Wed, Jun 28, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Multipolarity and the global order

By Javier Solana

As many analysts have observed, the Pax Americana of recent decades is on life support. After the first 150 days of US President Donald Trump’s “America First” — or, more accurately, “America Alone” — presidency, it seems that the US’ traditional stabilizing role can no longer be viewed as a given.

As the primacy of the US in the international arena — and, thus, the US’ status as the world’s “indispensable nation” — erodes, other states and even non-state actors are gaining prominence. What does this mean for the so-called liberal international order?

Burgeoning multipolarity does not have to be at odds with an inclusive and mutually beneficial global system. Rising powers such as China are equipped to act as responsible stakeholders. In addition, the EU, which seems to be regaining its confidence, can still be counted on to play a constructive role.

In international relations theory, liberal internationalism is characterized by the promotion of openness and order, and is enshrined in multilateral organizations. At the end of World War II, these principles provided the ideological foundation for treaties such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which later developed into the WTO.

The Cold War greatly damaged the globalizing ambition of liberal internationalism, a creed closely associated with the geopolitical West, and especially with the US and the UK. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 resulted in a period of indisputable hegemony for the US and paved the way for the spread of governing structures promoted by the West. However, that diffusion did not occur as fast, or as widely, as anticipated.

Today, the world remains fragmented. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US led many countries to close ranks around the US. However, the attacks also revealed a deeper trend toward disruption by unexpected actors — a trend that would only grow stronger over the subsequent 15 years.

The divergence among countries was economic as well. Not even the “Great Recession” of 2007 to 2009 was as global as conventional wisdom in developed countries suggests. In 2009, when global GDP contracted, the economies of the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, grew at rates of more than 8 percent.

The countries that are unraveling the liberal order today are those that invested the most political capital in creating it. Brexit in the UK and Trump’s election in the US reflect growing frustration with some economic and social effects of globalization, such as offshoring. This frustration has revitalized a form of nationalism based on exclusion.

A renewed emphasis on Westphalian sovereignty is spreading, leading some to predict that great-power rivalries would again be the order of the day. Proponents of this school of thought often point to the US-China relationship as the most likely source of friction.

However, this is an excessively alarmist view. While China’s dizzying rise generates great mistrust in Western capitals, China might not be as revisionist a power as some think. Recently, the Chinese government distanced itself from the Trump administration, as it reaffirmed its support for the Paris climate agreement, from which the US intends to withdraw.

In his symbolic speech at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) established himself as a firm defender of globalization. According to Xi, countries should “refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.”

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