The discussion, held at the First Parish Church, featured questions by history professor Niall C. Ferguson and focused on what Zakaria described as the “rise of the rest,” particularly China and India.
Zakaria—whose new book “The Post-American World” was released this month—said that the modernization of developing countries could actually benefit the U.S.
Zakaria, who was born in Bombay and educated at Yale and Harvard, said that since these nations have so far avoided the “bellicose” confrontations that often accompany rapid growth, peaceful relations between these countries and the West would likely persist.
In addition, Zakaria said that it is unlikely that cultural differences will lead to future conflict.
“There is much more Westernization than people want to admit,” Zakaria said of the developing world. “The only way to be modern is to be Western. The West invented modernity.”
Zakaria—one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals—said that since America no longer has the option it had in the early 20th century of waiting for threats to develop and then responding, a better foreign policy strategy today would be to act as an “honest broker” and “try to have better relations with every country than they have with themselves.”
He cited China, Japan, and India as examples of countries that have poor mutual relations but good relations with the U.S.
“As some of these powers rise as regional powers, our role becomes more important,” he said.
According to Zakaria, growing non-Western countries have had a positive impact on the global economy.
“The rise of the rest has actually provided a greater degree of systemic stability to the world,” he said.
“The rise of the rest,” Zakaria added, is also inextricably tied to U.S. environmental policies.
He cited America’s rejection to sign the Kyoto Protocol as an instance in which “sometimes even George Bush is right.”
“If you don’t include India and China, the treaty is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” Zakaria said.
To solve the problem of global warming, he added, “it will take Western subsidies for clean coal...the Indians and the Chinese are not going to voluntarily buy the most expensive coal in the world.”
Audience members said they enjoyed the speech by Zakaria, a wunderkind who edited Foreign Affairs while still in his twenties.
“He’s definitely one of the thinkers of the modern era,” said Sayed Naveed, who added that he appreciated the fact that an immigrant like Zakaria was able to become “one of the foremost thinkers in American foreign policy.”
—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.