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Home  > Tamils - A Trans State Nation > Beyond Tamil Nation: One World > The Strength of an Idea > Nations & Nationalism  > International Relations in an Asymmetric Multi Lateral World  > The unipolar moment of US supremacy has passed

International Relations
in aN ASYMMETRIC Multi Lateral World

 The unipolar moment of US supremacy has passed

Timothy Garton Ash
Professor of European Studies, University of Oxford

[courtesy: Guardian: Comment is Free]
24 January 2007

"..Power is no longer what it was, nor where it was. (Concentrated in the west, that is, and especially in the West Wing of the White House). It is more diffused both vertically and horizontally. Vertically, in the sense that relatively less power resides with the governments of states. Horizontally, in the sense that power is more widely distributed between a number of powerful states. Increasingly, the power map is both multilevel and multipolar... According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, a couple of years ago the National Intelligence Council of the United States played through a number of scenarios for the world in 2020. The only reasonably attractive option was one in which multiple powers addressed global challenges jointly with non-state actors... The real question is not whether such a world is desirable but how it might be achieved. In economics, there is a mechanism for coping with worldwide complexity: regulated markets. They do the job inadequately, of course, and often unfairly; but for now, they still do the job. There is no equivalent mechanism to address the new worldwide complexity of politics. Simply saying "reform the UN" or "reform the WTO" won't get us far. Here is the next great challenge..."

Comment by tamilnation.org It may have been helpful if Professor Garton had explored a few connected matters

- firstly the extent to which 'non state' actors (such as, for instance, Human Rights Watch) are funded indirectly through Foundations supported by state actors as well as the relationship that members of the executive board of some non governmental organisations may have with state agencies.

- secondly, the significance of the non state nations of the fourth world in the emergent 'muti polar, multi level' world. Here the question that may have been usefully explored is whether the remarks of Bernard Q. Nietschmann in 1985 continue to retain their validity:  "Increasingly, the Fourth World is emerging as a new force in international politics because in the common defense of their nations, many indigenous peoples do not accept being mere subjects of international law and state sovereignty and trusteeship bureaucracies. Instead, they are organizing and exerting their own participation and policies as sovereign peoples and nations."

- thirdly in relation to the role (and influence) of  multi national corporations in the emergent 'muti polar, multi level' world, whether our understanding may be furthered by attending to the remarks of Thomas Friedman in "A Manifesto for the Fast World", New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1999

"As the country that benefits most from global economic integration, we have the responsibility of making sure that this new system is sustainable.. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist - McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps....The global system cannot hold together without an activist and generous American foreign and defense policy. Without America on duty, there will be no America Online...

There is a saying in Silicon Valley that "loyalty is just one mouse-click away." But you can take that too far. Execs there make boasts like: "We are not an American company. We are I.B.M. U.S., I.B.M. Canada, I.B.M. Australia, I.B.M. China." Oh, yeah? Then, the next time I.B.M. China gets in trouble in China, call Jiang Zemin for help. And the next time Congress closes another military base in Asia, call Microsoft's navy to secure the sea lanes of the Pacific. And the next time Congress wants to close more consulates and embassies, call Amazon.com to order a new passport. This doesn't mean America needs to be involved everywhere all the time. There are big, important places and there are small, unimportant places. Diplomacy is about knowing the difference between the two, and knowing how to mobilize others to act where we cannot or should not act alone.."


If you want to see the world as a whole, the best view is from the moon. The second best is from Davos. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum offers a unique top-down snapshot of the world's problems and opportunities. One reason for this is simple. Globalisation is, in the first place, an economic phenomenon. It is most advanced in the dealings of the big businesses who are the forum's main stakeholders. No one, with the possible exception of the secretary-general of the UN, has a more global perspective than they do. All other kinds of globalisation, cultural, legal, political, moral, trail behind the economic. But it is the extraordinary ambition of the forum's founder, Klaus Schwab, to put them back in synch. "Committed to improving the state of the world," you read on illuminated signs around the Swiss resort.

Every year, the mountain-top camera is pointed in a slightly different direction. This year, its wide-angle lense focusses on "the shifting power equation". With perfect timing, the opening of the forum coincides with a state of the union address in which the most powerful man in the world, president George Bush, munched another great slice of humble pie. Remember the hubris of six years ago? After the bipolar world of the cold war, we were told that we now lived in a unipolar world. The United States was the only superpower - no, the hyperpower, as an envious French foreign minister observed. It had the most powerful military in the history of humankind. It would create its own reality. It could afford to be unilateralist. After Iraq, it's goodbye to all that. This is not just about the failure of one particular hubristic American foreign policy. It's about profound structural shifts, which the Davos camera is trying to map.

My own summary of the shifting power equation goes like this. Power is no longer what it was, nor where it was. (Concentrated in the west, that is, and especially in the West Wing of the White House). It is more diffused both vertically and horizontally. Vertically, in the sense that relatively less power resides with the governments of states. Horizontally, in the sense that power is more widely distributed between a number of powerful states. Increasingly, the power map is both multilevel and multipolar.

The horizontal shift, towards a new multipolarity, is the more obvious one. Of course, for most of human history the world has been multipolar. But the global poles - say, the Mughal, Ming and Ottoman empires in the sixteenth century - only interacted at the edges. Now every great power interacts with every other great power, in a multilateral, globalised geopolitics. This globalised world is a product of the 500 year long supremacy of the west, and what the historian Theodor von Laue called "the world revolution of westernisation". But now that supremacy is coming to an end. What we are witnessing, after half a millenium, is the renaissance of Asia. China and India are playing the economic game on terms largely invented by the west, but they are beating the west at its own game. Already, their growing economic power is beginning to translate into political and military power.

At the same time, the emerging economic giants of Asia are competing with the profligate consumer economies of North America and Europe for finite hydrocarbon energy sources and raw materials. This strengthens another category of powers, which one might call the exploitative powers. The classic example is Russia. Eighty years ago, Soviet Russia was strong because of the revolutionary dynamism of communism, including the global appeal of its ideology. (Russia, too, once had soft power.) Forty years ago, Soviet Russia was strong because of the power of the Red Army. Today, Putin's Russia is strong because of gas and oil. So are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other exploitative powers, whose resources are now being competed for. Unless and until the major developed economies of the world drastically reduce their dependence on these energy sources - and in his state of the union speech, George Bush promised the desperately belated beginning of a beginning in that direction - those states will have continue to have significant, if one-dimensional power. The interaction of these two major trends - Asian renaissance and energy race - shapes the new multipolarity.

As important is the vertical shift, from states to non-state actors, often empowered by new technologies. International terrorist networks are one obvious example, using new technologies both of destruction and communication (as in web jihadism). But there are many others. International NGOs like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and George Soros's Open Society network have the power to change agendas. The big corporations heavily represented here in Davos are more powerful than most smaller states. (Would you rather be president of Citigroup or Mali?) International organisations, communities and networks, from the UN and the EU to the World Bank and the International Criminal Court, all take their slice of the power cake.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is the individual blogger or citizen-journalist who makes history by posting a blurred video sequence from his or her mobile phone on YouTube. This famously happened to Virginia Republican and sometime presidential hopeful George Allen, with his dreadful "Macaca" moment and Confederate high-jinks. In the meantime, the leading Democrat candidates for president, including Hillary Clinton, have launched their presidential campaigns on the web. One experienced observer of US presidential campaigns observes "it is a safe bet that one of these candidates will be derailed by some obscure video recording on a cellphone that will be posted on the web." Andy Warhol said that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame. The web means that anyone can have their 15 minutes of power. Anyone with a mobile phone, that is.

So the new power equation is a complex differential one. This also means that the world is more difficult than ever to "manage" in the way envisaged by the architects of the post-1945 international order. (States themselves are also becoming more difficult for governments to manage internally, and for some of the same reasons.) The existing international institutions no longer reflect today's complex realities. This world cries out for new structures of global governance, but the very multi-level, multipolar diffusion of power makes that harder to achieve.

According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, a couple of years ago the National Intelligence Council of the United States played through a number of scenarios for the world in 2020. The only reasonably attractive option was one in which multiple powers addressed global challenges jointly with non-state actors. They called it "Davos world".

The real question is not whether such a world is desirable but how it might be achieved. In economics, there is a mechanism for coping with worldwide complexity: regulated markets. They do the job inadequately, of course, and often unfairly; but for now, they still do the job. There is no equivalent mechanism to address the new worldwide complexity of politics. Simply saying "reform the UN" or "reform the WTO" won't get us far. Here is the next great challenge, revealed by the mountain-top camera of Davos.

 

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