Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The new world balance

At the dawn of the 21st century, the US was the undisputed global superpower with no apparent peer on the horizon who could challenge its interests in trade, diplomacy and military might. In the last decade, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the US was engaged in its twin wars, aspiring new powers were slowly and gradually building their spheres of influence. China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and India are the five emerging powers ready to take their place in world affairs.

China, throughout its history, has played a dominant role in South and Southeast Asia. Although China has competed with Japan for regional influence for over a thousand years, its one key distinguishing characteristic has been never to go beyond its seas. This has changed; for the first time in its history China may be extending its reach beyond the South China Sea. The Chinese have carefully chosen their expansion plans to include countries that are rich in mineral resources to satisfy the hunger of their vast manufacturing appetite. They have executed plans to have direct influence in Africa and Asia while they have formed a strategic alliance with Brazil and Turkey for an indirect influence in South America and Europe respectively. The first phase of their strategy was to use their vast cash resources to build a network of seaports in Asia and Africa. These ports are fully financed, built and operated by Chinese companies. The next phase in their development is just starting, which is to have trade and security pacts with these nations to ensure a smooth sailing of Chinese merchant ships from these ports. The recent naval influence exerted by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea is a message to the world to be aware of their activities in their backyard.

The US embarked on the strategy of expanding NATO during eight years of President George Bush to induct the former Soviet state Ukraine as a member along with plans for a missile defence system in Poland. This produced an angry response from Russia, so much so that it had to create a military crisis in South Ossetia to express its intent to use force if needed. When President Obama took oath of office, he immediately embarked on mending relations with Russia.

From the media polls it is quite clear that Prime Minister Putin, a passionate Russian nationalist, might emerge as a leading contender to grab a second tenure as the president of Russia in 2012. If that happens, there would be no doubt that Russia would accelerate the creation of a regional organisation of former Soviet states to create a cartel of commodity-rich countries. The recent signing of a currency deal between Russia and China is a step in creating an economic collaboration between this emerging bloc and China.

India, in recent weeks, has been in the limelight because of visits of world leaders starting with US President Obama, who endorsed India’s candidacy for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent membership. This was followed by Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, David Cameron of UK, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China and ended with Dmitry Medvedev of Russia who also endorsed India’s candidacy for the UNSC. These visits clearly indicate that India is recognised as a player on the world stage but not yet fully capable to handle the diplomatic and military requirements of an international power.

This would mean that during the next few decades India has to align itself with one of the three dominant players, i.e. the West led by the US, Russia, which is an old ally, or China, which is a traditional rival. Their long history of alliance until the dismemberment of the USSR and the socialist character of Indian society would suggest that Russia is a natural partner. But this time around, economic growth has been the main driving force of Indian foreign policy to maintain its annual growth of seven percent. With the adoption of capitalism, large numbers of non-resident Indians (NRI) in western countries and a democratic government, it is likely that India will align itself with the West in the form of trade and security alliances. There is a possibility that NATO will remake itself to be a global alliance with India as its member in South Asia.

The two minor powers with long histories of regional influence are Brazil and Turkey. Former President Lula da Silva’s economic policies have produced a strong Brazil, which is confident in its roots and culture. Brazil has traditionally competed with the US to have influence in South America. This rivalry has created an opening for China to form trade relations with Brazil with an eye towards increased cooperation in other spheres of influence. For the foreseeable future, Brazil will focus inward with an occasional role on the world stage like the recent tripartite, along with Turkey, agreement with Iran to contain its nuclear ambitions.

Turkey was an alliance partner with Germany in World War I, which ultimately resulted in the disbanding of the Ottoman Empire that existed for 700 years. This long history of global influence has endowed Turkey with deep knowledge of diplomatic, military and trade relations. For most part of the 20th century, it focused inward to improve its economy and strengthen its social fabric. At the dawn of the 21st century, Turkey has emerged as an important player in the region that can play a significant role in the resolution of conflicts. In almost all negotiations in the last five years, Turkey has played a major role. Whether it was a back channel discussion between Syria, Israel and the US, or negotiations on the containment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or a summit meeting between the Afghan and Pakistani presidents, Turkey has been centre-stage. On the other hand, Turkey has reached out to Russia and China for trade pacts to strengthen its position as a gateway to resource-rich Central Asia and Europe.

While these relationships and players emerge, the most important development that would establish the balance of power will be the reorganisation of the UNSC. The negotiations are already underway for this purpose, but it is clear that the opening will be for more than one new permanent member and that the veto power will be democratised. There are many formulas in play to promote candidates but one thing is significant. Representation of the Muslim bloc will be important to provide a voice to over 33 percent of humanity that are connected by a shared system of beliefs. Turkey meets many requirements as representative of the Muslim world. First, it was a global player during the Ottoman rule for over 700 years. Second, it has a long history of relations with the West. Third, it has the diplomatic goodwill among the Muslim countries to represent their interests. And last, it understands global diplomacy to resolve conflicts.

Almost all countries have Muslim communities and most conflicts involve their interests. Radicalisation of Muslim societies is a political phenomenon and results from the absence of their voice on the world stage to resolve these conflicts. It is important for world peace that the voice of Muslims is heard by seating them at the UNSC.

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