Analysis: Agreement becomes increasingly difficult in a multipolar world
THE multipolar nature of today’s international system will again be on display at the upcoming G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Global problems are no longer solved the old-fashioned way, by a few, mostly Western, powers: powers, such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and South Africa, also demand their say.
Some of these powers are still emerging economies. Politically, however, most of them have crossed the threshold that has long limited their access to the kitchen of international decision-making. The five permanent members of the United Nations security council (the “P-5”) still defend their right to veto resolutions, and their military power is unmatched. But they can no longer dispose of sufficient resources, competence, and legitimacy to cope with global challenges on their own.
Bipolarity is a thing of the past, and it is unlikely to re-emerge in a new Sino-American “G2.” It is equally unlikely for the foreseeable future that any one club of countries, such as the G7 or G8, will again assume a quasi-hegemonic position.
For members of the “Old West,” the good news is that most of the emerging powers that are positioning themselves for a more active global role are also democracies.
The not-so-good news is that these new democratic powers do not necessarily share the Old West’s political agenda. For example, they differ about climate policies, seeing a threat to development.
Moreover, some of the most important of these states differ substantially with the US, and often also with the EU, about the right approach toward regional conflicts, especially in the Middle East.
Differences are also apparent where new democratic middle or great powers have formed new groups or clubs, such as the BRICS, together with non-democratic powers. India, Brazil, and South Africa are using such formats in a pragmatic way to pursue their interests, or simply to demonstrate their increased international weight. There is little agreement between them and Russia or China with regard to fundamental questions of international order.
Along with many other states in the global South, however, Russia and China tend to defend the principle of non-interference, and they are generally reluctant to support any US or European attempts to project democracy or defend human rights in other countries.
Not a few policymakers in the US and in Europe have reacted with astonishment, or even annoyance, to these emerging democratic powers’ attempts to pursue their own agendas on the world stage. Such reactions partly reflect old thinking rooted in the Cold War, when democratic countries might differ over details, but would agree about the main questions of international politics.
By contrast, a central feature of today’s globalised, multipolar world is that shared democratic values do not guarantee agreement.
The more democracies there are, the more conflicts of interests and differences are likely to emerge.
• Volker Perthes is chairman and director of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin
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