What is the future of countries? How, you ask, in a world with such rapidly changing landscape can we even begin to grapple with these questions? In a world where…
… the revenue of a company selling devices with rounded edges is greater than the GDP of the bottom 34 African countries put together. (280 million people)
… our friend Bill is the second largest contributor to the World Health Organization, behind only the US (and ahead of the UK)
… a private company, which operated sizable private armies in the Indian subcontinent for years, influences narcotic policy for the sake of shoring up business and contributing to the opioid epidemic. And in a scene that is all too familiar, after several scandals and revealing enormous debt and unpaid taxes, this hyper-aggressive corporation comes clean and asks for a massive government bailout. And they got it.
…how could you ever hope to make sense of anything? To help you navigate our complex world, we’ll be meeting this Wednesday, December 12 at 6pm on Sovereignty Lounge, BBB B101, to discuss the future of global governance . The discussion will be centered around this essay from Amitav Acharya: Our After Liberal Hegemony: The Advent of a Multiplex World Order. It’s quite good and touches on a lot of relevant points that you may not have thought about. For those of you who won’t read it, the following passage on why today is actually different from yesterday offers excellent food for thought:
Many pundits see the emerging world order as a return to multipolarity, but this is misleading. There are at least five major differences between prewar multipolarity and the emerging twenty-first-century world order.
First, prewar multipolarity was largely a world of empires and colonies. The primary actors in world politics were the great powers, and those were mainly European, though the United States and Japan joined the club in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In contrast, the contemporary world is marked by a multiplicity of actors that matter. These are not only great powers, and not even just states, but also international and regional institutions, corporations, transnational nongovernmental organizations, social movements, transnational criminal and terrorist groups, and so on.
Second, the nature of economic interdependence today is denser, consisting of trade, finance, and global production networks and supply chains , whereas prewar multipolarity was mainly trade-based.
Third, contemporary economic interdependence is more global compared to that in the nineteenth century , when it was mostly intra-European, with the rest of the world in a situation of dependence on the European empires.
Fourth, there is far greater density of relatively durable international and regional institutions today , whereas pre–World War I Europe had only one—the defunct European Concert of Powers—and the interwar period only had the short-lived and failed League of Nations.
Fifth, challenges to order and stability have become more complex . The traditional challenge to world order, interstate conflict, has declined steadily since World War II and now stands at a negligible level. Meanwhile, intrastate conflicts and transnational challenges have grown considerably. Arguably, the biggest threat to the national security of many countries today comes not from another state but from a terrorist network. Moreover, issues such as climate change, human trafficking, drugs, and pandemics do not respect national boundaries and are magnified by interdependence and globalization , further complicating the mosaic of security challenges facing the twenty-first-century world.
The emerging world order is thus not a multipolar world, but a multiplex world. It is a world of multiple modernities, where Western liberal modernity (and its preferred pathways to economic development and governance) is only a part of what is on offer. A multiplex world is like a multiplex cinema—one that gives its audience a choice of various movies, actors, directors, and plots all under the same roof. Trump and Brexit have shown that there are serious variations and differences in the script of world order even within the West—not just between the West and the rest, as is commonly assumed. At the same time, a multiplex world is a world of interconnectedness and interdependence. It is not a singular global order, liberal or otherwise, but a complex of crosscutting, if not competing, international orders and globalisms .
It is interesting to think that such fragmentation of power might actually result in more stability. While benevolent hegemons are great at upholding order, they subject the system to sharp transition effects (be it the Soviet Union imploding or Nixon getting the boot). By making the chess game more complex, with many interlocking players of considerable power, it becomes harder to destabilize the whole system. Much like Henry Kissinger argues that the Wesphalian balance of power is the greatest thing ever at maintaining world peace, maybe this is the same thing but with a bunch of non state agents mixed in. Maybe Westphalianism 2.0 is going to work even better because in addition to having a ton more agents and pulverizing power all over (making consolidation and tipping the scales much harder) lots of them are not territorially constrained and thus it’s impossible to make clear cuts in their interests if they were to fight. Maybe Facebook, Tencent, Google, Baidu, Amazon, Alibaba, Microsoft, Apple and Xiaomi would use their massive influence to keep Trump and uncle Xi from nuking each other simply because it would reduce quarterly revenues and they don’t want to risk losing more ground to their chinese/american counterparts. Maybe capitalism will bring us all together, just like it did with China and Taiwan.
Interestingly, he also points that the new world order could be nicer to sidelined countries. There has never been a better time to start your own…
Due to the prominence of China and other emerging powers, the new globalization might also be more respectful of sovereignty, especially compared to the Western-led globalization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which has been associated with colonialism and direct and indirect military intervention to secure Western economic and strategic interests (a long list of examples would include the Suez and numerous interventions in Latin America). This is not to say that emerging powers do not use force or violate sovereignty. With its growing overseas investments, China will be tempted to abandon its professed policy of noninterference and to use force or coercion in support of its economic and strategic goals. But in line with the outlooks of the emerging powers, the new globalization is likely to be more economic and less political or ideological (especially compared to the West’s promotion of democracy and human rights).
See you Wednesday,