Trends and challenges

Change is occurring at breathtaking speed in a hyper world

Dr Maleeha Lodhi

Change is occurring at breathtaking speed in a hyper world.
At many international conferences I attended last year a number of themes resonated in deliberations of a world in profound but uncertain transition – a world that held out as many possibilities as challenges.
In almost every forum there was agreement that geopolitical risks were outpacing the international community’s ability to adequately address them. The dispersal of power among states and away from them and emergence of different kinds of power was creating new uncertainties and magnifying risks.
Five issue areas in particular seemed to dominate the global conversation. These indicate important trends or signposts to the future. 1) Managing a ‘G-Zero’, or for others, an increasingly multipolar world, where power shifts continue from the West to the Rest, especially China; 2) Closing of a phase of hyper-intervention by the West; 3) Complexity of governance in an era marked by increased empowerment of individuals and non-state actors by the new networked technologies; 4) An across the board breaking down of public trust – in governments, banks or corporations – and weakening of state authority and 5) Inadequacy of global governance institutions to deal with current challenges.
The first geopolitical trend is arguably the most consequential for the global power balance and stability in the near future. Most would agree that no one is calling the shots in the world today, and there is no clear leader dictating the economic and political rules of the game. The US remains the dominant power but is not in a position to secure outcomes on its own.
The international environment is much more decentralised, where power is realigning among states but also being shared with a slew of non-state actors. This decentralisation can ultimately make the world more stable but for now it is heightening risks in the absence of any agreed ruled-based global regime.
Global stability will turn in the years ahead on how America’s ‘rebalancing’ to Asia-Pacific plays out and how countries respond to China’s rise, which has already transformed the regional and global balance. Will ‘rising powers’ be accommodated or resisted or ‘contained’? Another key question was the kind of balance that would be struck between the imperative of economic co-dependence and the dynamics of strategic competition between China and America.
A second geopolitical theme that dominated the global conversation relates to the aversion of war-weary Western publics to overseas military interventions by their governments. Chastened by the experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the more limited intervention in Libya, the Western appetite for over-the-horizon military interventions seems to be exhausted.
But rejection of military ‘solutions’ reflects more than Western publics’ disapproval of kinetic actions. A decade of hyper intervention has swung the pendulum in the other direction also because of the inability to achieve stated outcomes. The anti-interventionist mood in the West is also a function of having to fix their own financial problems and the fact that US dominance is now being contested by other nations asserting non-interference principles.
Two related themes that received much attention were the challenges of governance at a time when state power was being contested by newly empowered actors and declining state capacity. Governments are seen to be delivering too slowly in a world that is moving very fast.
Change was occurring at breathtaking speed in a hyper connected world. This was fuelling unmet expectations among people who had less patience. Together this was making it harder for governments to deliver. State capacity to provide public goods was also declining. At the global level the governance gap was even greater. The growing inadequacy of global institutions to cope with present day challenges loomed large in the international debate. A new architecture for global governance was needed but instead, major powers preferred to respond to multilateralism’s shortcomings by forming ‘coalitions of the willing’.
Can such short-term expedient responses deliver in terms of addressing the pressing issues of our time, which require global solutions? Everyone agreed that ad hoc responses were no answer. But there was little agreement on what should be the practical next steps to deal with this conundrum.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and UK