Atlantic, £20, 288pp. £18 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Zero-Sum World, By Gideon Rachman

Who knows Britain who only Britain knows? The parochialism of our Westminster-Whitehall obsessions of our commentariat is a cause for despair. Justin Webb, the amiable BBC Today presenter, boasted at a charity lunch that he could not name the German foreign minister and dismissed the European Union as a lot of uninteresting people from Luxembourg. Webb has written a fine book on America, as has his fellow Today presenter, Jim Naughtie. But Europe? The world? Nein danke.

The best and the brightest in Whitehall are slowly coaching David Cameron into the realities of Europe and world power. His defence treaty with Sarkozy follows Tony Blair's reversal of British defence isolationism. It will be slow incremental progress but Europe, under Anglo-French leadership, is taking defence and foreign policy seriously.

So this is an important, timely book by one of Britain's best-placed observers of the shifting tectonic plates of the 21st century. It should be obligatory reading for all interested in what is happening beyond our shores. There are plenty of single-issue, or one-country campaigns that have experts. Gideon Rachman is one of the few writers prepared to attempt a synthesis and develop a narrative on the extraordinary acceleration of geopolitics in the past 30 years. He appears to have read every significant book (in English) and talked to key players as he patrolled the world as one of our most serious journalists on foreign affairs.

Like a Frenchman, he divides his history and argument into three. He describes the Age of Transformation, starting in 1978 with the rise to power of Deng in China and Thatcher in Britain – both free-market revolutionaries. This epoch ends in 1991 with Sovietism and Latin American military regimes dismantled, and the US resplendent as it unites the world to kick Saddam out of Kuwait.

Rachman ignores the social upheavals of the Polish, South African, Brazilian and South Korean working class, organised in democratic trade unions. They used classic mechanisms like general strikes, factory occupations, and alliances with progressive intellectuals to rid themselves of authoritarian political systems. As an Economist and FT writer, and a Thatcher generation child, he is not much interested in the needs of workers.

The Age of Optimism goes from 1991 to 2008: new technology; a new European Union, and the rise of an Asian middle class lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, appeared to prove that Davos-man now ruled the world. But, warns, Rachman, "there are many dangerous international... problems for which there are no market solutions." This insight takes us into today's Age of Anxiety, where politicians turn to old comfort-blankets like protectionism, nationalism and identity politics. Rachman notes a "new confidence in the world's authoritarian powers – in particular China and Russia." In China the fusion of capitalism and communism, in Russia the marriage of capitalism and ex-KGB cadres, exposes the old liberal lie that markets and trade equal freedom and democracy.

Rachman ends with an appeal for a return of "a strong, successful and confident" America. This won't happen until the US leaves its quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq. European policy-makers should now tell truth to power in Washington: that the democratic world needs its defences to be strong but should avoid war. Meanwhile, let's hear it for Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Nobel laureate, for Iranian women and for civil society in Russia, Cuba, or for unions fighting for fair pay in India and Mexico. A world of Primark, Walmart and no freedom is not a world our children should inherit.

Denis MacShane MP was a minister at the Foreign Office under Tony Blair

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone