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Status Seekers:
Chinese and Russian Responses to U.S. Primacy

Original Article By: Deborah Welch Larson and Alexei Shevchenko
International Security Spring 2010 vol 34 no 4
Major Topic: Politics
Minor Topic: Sociology


         The question that concerns the authors is: how to convince other major powers to participate with America in global governance. China and Russia are the two main nations the US needs to deal with in world affairs. Cooperation from these two is a little more difficult because neither one is considered or considers itself to be a western liberal state.

         To win Russia's and China's cooperation and/or support requires an acute understanding of each country's grand strategy. The authors' thesis is: “...Chinese and Russian foreign policies since the end of the Cold War have been motivated by a consistent objective – to restore both countries' great power status....China and Russia will be more likely to participate in global governance if the United States can find ways to recognize their distinctive status and identities.” (page 66)

         The contending schools of thought, neorealism and liberalism, do not give complete nor satisfying policy suggestions because neither country needs security from the west (neorealism) nor do they have similar liberal values in common with the west.

         Status is the key to a better understanding. The authors analyze Chinese and Russian history since the end of the Cold War in terms of social identity theory.

         Social identity theory studies the broad strategy that groups use to create a positive group identity in their members and in non-members. When a group senses a diminished self identity relative to another group, the lower self-image group will engage in one of three possible strategies: social mobility – attempting to copy and/or join the higher image group; social competition – attempting to compete and beat the higher image group in the characteristics deemed important; or social creativity – attempting to secure or change the metric of judging success and or superiority into a new quality.

         Some of the assumptions of social identity theory are: 1) groups seek a positive uniqueness; 2) everyone makes comparisons to the higher status in-group; 3) status is based on some quality judged as positive by the larger community; 4) status in each particular quality is a zero-sum entity – but not so across qualities.

         The strategy of social mobility depends on the perceived potentially for upward mobility. If the lower status group believe that it can join and be accepted by the higher status group (or groups), it my copy and/or follow. Many countries have used this strategy most notably Japan and Germany after the second world war as indicated by the fact that both have adopted and kept many of America's values, institutions and ideologies.

         The strategy of social competition depends on either the perceived lack of potential for upward mobility or the perceived illegitimacy and/or weakness of the dominant group. This strategy's goal is to equal and then pass the in-group in the characteristic in which it prides itself. Indications of the use of this strategy are: arms races, one-upmanship, brinksmanship, spoiler behavior: anything used for the sake of perception rather than security.

         The strategy of social creativity is often used after the other two have failed to increase the status of the group in question. Social creativity can take one of two sub-forms: 1) the revaluation of a previously perceived negative virture into a positive and 2) finding a new measure in which the out-group is superior or can more easily become superior. The historically most common indicator of this strategy has been the development of new norms. For example India's championing during the Cold War of the Nonaligned Movement, disarmament and anti-colonialism. When ever a new ranking system is proposed we have an example of the social creativity strategy in action. For this strategy to succeed the new standard must be accepted by the in-group other wise no status gain is bestowed.

         At the end of the Cold War both Russia and China made moves to join the western liberal capitalist world but they were not allowed into most of the west's international organizations. Both countries reacted by turning to more competitive grand strategies but were unsuccessful in heightening their international status (and in a few cases actually diminished their status). China has since made much greater creative efforts at developing an alternative international self-identity that raises its status in the world but without a direct challenge to US military and financial hegemony. Russia has been less successful up until recently but is showing more promise going forward.

         A rising state's ambition for more status may drive it to assume greater responsibility for maintaining peace and security in the world. However, the US must facilitate this need by acknowledging the new identity.


Added on: 2010-06-15 21:23:35
Précis by: James Jeff McLaren
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