A new world order? The problems at home must not blind us to wider shifts taking place across the globe - Stewart McDonald

2024 will be the year when the form of a new international order begins to emerge

Historical periodisation, despite what the calendar may tell us, is more of an art than a science. Change so rarely happens at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve that historians tend to blur the lines a little, like Eric Hobsbawm and his remarkable study of the “long nineteenth century” that existed between the onset of the French Revolution in 1789 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Sometimes, however, change can be seen as the clock strikes twelve. This year, on the 1st of January, the BRICS coalition – made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – expanded for the first time in thirteen years, adding Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. These states, which together represent almost fifty per cent of the world’s population, have little in common beyond a collective dissatisfaction with the current international order and a desire to reshape it to better serve their interests.

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The group’s expansion marks a definite turning point in history. I have written before about the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his observation, referenced in speeches by people from right across the political spectrum, that there are liminal periods in time where the embryo of a new world order begins to grow within the old. I believe that 2024 marks the end of this gestation period. 2024 will be the year when the form of a new international order begins to emerge. The old will die. The new will be born.

The collective power, influence, and assertiveness of what were once called ‘emerging powers’ have now become a fact of life on the international stage. James Cleverly recognised this in a speech given shortly before he was deposed as Foreign Secretary, noting that in the years to come “an ever-greater share of the world’s power will be in the hands of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Together they will decide whether the international order will endure.”

But so too will the governments of the UK, US and EU – all of which are up for re-election in 2024. This year will see a democratic bonanza taking place across the globe, with over half the world’s population set to take to the polls in the next twelve months. From the United States and the EU to India and Taiwan, the choices that voters make in this year’s elections will have ripples far beyond their national borders, with Presidents and Prime Ministers elected this year who will steer the G7, G20, EU and NATO through the rest of the decade.

There are candidates on the ballot in almost every country who want, in some way, to roll back the tide of post-war liberalism and return to a world of hard borders and isolationism, where the winner takes all. Others would go further: Maria Ressa, the winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, recently warned that “We will know whether democracy lives or dies by the end of 2024”.

In Saxony, the largest state in east Germany, the far-right Alternativ für Deutschland is currently polling at 37 per cent, and right-wing groups across Europe are seeking to bolster their influence in Brussels this year. Across the Atlantic, in the United States, we face the prospect of a second term for President Donald Trump – a man, at best, apathetic about international cooperation and organisations like NATO. Should these isolationists be elected, the multilateral system, already creaking at the seam, stands little hope of securing the reform and revitalisation it needs to meet challenges like climate change, war, technological development and migration head-on.

It is no secret that this system needs urgent reform if the governments of countries like India, Nigeria or Brazil are to continue to view them as legitimate and useful fora for international cooperation. It is, I believe, one of the most urgent issues facing the world today. And yet, think ahead to our election due to take place in 2024. Who, if anyone, weighs up the parties’ positions on multilateral reform before choosing to cast their vote? I confess, I have not yet met that voter on the doorstep.

I do not expect there is a single person in the country who is. People are rightly focused on the fires burning before their eyes: the cost-of-living crisis, struggling public services, living standards well below our western-European counterparts and a Conservative government who ran out of steam months ago and now are just waiting out their notice period. But, to borrow an analogy from Rick Ledgett, former Deputy Director of the US National Security Agency, politicians and policymakers must not let forest fires distract them from the equally urgent threat of climate change. That is to say, these immediate and pressing problems at home must not blind us to wider shifts taking place in the world or distract us from acting upon them.

Next year’s ambitiously named Summit for the Future will serve as a litmus test for how prepared we are to address these long-term challenges. The conference, organised by the United Nations, has been compared to the 1945 San Francisco Conference which led to the founding of the United Nations, and was described by the UN Secretary-General as “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvigorate global action, recommit to fundamental principles, and further develop the frameworks of multilateralism so they are fit for the future”. Only time will tell whether the newly elected governments of the world will grasp this opportunity when it arises.

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For several years, there has been a slowly growing realisation among policymakers and politicians across the West that the foundations upon which the international system is built are shifting under our feet. 2024, which began with the expansions of the BRICS and will end with the success or failure of the Summit for the Future, will be the year when that fact becomes inescapable.



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