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With industrial development, China is causing a dent in American economic power
With industrial development, China is causing a dent in American economic power

The world has never witnessed changes as enormous as it experienced in the last 100 years. In an article titled ‘World Politics 100 years after the Paris Peace Conference,’ published in the January 2019 special issue of International Affairs (London), the authors Margaret MacMillan, Anand Menon and Patrick Quinton-Brown draw parallels between the year 1919 and 2019 and examine in detail how the world changed in the last 100 years.

How the world transformed in the last 100 years in terms of demography, environment, geography, geopolitics, resources, art of war and global affairs needs to be analysed in some detail.

Following the end of World War I, with the signing of an armistice between Germany and the Allies in November 1918, the Paris Peace Conference opened on January 18, 1919 and led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 between the vanquished Germany and the victorious allied powers. It is rightly argued that the seeds of the World War II were planted in the harsh clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, which triggered the rise of the Nazi Socialist Party led by Adolf Hitler. If 16 million people were killed during World War I, in World War II, 50 million people perished, out of which 20 million were killed in the then Soviet Union.

Despite being the world’s sixth populous country, Pakistan still lags far behind in shaping world policies. In an era of staggering and swift changes, its share in the global knowledge economy remains meagre. Can this be addressed?

The most fundamental change which took place in 1919 was in the realm of diplomacy, which led to the formation of the world’s first international organisation, the League of Nations. The League, despite its shortcomings, expedited the process of decolonisation through its mandates’ system.

It was also in 1919 that the Paris Peace Conference and the emergence of the League of Nations gave birth to International Relations (IR) as a separate field of study. Edward Hallett Carr, an English historian, came up with his pioneering work International Relations between the Two World Wars, 1919-1939, first published in 1947, in which he vividly explained how IR emerged from the fields of history and political science as a separate discipline. The realist-idealist debate, which got an impetus after the end of World War I, further enriched the field of IR by including sub fields of international law, international organisations, foreign policy, area studies, refugee and migration studies, peace, security, conflict and environmental studies.

The Treaty of Versailles being signed at the Palace of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles being signed at the Palace of Versailles

One can identify eight major changes that occurred during the last 100 years, which not only transformed the world from a European-centric to post-colonial globalised world, but also changed the map of the world with the emergence of new states in Africa and Asia.

First, from 1.8 billion people in 1919, world population has swelled to 7.7 billion in 2019. The surge in world population has put serious pressure on vital resources such as food, water and energy, resulting in the outbreak of armed conflicts, particularly in Third World countries.

Second, while there were only 50 sovereign states in 1919, today there are 193 members of the UN. This has changed the dynamics of IR, as new issues ranging from intra-state conflicts to environment and climate change began to have a serious impact on world politics.

Third, the widening of the technological and economic gap between the global North and South increased the level of unemployment, underdevelopment, radicalisation of youth and displacement of millions of people in various conflict zones of the Third World. Militarisation, extremism, violence and terrorism increased because of poverty, corruption and misuse of power by the ruling elites.

Fourth, radical changes in the art of war as a result of the modernisation of weapons — as well as the conventional and nuclear arms race, made war more lethal and destructive. The advent of nuclear weapons and other means of mass destruction is a post-World War II phenomenon. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Yearbook on World Armament, global military expenditures in 2018 surged to 1.7 trillion US dollars. Most of the buyers of weapons manufactured in the First World are in the regions of the Middle East and South Asia.

While once it took days to reach one place from another, modern-day aeroplanes have reduced travel time
While once it took days to reach one place from another, modern-day aeroplanes have reduced travel time

Fifth, because of modernisation and industrialisation, the state of infrastructure, financial institutions, factories and industries in 2019 is far superior to that in 1919. The shift from manual to high speed technology in the field of communications, education, commerce, banking, agriculture and industry, in a span of 100 years, is staggering. In 1919, space technology and satellite missions were non-existent, whereas now the human quest for exploring the universe has resulted in missions launched for the moon and Mars.

Despite enormous potential and human resource, Pakistan is far behind in shaping world policies because its share in global knowledge and economy is quite meagre. According to a study, the world tourism industry had a value of 7.6 trillion US dollars amounting to 10.2 percent of the global GDP. Pakistan’s share is only a couple of hundred million dollars in tourism ...

Sixth, while the first commercial aeroplane took off in 1914, at that time the popular mode of travel was railways. Now every day, millions of people travel by air because they can reach their destination in a shorter period of time. There was a time when it took weeks to reach London from Tokyo travelling by sailing ships, but now a non-stop flight between the two cities takes only 18 hours.

The focus on innovation and specialisation became a hallmark of the last 100 years. The Internet and mobile phones, which were in their rudimentary stages in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, are now commonly used. Never in human history has such a transformation, both in qualitative and quantitative terms, taken place in such a short span of time.

Seventh, the League of Nations was succeeded by the UN. The shift from Governmental International Organisations to International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) is a post World War II phenomenon.

The surge of NGOs has much to do with the fragility of states and their inability to deal with issues ranging from population explosion, climate change, refugees, energy, food, water and housing to extremism, violent conflicts and terrorism. To what extent the culture of NGOs has helped deal with critical issues faced by the world today is debatable. But NGOs are able to make a difference as far as dealing with human security challenges.

Finally, in 2019 one can see a link between globalisation, information technology, geo-economics and ‘soft power’, as new types of power and catalysts of change. Countries having an edge in the four instruments of power, particularly soft power, are able to establish their influence in different parts of the world without coercion or the use of force. In 1919, powerful European empires had colonised almost the whole of Africa and large parts of Asia. Now, one can see neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism in the form of soft power. Aid, trade and technology are the instruments of soft power, which are used primarily by China and various Western powers to indirectly bring under their influence Third World countries which are weak but rich in natural and mineral resources.

Development of nuclear weapons has brought rapid changes to the art of war, making it more lethal
Development of nuclear weapons has brought rapid changes to the art of war, making it more lethal

The most important change which has taken place in the last 100 years is the shift in the power structure of the world. In the early 19th century, the world was dominated by the British Empire and was called “Pax Britannica.” The British and European colonial tutelage declined after the end of World War II. Post-World War II, the world was named “Pax Americana”, which still exists today but in a muted form. The prediction that the 21st century will be “Pax Asiana” is coming true with the emergence of China, India and Asian tigers such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia as the economic centres of power. The case of China as an economic giant is incredible because it is a phenomenon which is only 40 years old. How China has transformed from an impoverished and underdeveloped country to the world’s second-largest economy is nothing less than miraculous.

The most important change which has taken place in the last 100 years is the shift in the power structure of the world.

How far can IR, dominated by Western powers, transform with the emergence of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) as a new centre of power? Can the Western edge in technology, science, trade, commerce, research and development be contested? Such questions are often raised by those who are keenly following the global power structure and its transformation in the last several decades.

The declining power of the West, particularly the US, can be challenged but to argue that the Global North will cease to exist as a major player in world affairs is not possible because of two main reasons. First, despite the efforts of BRICS to replace the West as a centre-stage player in global power politics, the US, together with other G-7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK — and Europe is far ahead than BRICS or other emerging powers in the Global South in terms of technology, research and development.

Out of a list of the world’s top 26 billionaires possessing wealth of 1.4 trillion dollars, the majority are from the West. While China has been able to cause a dent in American economic power, it and other members of BRICS would require several decades to be at par with the West’s technological power. And it is not only the West’s edge in technology, but primarily American influence in the world of research, export of sophisticated weapons, heavy machinery, vehicles and production of other quality industrial items that is quite noticeable.

Another area where the West’s pre-eminence exists is in the literature on IR, particularly that dealing with theories, ideas, concepts and approaches on foreign policy, power, national interest, globalisation, geo-economics, security, peace and conflict studies. The West still dominates as far as the discourse on different IR-related subjects is concerned.

The post-colonial world is still grappling with issues which relate to their survival, such as development, modernisation and unresolved conflicts. While some of the colonies, which gained independence after the end of World War II, have done well, others are still dependent on foreign aid and technology. Most of the world financial institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, are controlled by the West.

Furthermore, the age-old theory of the ‘White Man’s Burden’, drawn from the poem by British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling following the US victory in its war with Spain in 1899, is a reminder of the West’s perceived superiority over non-whites and its moral compulsion, in a neo-imperialist world, to help non-whites because of their low standard of education and development.

Despite enormous potential and human resource and being a country of 220 million people, Pakistan is far behind in shaping world policies because its share in global knowledge economy is quite meagre. For example, according to a study titled ‘Travel and Tourism Economic Impact, 2017,’ the world tourism industry had a value of 7.6 trillion US dollars amounting to 10.2 percent of the global GDP. Pakistan’s share is only a couple of hundred million dollars in tourism, despite the fact that it has numerous historical sites, mountain peaks, deserts and beaches. Pakistan’s share in global trade, technology and remittances needs to be enhanced.

Without restructuring its society, economy, politics and foreign policy, Pakistan cannot emerge as a viable state influencing global affairs. And without transforming the country from an uneducated and underdeveloped nation to a knowledge-friendly society, one cannot expect the world’s sixth populous country to make a mark on the global economy, technology and foreign policy in the years to come. The need is to change the feudal mindset which is authoritarian and hostile to democracy, human and social development, the rule of law and an effective justice system. That needs a process of better education and enlightenment.

The writer is former Meritorious Professor of International Relations and Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi and can be reached at amoonis@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 12th, 2019