just like we do during the weekdays, and flag any notable trends in brief.  There are several reasons for this, but, most important, we’ve been finding that the weekend news typically gives us more food for thought than the weekday news, and it often requires a bit deeper explanation as to how it fits in with our ongoing research or thinking. Thus the weekend news is a better source for this kind of analysis. We think this will be more useful for ourselves and for you, our dear readers. As always, we welcome suggestions or feedback! We hope you enjoy this minor change to the blog.