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Pakistan in ‘G-Zero’ world

June 30, 2012


AS Pakistan lurches into another political crisis following the Supreme Court decision to ask the newly appointed Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, it’s worth remembering: Pakistan is not alone in facing a leadership deficit.

Certainly, Pakistan’s political crisis of confidence is painful and disheartening. But the lack of leadership is a global problem. It’s not about individuals being able to come forth with a vision for solving 21st century challenges. It’s about learning to live in a new, uncertain, global order — or disorder — where no one country calls the shots.

The vacuum in leadership is plain to see. In the US, the public is focused on jobs and debt, and Americans want their leaders to seek answers to domestic difficulties rather than get entangled in new foreign adventures. Here in Europe, the mood is universally pessimistic. Europeans’ fears for their economic future and of globalisation have diminished their interest in the rest of the world. The public mood — especially among young people — is downbeat and sullen. The current ‘euro football’ championships have brought some respite. But overall this is not a happy summer.

For confirmation of the global leadership crisis, listen attentively to Ian Bremmer, head of the Eurasia Group and author of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. Bremmer convincingly argues that the greatest shock to America was not the fall of the Berlin Wall or 9/11, but rather the global financial crisis of 2008 which highlighted the deep constraints of America’s present position in the international system in light of the rise of the rest to create a new global order where no single power has the ability to exercise global leadership. Mocking the ineffectiveness of the G-20, Bremmer calls this new order the ‘G-Zero’ where every nation must act for itself.

Bremmer’s central message that the world is no longer run by one superpower that can call the shots resonates strongly in the wake of the eurozone crisis, the recent lacklustre Rio+20 meeting and the equally uninspiring gathering of the G-20 leaders.

It also explains the global leadership failure to deal with the killing fields and murderous cities in Syria and the growing hysteria around Iran’s nuclear programme.

Bremmer and economist Nouriel Roubini talk of a ‘G-Zero’ world where no single country, however big and powerful, can set the global agenda and enforce global order. Today’s G-Zero world is a refutation of a US-led world certainly but it also throws cold water on other formations which make the headlines — namely G-7,G-8 and G-20 as well as the notion of Brics.

It explains to some extent the half-success of the different ‘occupy’ protest movements: people are angry with the current state of affairs but not sure just who to blame for the impasse. In some ways it’s a failure of global governance — whatever that means.

The UN Security Council has shown itself to be incapable of resolute action in the face of the civil war in Syria. In addition to their refusal to tow the western line on Syria, Russia and China have made clear that they do not buy into the US, European — and Israeli — narrative against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The IMF is struggling to enforce some order in the eurozone even as Germany and its European partners engage in an unpleasant battle of wills on just how to end the current crisis. And on the broader, global stage, the stalemate in the WTO trade negotiation process — the so-called Doha Round — as well as the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change (and subsequent conferences on this subject in Cancun, Johannesburg and Rio) illustrate that we do indeed live in a ‘G-Zero’ world.

While president George W. Bush may still have managed to cobble together a coalition of ‘like-minded nations’ to take action in Afghanistan and Iraq, Barack Obama is obliged to admit as he did in the case of Nato-led action in Libya that the US can only ‘lead from behind’. As US vacates the job of global policeman, is rising China ready to take its place? Hardly. China may make the headlines with its impressive economic growth rates and global economic clout but Beijing has never claimed a global leadership role.

China — like India and other emerging nations — is not interested in taking over an international normative role. Emerging nations believe in non-interference, protecting their national interests. They certainly do not want to be telling other nations and leaders on how to live and rule.

The countries that are best positioned to prosper, Bremmer argues, are those that are resilient as well as strong, so-called ‘pivot states’ which can build profitable relationships with multiple partners without becoming overly reliant on any of them. Examples include Brazil which will continue to enjoy excellent trade ties with the US but that has also forged strong ties with China. Turkey is a member of Nato but also has friends and influence in the Arab world which looks to it as a dynamic, modern Muslim state.

Asia is home to several pivot states including Indonesia, with nearly 240 million people which enjoys a well-diversified economy with trade ties balanced among China, the US, Japan and Singapore.

Bremmer warns that the likeliest losers in this more volatile world are the shadow states, the opposite of pivots — those nations whose political and commercial possibilities are determined almost entirely by a single powerful partner. Pakistan with its obsessive focus on the US certainly falls into this unfortunate category. But who knows with the right political leadership it could stand proudly — one day— as a pivot state?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.