A paper by Peter Wolfgang Schulze, Professor, Political Science Department, Georg-August University, Goettingen, Consultant on Russia and Eurasia, Doctor of Sciences, presented at Ninth Rhodes Forum Session, October 2011
Ever since the US National Intelligence Council on “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”, appeared in 2010, a vivid debate erupted in the international community of foreign- and security policy experts, not seen since the end of the Cold War. Long cherished believes, principles and assumptions about the nature, power position and constellation of power blocs in the international system were suddenly questioned. The purpose of such report was of course to provide policy makers with a large scale perspective how the world would look like, if certain tendencies would continue or even would gain in strength.
The report did not try to predict the future, but delivered some views what may come possible in the course of future events and tendencies. In such, the report tried to explore how uncertainties might interact amongst themselves, and in combination with driving forces that are relatively ‘certain’, as well as plausible ‘wild cards’, to create a set of possible futures that present different challenges and opportunities to foreign policy.
The use of scenarios for longer term forward-looking assessments is valuable precisely because it opens the discussion to multiple perspectives. Rather than argue about what will happen or what we wish to happen, multiple scenarios seek to mark out the possibility space of what could happen. Policy makers can neither predict nor fully control the future, but they can come to a better understanding of what is most uncertain and most important about it, and prepare for more effective policy making in light of that understanding.
Let me just draw your attention to some key findings of the report which will then serve as a reference position for our debate.
- The United States will be a less dominant Power. By 2025 the US will find itself as one of a number of important actors on the world stage, albeit still the most powerful one. Even in the military realm, where the US will continue to possess considerable advantages in 2025, advances by others in science and technology, expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and non-state actors, proliferation of long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks increasingly will constrict US freedom of action.
- US interest and willingness to play a leadership role will eventually, as the ongoing crisis since 2008 demonstrates, may be more constrained as the economic, military, and opportunity costs of being the world’s leader are reassessed. Economic and opportunity costs in particular may cause the US public to favor new tradeoffs.
- In other words, with the end of the 20th century ended the predominant role of the USA. The last twenty years after the demise of the USSR where exceptional in the sense, that the USA achieved a hegemonic position, due to the end of system rivalry, i.e. the end of the Cold War.
- In the first two decades of the new millennium it became quite obvious that other countries and power constellations rose and having their impact on a new world order.
- The BRIC countries, as diverse as they are in many respects, will share some perspectives on the future of world politics that can different from those in the USA. There is even the assumption among some leading experts of the Asian community, as Mr. Mahbubani, that the two last centuries when Western powers dominated the world were rather the exception than a case of normality. The world previous to the 18th century saw the dominant position in trade, culture and technology of China and India. According to such view, the old balance will be again restored in 2050. In other words: returning to the “normal” old order would render some solutions to one the world’s gravest problems: the struggle against poverty.
- However, it is not only the rise of the BRIC countries which changed the structures and power constellations in world politics. We need also to mention the transformation of the European Union, despite all its internal problems, into a geopolitical actor.
- And in addition which such processes at work we need to pay attention to developments which originate from such changes. First, a fundamental change of paradigms moving away from hard power politics to the use of soft power; and second, interlinked with such change, the rise of non-governmental organizations to influence international politics.
To sum up:
In political as well in economic terms there will be a shift in world politics from the West to the East, as Joseph Ney, a leading American political Sciences expert argues convincingly.
This of course raises the question: what will happen in and with Europe?
However, such shift of economic, political and eventually also military power to the East will go together with a second shift of similar significance, which eventually could cause a dramatic qualitative adjustment of the national actors involved in world politics. The basis for such shift is already in operation.
The revolution in information and communication technologies which started in the 1970s in western capitalist countries then spread to Europe and the Pacific Rim countries produced the essential technological basis in a worldwide scale. While formerly talking about the “global village” seemed to be the fantasy of some electronic minded nerds or esoteric charged “new age” illusionists, the developments in the Arab world, in Asia or elsewhere demonstrate that a new paradigm emerges in international politics. Non-state actors enter the realm of national politics. They demand qualitative changes in domestic policies, in the structure of their respective political systems and of course in the external behavior of state agencies.
Although we do not know for sure which path the unleashed societal and political processes in the Arab world will embark upon or what outcome the transformation will bring in the end, nevertheless some conclusions can be drawn.
First, the revolution in information technologies created a whole range of new actors who will alter from within the composition of forces in their respective political systems. Such development is not limited to countries with a relative high level of socio-material welfare or to countries which encounter pressing political or material needs. Since the “greening” of the Western political world at the turn of the mid-eighties in the last century we saw societal forces enter the body of national politics which proposed different aims and called for a fundamental change in norms of political behavior. This process has now spread, due to available technological arrangements, to other parts of the globe. NGO’s, social groups, action groups, grass root and single issue movements penetrated the body of politics in the Western world and caused a change in preserved paradigms. They left their impact on national politics and did not shy away from questioning notions of “national interests” or the conduct of foreign policy. The mass movements in the early 1980s in the midst of the Cold War to stop the arms race were an early sign of such trend, then labeled “peace movements”.
Ever since, other groups and social movements appeared, dealing with aspects of international life, criticizing state actors for either doing too little or nothing at all. Such groups fought for minority rights, cared for political prisoners, demanded more state responsibility to deal with corruption and called for fair trade and a more economically balanced world order. Resulting from the emergence of such social movements and non-government actors, governments are more or less obliged- at least in democratic societies- to share responsibility and/or allow such groups to enter the decision making process in formulation foreign and security goals.
In a certain sense such action groups started to liberate foreign and security policies from the monopoly of state actors. Such process is astounding, because very rarely the foreign policy of national state in the Western hemisphere played as major role in their conceptions. Exceptions were the peace movement and solidarity movements with the third world.
Given the technological means for communication across national boundaries, and dense networks of linkages of civil societal groups on issues of common concern, such process seems to be not stoppable. The civil action or non- government groups will function from within as a slow breeder of change and offer alternatives to state policies. And by doing so, the can enforce, speed up or slow processes diagnosed by official actors and their institutions.
In light of all those convincing arguments listed in the above mentioned Global Report of the NIC, it is remarkable that there is no mentioning of such internal forces as potential determents for foreign policy. The official standpoint often tends to overlook the scope of their interference with official policies. A shift of power can be observed, top down, from governments to society, and its most active groups. Such shift of power is not free of risks. The danger of nationalist-populist movements to influence a larger share of foreign policy is as serious as there is a good chance that proposals for peaceful cooperation and conflict reduction among states could become dominate the agenda in inter-government talks.
Referring to the European peace initiatives of Russia which are on the table since 2009, the contribution and involvement of civil action groups to speed up the process and to come to some common commitment would be a great help. To broaden the debate by including social movements and NGO’s could finally put enough societal pressure of governments on both sides to end the dead lock we are momentarily in regard to a comprehensive European peace treaty.
Thus, the second shift from national state actors of formulating policy aims and demanding certain types of external behavior is not any more, as the Arab rebellion demonstrated, confined to Western capitalist societies.
Thus the two shifts may reinforce each other or unfold unevenly and with a time lag, creating conflicts and confrontations.
Thus in front of our eyes we do see the emergence of a new world order which will not be dominated exclusively by national state actors or alliances.
Joseph Ney illustrates the emerging new world order as a three dimensional chessboard. The upper board will present military might or hard power. Here the USA will have for years to come the upper hand. This realm is predominantly hegemonic in its structure.
The second tier of the chessboard represents economic or soft power. It will be composed of states which are economically strong and build the basis for multipolarity.
The third tier represents a plethora of transnational relations and reflects a world order which is shaped by the diffusion of power. This is the habitat of financial transactions, terrorism, cyber terrorism, ecological and climate change, pandemics and etc. The diffuse makeup of this level reflects the lack of coherent cooperation between state actors of the North, South, West and East.
Following Ney’s argument, he is convinced that a new world order has to be created by using all means, including military force. Furthermore, he is not willing to give up the leadership of the US. According to him, the US must occupy a predominant role not only in the first class, but would influence though its position in global and international institutions the other two levels. Such a view will be refuted by the excluded members of the BRIC states and rarely accepted among all EU-member states. It runs counter to any aims of social movements who precisely strive for a better balanced world based on justice and social equality. Especially the BRIC countries elite formations refuse more and more the validity of institutions, created by the US and Western powers. Arguments are even touching the soft power dominance of the Western states, especially the US. Since the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the existence of Guantanamo and the hundred of thousand innocent people killed by collateral actions of the US-troops, Washington has lost its hegemonic position in the normative discourse on human rights etc.
Thus we could add a third shift in international politics: the exclusive and dominant position in soft power which Washington holds for decades is evaporating. If such void is not filled by domestic social movements with alternative concepts the world’s trust in US-leadership will further erode.