Emerging global trends - Dr Maleeha Lodhi - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=34868&Cat=9

The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

Forecasting the future is hazardous but essential business. Extrapolating emerging trends into the future is necessary not just to equip ourselves for what might happen but to help avert crises and mitigate risk.

A conference earlier this month at Wilton Park on what the world would look like in 2030 was aimed at examining trends and challenges relating to global conflict. Organised by the British government in association with the US National Intelligence Council, the two-day event brought together officials and experts from around the world for what turned out to be a rich and lively discussion.

Speakers identified several elements that will characterise the international landscape:

• The world will continue to be in flux with diffusion of power to a multiplicity of actors.

• The shift in economic power will accelerate from the West to the Rest especially with the rise of China.

• Globalisation will make hard for any state to be immune to external shocks.

• Competition for scarce resources will be a driver of tensions or conflict.

• The character of conflict will change; new frontiers will include cyber space and use of robotic technology.

• The risk of violence will intensify in countries with institutional deficits in security and justice.

• The mismatch between state capacity and complex challenges will heighten the danger of conflict.

• There will be winners and losers in the process of economic change.

• Structural unemployment will be a key source of instability.

• Multilateral institutions will face a greater test to adapt to a multipolar world where the role of non-state actors will increase.

One speaker described the present era as one of many kinds of revolutions – economic, the most fundamental driver of change but involving uneven patterns; demographic, with falling fertility rates across the world enhancing the challenge of managing aging populations; and political, being driven by economic and social transformation. The enabling revolution for all these is technological.

The future will be about how to adapt to the challenges unleashed by these revolutions. Every crisis would be different. No single template is available to make their management simpler.

Although it was acknowledged that there is no shared sense of challenges in the world today it was stressed that the way we envision a challenge affects how we can engage with it.

An important theme on which consensus developed was that large scale military interventions are unlikely in the light of the experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was not just the consequence of a loss of appetite, but of the ability to achieve desired outcomes. Coinciding with the opening of the conference was a statement by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates invoked by speakers as the most explicit acknowledgement of this. In a speech to American cadets Gates said that any future defence secretary who counselled the president to send large American land forces to Asia, the Middle East or Africa “should have his head examined”.

There was general agreement that the sources of conflict in the next twenty years will be diverse. Inter-state conflict will be rare but will not disappear. Instability in failing and fragile states, tensions over access to natural resources, and struggle for regional and global hegemony will be among the drivers of future conflict. The world in 2030 will have to be watchful of how a range of outside powers will be engaged in regions of conflict.

A hopeful account came from a participant who said that compared to the 1950s, international conflict was down by 80 percent, high intensity civil wars had dropped by over 70 percent since the Cold War, and battle fatalities had declined by 90 percent. Others however pointed out that conventional conflict may be less frequent but instability remained persistent. Risks and societal vulnerabilities will continue and resource competition especially over water will emerge as a significant cause of inter-state conflict.

Nevertheless the cost of war will make other options more attractive. As one participant put it, interventions will occur but will be harder to mobilise and justify. For the most part war will be “permissible” only on two grounds: self-defence and when authorised by the UN Security Council.

Correlations were emphasised between the youth bulge and armed conflict in situations of economic stagnation as the eruption of the Arab street demonstrates. Among top challenges the intersection between Weapons of Mass Destruction and terrorism was stressed, as also the nexus between terrorist and criminal networks.

Differences in North-South perspectives were evident through the proceedings. For example on the nuclear issue speakers from developing nations urged a balance between non-proliferation and disarmament goals. There were calls for the West to abandon unilateralism and on a different note, to acknowledge – especially in the context of the Arab upsurge – that democracy was not a Western export, but valued for itself. Western nations were also urged to draw and adhere to the distinction between ‘helping’ countries and ‘meddling’. Dialogue was all very well but meaningful engagement had to go beyond this and accommodate the interests of the developing world.

All participants agreed that there was an urgent need to find appropriate policy tools and multilateral mechanisms to deal with emerging and enduring threats and challenges. Institutions of global governance were increasingly out of step with the changes sweeping the world. It was recognised that power transitions are perilous moments in history when risks are especially high. Managing these in a consensual way becomes all the more urgent. So too is managing the risks of democratisation as difficult transitions lie ahead in the Middle East and beyond.

On the theme of global governance a spirited debate took place on what kind of cooperative mechanisms will be relied on to find solutions to problems in a world characterised by the decentralisation of power. This turned on a discussion about the balance between multilaterism, bilaterism and minilaterism. Will impatience with the cumbersome, consensus-based multilateral process mean a greater resort to informal ‘coalitions of the willing’? Will legitimacy and representativeness, the principal advantages of multilaterism, be compromised for effectiveness of action by smaller, like-minded groups?

Minilaterism, understood as an approach that brings to the table a core group of countries to solve a specific problem, has always been utilised in the form of ad hoc groupings, commissions and contact groups including the 5 plus 1 group an Iran, the Quartet on the Middle East and the G20 comprising the world’s largest economies.

Coming decades may see a combination of the two approaches, but while minilaterism will supplement multilaterism, it will not supplant it. I pointed out that minilaterism can lead to rule-making by a powerful or unrepresentative oligarchy and risk reducing problem solving to a power play. Moreover were lasting solutions possible if they were imposed on those with no voice in ‘club governance’?

Some issues may well be more amenable to minilateralist solutions but as a general principle, unless there is a reporting mechanism that links decisions by a select group to a larger multilateral body, the UN, an exclusionary approach would be contested and produce compliance failure.

Minilateralism or ad hoc responses are therefore no panacea. Instead efforts to strengthen and reform multilateral institutions should be launched to achieve both effective and credible outcomes.

As the conference drew to a close a clearer understanding emerged about the complexity of a world that had to be navigated thoughtfully and collaboratively. Two messages were particularly important. One, that we need to think globally to be more effective locally. And two, finding a balance between national interests and international norms remained integral to global efforts to minimise conflict and promote wider and more equitable prosperity.

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