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Global order in the 21st century

BY Atique Ur Rehman

Since the origin of international relations as a discipline a hundred years ago, the debate has been revolving around two opposite paradigms; liberalism and realism. Realism suggests that, in an anarchic world, the security of a nation state is the responsibility of no one else but the state itself. Liberalism promotes cooperation among states to avoid wars. In broader concepts of security in domestic affairs, economy and politics fall under security but at the global level these are two separate things. A political alliance among nations may not necessarily be covering trade; similarly a joint economic venture may not be focusing on military security. If we broadly look at the existing structure of the twenty-first-century world order, it is evident that global political and economic institutions do not have common goals. The role of international economic institutions like the IMF and the World Bank also need a comprehensive review. The present world order was formed after the end of World War II. The world changed from multipolar to bipolar. The US and USSR took charge of global leadership.

America maintained the global order on alliances under the military umbrella and the USSR mostly countered the alliances through alliances or other means and pursued its interest vigorously where needed. A bipolar world gave rise to the cold war and clandestine operations from both sides. After the disintegration of the USSR in 1989, the US emerged as the sole superpower. This contradictory approach of the US—attaining political dominance and hegemony on the global economy has been a major factor for disorder in the world. The US’ unipolar moment began to erode after its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since then, power has pivoted towards the Eurasian heartland and rimland. The emergence of China, an indignant and self-assured Russia, a defiant North Korea, a challenging Iran, an unceremonious withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and many other global challenges including the energy crisis, climate hazard, a troubled environment in the South-China sea are no longer favourable to the existing global order.

The pandemic has further stressed the order by draining governments, dividing societies, intensifying tensions between the United States and China, and exhibited a noticeable gap between problems being faced by the world and the ability of the world to address these challenges through existing international institutions. The international order thus faces a paradox. Despite political reasons, the structural issues are a big impediment for its prosperity. The success of existing structure is dependent on the success of globalisation, but the process produces a political reaction that often works counter to its aspirations. The most important aspect of the new world order will be the positioning of China. At no time in history has any nation brought so many people out of poverty as quickly as has China. It will soon be the world’s largest economy and the second largest military power. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has further added complexity to the emerging order. The US and its allies view the project as a threat to their global influence. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a bilateral arrangement between two time-tested friends, is the flagship programme of BRI.

The US has come up with a project in cooperation with its allies, G7 countries, which they have termed ‘Build Back Better World (B3W)’. B3W is a retaliatory approach. The old order is in flux while the shape of the replacement is highly uncertain. Reconstruction of the international system is the ultimate challenge for the US and other powers.

To play a responsible role in the evolution of a twenty-first-century world order, the United States, China and Russia must be prepared to answer a number of questions, particularly, what do they desire to achieve or prevent for themselves and for the world? China needs to move patiently in line with the global pace. Abrupt and phenomenal successes create panic for adversaries. India needs to adopt a rational approach, leaving behind the practices of lies, deceit and propaganda against other nations. India is the main destabilising force in South Asia. The goal of this era must be to achieve that equilibrium while restraining the proponents of war. Pakistan has paid a heavy price in the global war against terrorism during the last two decades. Pakistan needs its due share in global prosperity. The new world order must be focused on shared prosperity, cooperation and the well being of all states, not a few rich and powerful states.