A world transformed

Published March 10, 2022

POWERFUL forces are at work radically transforming the world with far-reaching consequences for the future of mankind and the globe. The drivers of this transformation are diverse and cover virtually all areas of human activity. An understanding of these forces is a must for leaders and policymakers to be able to navigate their states successfully through the choppy waters ahead.

Geopolitically, the world order established by the US-led West in the aftermath of World War II through the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and their subsidiaries is breaking down because of the body blows delivered primarily by the great powers and the reconfiguration of the global balance of power.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the latest example of the violation of the recognised principles of inter-state conduct. Just to quote another not-too-distant example, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was as reprehensible as any other flagrant violation of the UN Charter. The historical record leads one to the clear conclusion that in dealing with major issues of peace and security, the great powers are generally guided by realpolitik rather than by the principles laid out in the UN Charter and international law, both which have been weakened by transgressions over the past few decades.

The dramatic rise of China’s economic strength over the past few decades followed by the rapid growth of its military power more recently is another potent factor driving the changes in the world balance of power and the transformation of the global geopolitical map. If the present trends continue, China will emerge as the most powerful country in the world in the next two to three decades. Already China’s growing economic penetration of Asia, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Europe through its Belt and Road Initiative and rapidly increasing trade and investment ties has given it enormous clout in these regions.

Major issues of peace and security are decided by power, not principles.

The US pressure simultaneously on China and a re-assertive Russia will also have the effect of strengthening their strategic partnership. As a result of this development and the emergence of new power centres, it would become more and more difficult for the US-led West, which still remains the most powerful bloc internationally, to have its way in the emerging multipolar world. China, Russia, India, Brazil and other major powers will play an increasingly important role in the consideration of major security issues. This trend was clearly visible in the abstentions by China and India during the votes on the resolutions on Ukraine in the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

Another driving feature of the emerging world order is the primacy of economic strength and the growing importance of science and technology in determining the power of states and their relative position in the comity of nations. Countries which neglect economic growth and scientific and technological development ultimately will be left behind others in the international race for progress, power and prosperity. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which was not short of conventional or nuclear weapons, drove home the point that economic weakness and backwardness can have disastrous consequences for the progress and even the survival of nations.

Further, as modern history has witnessed, in any long term contest between nations the decisive factor is their relative economic, scientific and technological strength. Nations which are relatively weak in terms of ec­­o­nomic and te­­ch­­nological stren­gth are likely to be on the losing side in the long run.

Such analyses carry important lessons for policymakers in small and medium-sized states such as Pakistan. These states must uphold the principles of international law and the UN Charter which are their first line of defence against external threats. At the same time, they cannot afford to lose sight of the bitter reality that major issues of peace and security are decided by power rather than moral and legal considerations. So building up of national power on a comprehensive basis covering political stability and cohesion, economic and technological strength, military prowess and a proactive foreign policy is a must.

Finally, instead of living in the past, Pakistan should realign its foreign and security policies with the trends of the emerging multipolar world. To avoid the negative fallout of abrupt changes, realignment should be brought about gradually like changing the course of an aircraft carrier to ensure smooth sailing.

The writer is a retired ambassador and author of “Pakistan and a World in Disorder: A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century”.

javid.husain@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2022

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