We are living in an era without a single, dominant world power. The globe is beset by crises-climate change, resource scarcity, food and financial crises, nuclear proliferation, and failing states. No one country can devise solutions to address these kinds of problems. Even the United Nations is not up to the task. Indeed, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown admitted at the Progressive Governance Conference in April in London, the international organizations founded in the wake of World War II no longer meet today's needs.
It was just 17 years ago that the American journalist Charles Krauthammer spoke of the dawning of a new era in which, for decades to come, the United States would serve as the epicenter of the world order. Only five years have passed since then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell told an audience at Davos that America claimed the right to initiate unilateral military action.
Alas, the Iraq war shattered the dream of an age of "liberal imperialism," in which America spreads its values and ideals by coercive means. The financial crisis of the last two years has further accelerated the displacement of power-from the United States and Europe toward India, China, and Russia, as well as the Arabian Gulf states.
George Bush Sr. is said to have remarked, "We can't make the wrong mistakes." An American administration that wants to avoid "the wrong mistakes" is going to have to find its place in the new multipolar world.
Who are the decisive powers in this new world order? The United States, Russia, India, China, Brazil, and the European Union surely count among them. Interestingly, these countries are growing ever closer together. The current financial crisis has shown how deep their ties have already become. Other similarities are likewise revealing. With the exception of Europe, each of these countries contains within it aspects of the so-called first, second, and third worlds.
These countries are neither enemies of one another, nor are they friends; they are "frenemies," competitors for the world's scarce resources. These countries assure their people that they can shape the coming global order and provide for their future welfare, but their respective visions of the future can differ greatly. A potential "clash of futures" looms on the horizon of the multipolar world.
Not all "frenemies" are democracies in the Western sense. The successes of Singapore and China, as well as of the Gulf states, prove that states need not be democratic to guarantee their people a high standard of living. But, that need not be cause for pessimism. Within the new nondemocratic world powers, productive elites are replacing parasitic elites. Where the former get the upper hand, they produce a system more free and just than the one they inherited. Their goal is to develop the economy and correct social inequalities. They know that where there are slums there will be "failing cities" and "failing states."
The Alfred Herrhausen Society, the international forum of Deutsche Bank, is organizing a new project entitled Foresight in order to analyze and compare the future visions of emerging and existing world powers. Through discussion and debate, it hopes to find elements for a common future. The inaugural event held in Moscow brought together participants from Brazil, China, Europe, Japan, India, Russia, the United States, and other parts of the world to discuss Russia's role in a multipolar world. One of the main goals of this series is to see the world through the eyes of others, rather than through a purely Eastern or Western lens.
New alliances that set countries against one another will not be able to solve the challenges of the 21st century. New forms of international cooperation, consultation, and compromise will have to play a central role in a multipolar world. It is absurd that Italy belongs to the G-8, but not China or Brazil. And what sort of meaning can a global security council have when India, Brazil, and the European Union are left out, while France and Great Britain are permanent members?
Needed are new forms of international governance: in a world with diminishing resources and accelerating climate change, states might be tempted to pursue their own interests in order to gain short-term advantages. The challenge will be to devise a new international framework and an organized balance of interests. Only a common future-"change through rapprochement" not a "clash of futures"-can bring us further.
Certainly, the past ten years provide much cause for pessimism. In order for the next ten years to be a success, we will need to be fortified by a credible, if skeptical, optimism.
Wolfgang Nowak is the managing director of the Alfred Herrhausen Society since 2003. Prior to that that, he served as the director of the Federal Chancellory's Policy Department.
This article was first published here by our partner Internationale Politik-Global Edition.
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