We are witnessing the crumbling of the world order and we have grown accustomed to it. Surprisingly, it is not an ascending power that is rocking the status quo but the global leader, i.e. the United States, itself. And, if the very country that had been its main pillar is now willing to let that order collapse, the rest can only join in to avoid becoming the ‘last man out’.
Political figures at every level and of every scale act as agents of this transformation. Russia put an end to the West’s monopoly on power, and now a greater volatility in power relations is gradually replacing it. With great effort, the US is transforming the system of relations in the world economy and its individual sectors. China is altering the playing field, carrying out a global expansion by offering states far and near an alternative path to development. Germany is effectively contributing to the deformation of the European political system that was previously based on the principle of sovereign equality. A rising India is completely reconfiguring the geopolitics of Asia, and by extension, the world. And so on. One after another, newly empowered states will gradually alter the international community’s customary ties and practices, leading to a total transformation of the political landscape within 20–30 years. We cannot reverse this process, but we must analyse and strive to understand it. Very important individual elements of the previous order will remain. For example, we could restrict freedom of movement by administrative means, but the world cannot return to the first half of the 20th century when tourism was a privilege that only bored millionaires or naturalists could enjoy. The changes now underway, however, will lead to a very different world by mid-century. Experts and politicians must put aside the usual dogmas. They must carefully study and attempt to predict the repercussions that current and future actions can have in each sphere of the international community’s life.
The single most important process is the nationalization of decisions that affect the way the world’s most vital systems function. It became clear in the wake of the global financial crisis a full decade ago that the primary challenge to the international order, that is, the ability of states to cooperate judiciously, was the fact that problems had become global, whereas the responses to them remained national. This dichotomy will remain one of the determining factors in international politics, economic affairs, technology and society. Although, until recently, it was believed that the solution would come through improving elements of global governance, the spirit of the current age is pushing events in the opposite direction. And national rather than global-based decision-making has received a further boost from the growing diversification of the world’s leading economies, and the transformation of other countries into their respective zones of resource supply. As the world’s political life becomes increasingly diverse, its social dimension is becoming progressively more unbalanced.
States will, therefore, feel increasingly compelled to take measures to advance their national interests and aim at maintaining maximum autonomy and freedom of action. Again, when the most powerful and influential country in the global system adopts the principle of ‘me first’, the rest have no choice but to do the same. However, it is no longer possible to make truly autonomous decisions. Any nominally ‘autonomous’ action by a major power has immediate economic and political repercussions for the rest of the world. Each escalation of the economic war forces another readjustment, incrementally shifting the tectonic plates of the old world order.
States will increasingly aim their foreign political and economic policies at accomplishing tactical objectives, rather than at forming a stable alliance or regional subsystems. The relative importance of medium-sized regional powers such as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, SaudiArabia, etc. is increasing, thereby eroding the stability of alliances and international relations. At the same time, the importance of countries bound by rigid institutional constraints is diminishing, with the EU member states foremost among them.
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