The world today is no longer unipolar. The United States' position of global dominance is shrinking, undermined by its own domestic and foreign economic problems as well as by the growing strength of newly emerging power centers. We have entered an era of a post-unipolar world. What is it going to be like?
Will it be a bipolar world, as in the Cold War, during which all global processes were shaped by the confrontation between the two systems, controlled by the US and Soviet superpowers? That's possible, but unlikely. For one thing, Russia will not be strong enough to be a global superpower in any foreseeable future. China, which within the next few decades will become an Asian-Pacific superpower, would be better positioned to claim the role of a second power pole. However, Beijing is unlikely to pose a serious military threat to US security and, in any case, has no desire to do so.
Or perhaps, as Richard Haas
, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, assumed in one of the recent issues of Foreign Affairs, the future world could be non-polar. In his view, the future will be shaped by the interaction among several dozen state and non-state actors. Still, such non-polarity is hard to imagine. Strictly speaking, it would mean a world in which there are no influential world powers and no special relations between them.
In my opinion, what we see today is already a multipolar world. Its power centers are the remaining sovereign states, i.e. the United States, China, Russia, India, Brazil, possibly Japan, and also the European Union as an independent integrated entity. Though repeatedly buried, the Westphalian system, based on the supremacy of state sovereignty and on the states' interaction, now looks much more viable than its grave-diggers would like us to believe. The current global crisis could make sovereignty and independence even more valuable in the eyes of the ruling classes in many countries.
It is also notable that practically all of the modern power poles represent specific civilizations and possess nuclear weapons. This fact makes dialogue between civilizations all the more important and possible.
Now, what will be the nature of relations between these sovereign power centers? Will they be governed by the law of the jungle, as those who are nostalgic for the unipolar world fear? Or will mankind evolve into a harmonious community, as the Chinese leaders suggest? From my perspective, the scenario of the jungle seems more realistic than that of harmony. Yet it is also the least desirable. We might consider a third option, of a world built on a balance of forces and interests as well as agreements on common ground rules concluded by the major powers.
Such a system, maintained by the European Concert of Powers, existed during the years between the Napoleonic wars and World War I, which, though not fully peaceful, were the calmest years in the history of mankind. A new global concert is therefore the best of the available scenarios.
What do we need to do to make it a reality? What is most needed is a reform of the system of global governance and global institutions that would adapt them to the reality and complexity of today's world.
All arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, the central element of the international system is still the United Nations. International law, incorporated primarily in the UN Charter, remains one of the few pillars of global stability and must therefore be preserved and consolidated. That said, the need for reforming the United Nations has become increasingly obvious. Proposals to increase the number of permanent members of the UN Security Council are gaining traction, for good reason. Will the enlarged Security Council become a more efficient decision-maker? Of course not. But will its decisions gain greater weight and legitimacy? The answer, without a doubt, is yes.
We need a strong International Court capable of passing judgments based on international law. The capabilities of UN peacekeepers should be dramatically reinforced so that they could act in places such as Darfur, and wherever people are appealing for help. Ideas of establishing various `membership clubs' as an alternative to the United Nations, such as Senator McCain's proposal to set up a League of Democracies, appear counterproductive. First, who is to set the criteria for membership? In the United States today the definition of a democracy often coincides with the notion of "America's friend," as in the case of Georgia, which is in fact an ethnocratic dictatorship. America is unlikely to keep its authoritarian friends outside the League of Democracies. Second, it is not clear how a club of a few self-proclaimed democracies would solve problems calling for global response, such as climate change, energy security and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
A G8 reform is also in order. If it excludes or ignores the emerging power centers, its activities will lose much of its meaning. Evolution towards a G9, G10 and so on seems inevitable. The G20 emergency global financial summit in November is a clear recognition of the multipolar reality.
It is also clear that we need new global financial institutions. Today we have the WTO, a global trade regulator, but no institution for the regulation of global financial markets, which by far exceed the volumes of global trade. The response should be some kind of a World Finance Organization, which could also reflect the changing role of emerging economies. After all, why should a country like China have fewer votes in the International Monetary Fund than the states of the Benelux?
So long as no country wants to live in a world of the jungle or could move to another planet, global problems should be resolved by a concert of nations.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, President of the Politika Foundation
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