This report evaluates the current state of world (dis)order in a time of growing populism and nationalism. 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was meant to signal the ‘end of history’ and cement the liberal order, we must look again at where we have come from and try to suggest where we are going. The world is in transition from a US-led, partially liberal global order to one in which new and hybrid actors of both state and non-state varieties play a role in a manner distinct from the processes that have dominated since the end of World War Two.
In particular, the report focuses on the emerging debate that pits traditional politico-strategic and economic understandings of globalisation and global order against an understanding of the role of powers that have come to be known as ‘civilisation states’ or ‘state civilisations’. Such powers, most notably China and India, seek to reshape the contemporary international order in both ideational and material terms.
The report is not simply a ‘state of play’ discussion on our thinking about world order. It is also an applied and empirical investigation of the limitations on and policy options for how to restructure the global political and economic orders and it questions whether (and how) a civilisational dialogue might assist this restructuring. The report has a strong empirical focus. Unsurprisingly, it builds its analysis of the future of world order principally, but not exclusively, around the positions and attitudes of the two major players: the US and China. Moreover, the questions raised in the report are not simply of concern for scholars. They cast massive policy shadows over our understanding of, and the practices of, international order.
The report brings together a set of increasingly evident observations in a unique manner. These are presented below:
- For a number of reasons identified in the report, the liberal world order is challenged by a rising populist-nationalist zeitgeist and is under greater strain than at any time since the end of World War Two.
- Economic globalisation is also in trouble. It might have enhanced the integration of the global economy in the last 25 years but it has spectacularly failed to enhance socio-political cooperation across national boundaries and signs of de-globalisation, especially declines in global trade and financial investment, are apparent.
- The global order is moving away from unipolarity towards a multipolar structure in which the limits on US hegemonic power are growing – a fact seemingly better understood in Beijing, Brussels, Moscow, and Delhi than in Washington.
- Global governance, as we have known it – collective action problem solving of trans-sovereign policy problems in multilateral institutional settings, under-written by a hegemon – is massively challenged by a growing resistance to economic openness and a US preference for bilateral, transactional economic diplomacy.
- These strains and challenges are not simply economic and politico-strategic. They are now also culturally infused and exacerbated by the emergent polarising discourse couched in the confusing language of ‘states versus civilisations’ and fresh talk, 25 years on, of a Huntingtonian ‘clash of civilisations’.
- The prospects of a new Cold War are moving beyond rhetoric. They are serious and growing. They are driven especially by competition for dominance by the US and China in in the areas of technology, artificial intelligence, and cyberspace.
- Social media and digital communication are changing both our understanding of, and the practice of, everyday politics in modern life and the modern international order. We are entering the era of ‘quantum politics’. Global communicative interaction is exhibiting a greater degree of hybridity of both actors and practices than heretofore.
- The health of the global order is, in large part, at the mercy of US-China strategic competition and the future structure of international order is in a process of flux.
- The next several decades are going to see a process of contest, adjustment, and negotiation over global order. Whether this will lead to accommodation and cooperation rather than conflict in the conversation is yet to be determined.
- Some green shoots of post-hegemonic cooperative endeavour can be seen in certain policy domains, like climate, and regions, like Asia, and in settings other than the traditional multilateral institutional context. But, as the report concludes, the overall prospects for the consensual reform of world order are not guaranteed and, indeed, may be diminishing.
- A constructive global dialogue is difficult, but not impossible. Hence activities that support and enhance dialogue across competing value systems will continue to gain in salience. The role for activities such as the DOC Rhodes Forum, among others, will thus become increasingly important.
The objective of the report is to be both descriptive and analytical and to inform and provoke thinking on the current state of the international order – this most crucial of contemporary global policy issues. The report aims to speak to a wide range of interests across the scholarly community, the world’s public and private decision-makers, the media, the educated lay public, and civil society actors interested in the rise of civilisational politics and its possible consequences for world affairs.
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