A political solution here being synonymous with a military one?
Well, I could imagine a political solution involving things that Iran may want in terms of security guarantees. That is a feasible outcome.
What would be the consequences of military action? A tremendous international crisis that the world would have to face.
Much worse than Iraq?
Well I think to the extent that Iran is a better functioning state with more resources, definitely.
As someone who has worked on China for several decades, how would you characterize the present state and future trajectory of U.S.-China relations?
Well, we are both at the beginning of a transformation of our international positions. The United States is uniquely powerful but not in a position it can maintain indefinitely in the military field as a unique power. China is in the process, or almost at the end of a process, of transforming itself from an ideological state into a modern, technocratic state. But it is only at the beginning of a process of the meaning of a technocratic state for the international environment and for its own control of its population. So it is in the interest of both our countries to have an extended period of peace where we could come to grips with our own problems. It is also important that the generations that are growing up in both countries, that are internet-oriented and are going to be different types of people than the previous generations, not concentrate on nationalism as a means of achieving unity. And therefore China-American relations are crucially important to the peace of the world.
You have suggested in several articles that the center of gravity is moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific. What do you think the implications of this are for America retaining its status as the sole global superpower?
I am not so interested in America maintaining its status as the sole global superpower. I don't think it is good for us to be the only, sole global superpower. It misleads us into believing that we have greater ranges of options than we really have. I think, independent of Asia, it is absolutely inevitable that a country of 300 million will not be able to be the sole superpower, especially since it has been proved that the technology is fairly easily transferable and that the American edge consists of the ability to put it together, which cannot last indefinitely.
So I think there are two separate problems. One is whether America's role as a sole superpower will decline. I would say inevitably. America, for the foreseeable future, will be the strongest country but not the sole country. Secondly whether this occurs as a result of the rise of Asia or as a result of other reasons, that we can leave open. But when you look realistically at the world I can see China, Japan, India, and maybe Indonesia, rising as significant powers. I think Europe will be lucky if it can maintain its present position and even that would require a tremendous effort. In Latin America, only Brazil looks as if it even has the potential to enter that sort of international system. So for all of these reasons I think it is Asia that will show the greatest dynamism and the greatest progress -- if that is progress.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of Asia Society