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Searching for a new world order in Davos PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 26 January 2008

Agence France-Presse .

Davos, Switzerland The spectacular rise of China and India coupled with a decline in US influence has prompted heated debate in Davos this year over possible scenarios for a new world order.

While the United States remains the undisputed military superpower, experts participating in the annual gathering of the world's political and business elite have highlighted its waning ability to set the global agenda on its own.

And with the UN Security Council struggling to provide a consensus on just about any major issue, the question of what nation, group of nations or international institution could command a leading role on the future world stage was floated to a widely varying response. The only real point of agreement was that the current fluidity in the balance of world power carries a serious threat of instability and conflict, as well as concerns over how to build an effective international response to extreme abuses of power such as acts of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

'We don't live in a multi-polar world, we live in a non-polar world,' said John Chipman, director general of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. While the United States is clearly too strong to stay on the sidelines of world affairs, Chipman argued that it was also 'too weak' to implement an agenda without wide international support. Similarly China, while too strong to be seen as just a developing nation, is unable to shape its regional environment alone and India, while certainly a rising power, remains 'diffident' about breaking with its non-aligned principles.

At the same time, Russia has accumulated great economic power, but, 'wields it in a way that weakens its reputation and causes immense mistrust,' Chipman said. 'The real question is whether the rising powers see themselves as the custodians of an international system and are willing to advance interests that go beyond their national ones,' he added. Wu Jianmin, president of the China Foreign Affairs University, argued that China's reticence to try and set a global agenda should be viewed against the tarnished history of Western interference in the sovereign affairs of other nations.

'You Western countries like to divide the world,' said Wu. 'You got into the habit of lecturing others. You want people to believe exactly like you. It's impossible.' Some delegates in Davos have predicted the development of a so-called 'Chindia' power bloc that would see the two giant Asian neighbours taking a joint role in world affairs. Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at India's Centre for Police Research said the idea was an understandable one, but flawed. 'Everyone is talking about the rise of China and India. Two nations rising at such an unprecedented speed at the same time in history —one third of the global population,' Chellaney said.

'And it is true to say that how this situation evolves will very much shape security in Asia and beyond. 'But we tend to forget these two countries are new neighbours,' he said, pointing back to China's 1951 invasion of Tibet, which had previously provided a buffer zone between the two countries. 'So they have been on a sharp learning curve. Both sides are trying to de-emphasise competition, but reality cannot be ignored. This relationship will be defined by managed competition for years to come.'

If the threat of US intervention overseas no longer carries the same weight it did in the past, some voiced concern that a contrary policy of strict non-interference in the sovereign affairs of another state —often espoused by China — opened the door to a repeat of such horrors as the genocide in Rwanda. For Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister and now president of the International Crisis Group, even those countries with a deep resistance to intervention were starting to recognise that egregious crimes against humanity could not go unchallenged.

'There is now the beginning of a global consensus that sovereignty doesn't mean a licence to kill, doesn't mean a licence to stand back and allow killing of that order to take place,' Evans said. 'This is a very real phenomenon, that sovereignty is not what it was and can't be what it was,' he added. Nevertheless, the question remained as to what body could organise such intervention effectively while commanding wide international support.

Many pointed to the need for UN reform that would expand the Security Council and break the stranglehold of the five veto-wielding permanent Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Others, like Evans, focused on the potential of informal groupings —like the Group of Eight industrialised nations — which lack the executive authority of the Security Council but function well as consensus-building enterprises. 'The trouble with the G8 of course is that it's so selective in its membership,' Evans said.

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