World: the shifting sands of power

Change is underway as the Old Order fades.

Charles Krauthammer, a columnist, in delivering his 1990 speech at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Lecture in the American capital, Washington, stated that "thinking about post-Cold War US foreign policy has been led astray by three conventionally-accepted but mistaken assumptions about the character of the post-Cold War environment:

(1) that the world is now multipolar, whereas it is in fact unipolar, with the USA the sole superpower, at least for present policy purposes
(2) that the US domestic consensus favours internationalism rather than isolationism
(3) that in consequence of the Soviet collapse, the threat of war has substantially diminished."

Most have agreed with his premise. But now the world is changing. The spectre of re-emerging Russia and China, and newly empowered Brazil and India are a daunting if engaging prospect.

They present huge challenges to the Superpower as its influence begins to wane.

America's loss of the Vietnam War (1975) was a signal, a fore-runner of events to unfold. This occurred before the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), the collapse of the Iron Curtain (1989) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) which resulted in America emerging as the remaining sole Superpower. But after Krauthammer's lecture significant things happened. 

Events after the First Gulf War (to 1995) leading to al-Qa'eda's attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and beyond to the debacles in Iraq (2003 -) and Afghanistan (2001 -) have highlighted the Superpower's shortcomings. Imposition of will and philosophy onto a foreign people has been shown to be absolute folly.

While America has progressed foreign policy ambition it has simultaneously mounted rising domestic debt, culminating in Standard & Poor's downgrading of its credit rating to AA+ in August 2011. And as the US has stumbled abroad and floundered at home, China has risen like a phoenix to vie for superpower status. And the People's Republic is not alone. Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, in its now world-recognised BRICs forecast, predicted the development of Brazil, Russia and India too. 

In its N-11 analysis a few years later it recorded the next eleven to watch, which included Indonesia, a potentially united Korea, Turkey, the Philippines, Iran and Mexico. Nigeria was even touted as a potential economic and political heavyweight in coming years.

Domestic considerations in those places notwithstanding (drugs in Mexico, corruption and inter-religious strife in Nigeria and so on), they pose a fascinating threat to the Old Order. That involved a single Superpower holding sway over the direction of world events off the back of military supremecy and unsurpassed economic clout. No more.

China's stella rise through the world economy rankings has proved to all - even the most sceptical - that such rapid and durable advance was not impossible. Now the military manoevres follow, and America is concerned. Is China a threat?

It doesn't stop there. Turkey has cut diplomatic ties with Israel and plans to escort aid boats through the eastern Med and the Israeli blocade to the shores of Gaza. 

And Britain is courting Brazil, India and now Russia in ways that have not been seen for years. The UK has distanced itself from American foreign policy, and is forging an individualistic path. PM David Cameron and a trade delegration are in Moscow developing links. "Deals worth £215m were signed between the two countries" reports The Telegraph. "An accord for Rolls-Royce to help develop Russia's civil nuclear power network was also announced" says the British newspaper.

Germany is weakened by bail-outs, and France by excess subsidising, lack of competition and exposure to Greek and Italian debt. The entire EU is thwarted by stifling bureaucracy and Japan by political stagnation and ineptitude towards sorely needed economic reform. The world is changing.

These new markets are here to stay; the Modern Order is upon us all. 

When old partner Britain joined the EU in 1973, and America refused to trade following a nuclear spat, New Zealand was forced to open up new markets. It was the first OECD country to establish a free trade agreement with China, for example, and other deals followed. Trade with China has since surged. No doubt other countries have noticed and will emulate this, if they haven't already laid plans to do so. Britain has, as David Cameron's recent Moscow trade trip proves.

The Modern Order might well be accompanied by dark clouds, like environmental pollution from forest fires in Indonesia, the destruction of the Amazon in Brazil or industrial waste in China. Yet the new Order is reality, I believe. The question is, how do we all rise to this challenge?

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