Global balance of power shifting

M Ziauddin
The world is changing very fast, and the immediate region—the South Asia— in which Pakistan is located is actually leading these changes. And the Asian continent itself has been undergoing the fastest changes, thanks largely to our close northern neighbour China and also thanks to some extent to India, our close eastern neighbour.
The impact of these changes has been akin to what is called ‘game changer’ on the global geopolitics which in a way seems to have conceded its centuries-held leading position in the global scheme of things to geo-economics.
Pakistan needs to closely watch these changes and prepare itself to ward off the consequent adverse impact if any of these changes on its sovereignty and integrity.
David Law, senior Fellow, Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces in an article (The balance of power is shifting) published on June 21, 2018 in The Agenda weekly, World Economic Forum, says that to understand events in the international arena, it would help to distinguish whether the current period is essentially stable or in significant flux.
Quoting an article written a quarter of a century ago, ‘during another time of rapid and relentless change’, in which Mr. Law and his co-author had described the former type of period as a plateau phase, and the latter as one of historical transition the author says that a series of recent developments suggested that the domestic political situations of several key players in the international arena are undergoing significant shifts, as are relations between players.
“Everything seems to indicate that the world is in another period of historical transition”, adds Mr. Law.
He refers to a shortlist of the developments that point in this direction: the breakdown of the political centre in several advanced democracies; centrifugal tendencies in the long-prevailing regional and international structures, of which the Brexit vote is one example; the accentuation of authoritarianism in Russia and China; and last, but certainly not least, the collapse of American moral leadership.
Against this backdrop, how might one expect strategic relations to evolve in the next 20 years? He asks.
Answering his own question the author says that in the short to mid-term, the key issue would be the relationship between those powers that have been largely responsible for creating the post-WWII order, and those that are challenging it, in an effort to erect a new paradigm calling that order into question.
In which direction this relationship is moving should become, in the opinion of the author, clear within the next five to ten years, and perhaps much sooner.
There are essentially three possible outcomes, according to Mr. Law’s assessment:
One is that the current Western-dominated paradigm manages to overcome its current weaknesses and disunity, creating space for and movement towards a renewed democratic revolution.
In the process, it forges an environment in which the challenging powers can be successfully encouraged to integrate. Call this ‘liberal internationalism renewed’ – a revamped version of the paradigm that has prevailed since the end of the Second World War.
A second possible outcome has the challengers to the Western-led paradigm – primarily, but not exclusively, Russia and China – succeed in taking advantage of its contradictions, to more or less peacefully establish the basis for the multi-polar world for which they have long been militating. Call this ’21st-century concert’, after the 19th-century Concert of Nations.
A third possible outcome resembles the second, but with one crucial difference. The rise of the multi-polarists turns violent, characterized by spiraling patterns of conflict that encompass ever more regions of the world. The resulting situation is similar to the strategic free-for-all that prevailed as the Concert of Nations was weakened, and ultimately condemned, by inter-state conflict rising to critical levels. Call this ‘geostrategic meltdown’, a new period of global conflict.
In the opinion of the author, among the factors driving these developments, there are five key ones.
The first factor concerns the economic viability of the main protagonists – whether their economic model continues to engender sufficient wealth to maintain their programmes of hard and soft power.
The second factor is whether these states will succeed in reducing the inequality gap among their citizens. The existence of this gap spans international borders, but it is particularly significant in the main protagonist states shaping the emerging world order.
The third factor has to do with the competing countries’ governance capacity. Are the democratic states that have traditionally exercised governance leadership relinquishing this role? Will authoritarian states prove capable of fashioning a new paradigm, based on a political monopoly of the ruling group, but in such a way to lead society effectively, owing to their prowess in mastering cutting-edge technologies? Or will the world end up with a new kind of democratic paradigm, quite different from what we have known in recent decades, but sufficiently similar to be considered still in the democratic genre?
Next, there is the possibility, the author continues, of a military breakthrough – one that could convince the leadership of one state or another that it was in a position to stave off other challengers and/or take significant risks in confronting the prevailing system. Think of, he says, the crucial contribution of submarines in World War I and nuclear weapons in World War II.
Finally, the wild card factor as the author adds, is how key states in the international community will address the growing environmental challenges that every actor in the community faces.
A less-than-rigorous response to the environmental realities of our time, he says, will increase the likelihood that a serious climatic contingency will intervene, relegating traditional strategic considerations to a position of lesser importance, or alternatively combining with them to create strategic complexities of a new order.
Pakistan is physically too close to China and India. Its system of governance has the same as, give and take, that of India while China has been following a mix of socialism and market economy with politics being under strict control of one single political party.
So, while the global changes start gathering momentum and whirl towards conflict, Pakistan which is located too close to the epicenter of change in the making is likely to get caught in the whirlwind. And this is when we need to be careful enough and be prepared to protect and preserve our sovereignty and integrity, especially the physical integrity of the country.
Meanwhile, the trade wars that US President Donald Trump has unleashed contain the elements that would accelerate the global geopolitical changes that are occurring rather too fast.
Tracking U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs — and the retaliatory measures other countries are taking , Amy Cheng, Humza Jilani, Keith Johnson, and AmyMackinnon in their short piece (State of the trade wars) published on June 21, 2018 state that the Trump administration’s protectionist measures on trade are piling up — and so are the retaliatory moves from a spate of other countries.
Even India seems to have been caught up in this trade war. Sreeram Chaulia in an article (India is the latest front in Trump’s endless trade war) published in Foreign Policy magazine on June 21, 2018 says:
President Donald Trump has been starting trade wars on all fronts, with escalating spirals of tariffs between the United States and its three main trade partners: the European Union, China, and NAFTA. But there’s a smaller yet no less significant part of the protectionist tit for tat that’s been overlooked: the fight between the United States and India. “This quarrel has the potential to erode the burgeoning strategic partnership between the world’s two largest democracies, which have been closely aligned in military and counterterrorism fields with the goal of stabilizing the Indo-Pacific region and countering the rise of China.”

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