Dr Maleeha Lodhi : WILTON PARK was the venue last month of a lively exchange of views among policy makers and experts at a conference convened to debate the future of power and consider long-term global trends, challenges and opportunities. Billed as a ‘futures journey’ that looked out to 2040, the conference provided instructive insights into the nature of power, who would wield it and how different global actors will interact in the years to come. Some of the key points made during the discussion are worth summarising here as they indicate the global trends and drivers that might affect the nature of power and global power relationships in the near future. · The concept of power is in flux at a time of extraordinary change in the world. · Despite the emergence of diverse new actors, the state will remain the main actor in the international system. · The sources of power may be stable but the environment in which power is exercised has been changing in fundamental ways. · The instruments of power have to be tailored according to the needs of the situation. · Countries will need to develop an intricate blend of hard and soft power to be effective. · Economic power has become the critical vehicle by which countries insert and assert themselves in the international system. But ‘hard power’ too is needed to guarantee state security. · Military and economic power is not enough to confer global status. States also have to perform competently. · Countries that do not innovate don’t have much of a future. · ‘Negative’ power also influences the course of events. This refers to power vacuums and to power wielded by violent non-state actors and criminal groups. · Derogation of power i.e. conscious abstention or non-use of power can delegitimise states or governments. · An assumption that has not materialised is that economic interdependence will diminish the importance of national sovereignty in international affairs. · Global power is shifting with systemic changes underway but global institutions still reflect an ‘old world’. Discussion of many of these assertions helped to clarify how power is changing in a fast-moving world, the opportunities opened by globalisation and the vulnerabilities being created by the uncertainties of our age. Broadly speaking, three major trends were identified among those seen to be shaping the present era: (a) Shift in global economic power from the West to Asia (b) Progressive technological evolution and (c) Shift in power from the state to the individual. Other than the growing dispersal of power in the global arena, other systemic trends emphasised were demographic change, water stress, resource competition and the widening gap between people’s expectations and the capacity of governments to meet them. In today’s competitive environment, institutions and states that are not agile were condemned to becoming ‘dinasours’. Much conference discussion inevitably revolved around questions about whether the world was moving in a multipolar or nonpolar direction. Some argued there would be three sets of economic poles in the future: US, China and the European Union. Others saw the Sino-US balance of power as the defining trend. Many raised the question of what China’s rise would mean. One speaker made trenchant observations about why discussion of this often ends not with a conclusion, but with a question: how will China behave? Is this due to a subconscious desire in the West not to see a non-democratic country succeed at a time when the West itself is mired in self-doubt? Is there a connection, he asked, between ‘fear of China’ and weakening of the democratic ideal in the West, indicated by declining interest and participation in politics. Such questioning also reflected implicit admiration by the West of China’s ability to think, plan and act long-term, while Western democracies remained gridlocked and often at the mercy of special interests. In another session the long term forces shaping the global future were identified by a speaker as: (1) The limits of capitalism and the fact that globalisation doesn’t always work for everyone; (2) leaders are increasingly ineffective because traditional levers of power do not work in an environment marked by power diffusion and rise of new actors and (3) shortcomings of the present systems of governance to live up to current challenges and manage tomorrow’s world. There was agreement that a more multipolar world required multilateral institutions to be strengthened, even reconfigured. But concern was voiced about the lack of international consensus on how to do this. From this it was concluded that the present weaknesses of the multilateral system are likely to continue.
(Dr Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and UK)