The unipolar phase with only one remaining superpower – the US – only lasted around 20 years. The simultaneous relative decline of the US, Europe and Japan is the mega-trend of our time. To date, the rise of new global players – China, India and the others – has by no means been uniform, nor will it be so in future.
The Chinese model
China – a non democratic, non-liberal state – is ascending in the global economic and political hierarchy and could develop a regulatory framework for other states in competition to the West. During the past 35 years, China has created a highly successful development and modernisation model which combines authoritarian political leadership with state supervised capitalism.
Bucking big powers
There are four democratic states among the new global players – Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey. They have growing influence, and not only regionally.
However, Western pluralism and free market capitalism are regarded with scepticism even in these countries, as are Western norms and values and the existing liberal world order.
Although most of the new global players share an anti-imperialist and anti-colonial attitude towards the West, many also regard each other with wariness.
They also have little interest in tying themselves long-term to a powerful partner – whether it is the US or China.
It would be a mistake – despite summit meetings and the recent decision to establish a development bank of the group – to see the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) as a coherent new bloc. Their interests are too different.
We should not forget that these interests are divergent enough, so that they have led to armed conflicts between Russia and China as well as between China and India. That this potential for conflict continues to exist was demonstrated by an incident at the border between China and India in April 2013.
In the course of their economic rise, nearly all new global players have increased their defence budgets and modernised their military apparatus. Particularly in Asia, rising military spending will likely continue – and in some cases grow.
There are long-standing regional rivalries that are resurfacing, as well as varying reactions and increased nervousness to the perceived US loss of influence. This has raised doubts about the ability of the US to protect its alliance partners.
Many of the new global players are focused on narrow national and, at best, regional interests.
In the sphere of global trade, for example, Brazil did not let its strategic partnership with China or the common partnership in the Brics prevent it from taking action against China. With the US and the EU, Brazil took a case to the World Trade Organisation, accusing China of dumping.
What complicates the current situation further is that, despite growing global interdependence, institution-building and political integration are only taking place at regional level – if that.
In South America, Brazil is promoting a new integration project in the Union of South American Nations. The Asean (Association of South-East Asian) nations are seeking to counterbalance their increasing economic dependency on China with greater co-operation among themselves as well as with the US, Japan and India.
Beware the hyping
Despite their rise, however, many of the new global players continue to have characteristics typical of developing countries.
Some of them still rely too much on raw materials and their processing (for instance Brazil, South Africa), while others have only developed a few globally competitive core industries so far (India, for example).
Although the rising economies have all contributed to shattering the West dominated post-war order, due to their conflicting interests they are unable, or unwilling, to co-operate constructively on building a new order.
Together, however, we can assume that they are keen, and strong enough, to prevent a new hierarchical order.
Therefore, the future will most likely see a multipolar world. Stabilising such a global landscape should be a key objective of German and European foreign policy.
* Heinrich Kreft is deputy director general for International Academic and Educational Relations and Dialogue among Civilisations in the German Foreign Ministry. Follow theGlobalist on Twitter: @theGlobalist.