by Ahmet Mehmet (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 7, Safar, 1444)
Much of the discussion related to the emerging multipolar world order is concentrated on its general contours. It is important to look at some specific aspects of multipolarity which should be established for the new order to make itself relevant on the world stage and to deliver tangible results.
Let us first identify its opponents. They are not limited to NATO regimes only. While western powers will be the biggest losers of the creation of a multipolar world order—it means the loss of their hegemony—China and Russia are also not fully committed to a truly multipolar world order. This needs elaboration.
Speaking at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow in 1998, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made some positive remarks about multipolarity. At the same time, she asserted that the United States of America was an indispensable world power.
Careful reading and analysis of Chinese and Russian statements and policies reveals that they consider multipolarity simply as a means to enhance their influence in global affairs. They do not want to significantly reduce western hegemony if their interests can be accommodated within its parameters.
This was explained by one of the most astute Russia experts, Dmitri Trenin who articulated in the Washington Quarterly as early as 2009 the most accurate assessment of contemporary Russia-West relations. Trenin wrote: “Russia was not to be integrated into the core West but managed by it… Putin aimed at integration with it [West]. Unlike [Boris] Yeltsin, Putin put a price on his country’s cooperation with the United States. Washington would have to recognize Moscow’s primacy in the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, the Central Asian Republics that were part of the Soviet Union before its breakup].”
If one pays close attention to the reasons advanced by Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, whether one agrees with them or not, it becomes clear that had the west not expanded its influence into what Russia considers its sphere of influence, Moscow’s objections to western hegemony would not be significant.
Keeping this in mind, let us return to the central question of the specifics of a truly multipolar world order.
Such a world order will have to reflect strategic diversification in economic, political and military fields. Thus, there needs to be a group of states which would balance each other out in economic, political and military fields. In a truly multipolar set up, China and Japan would achieve similar levels of growth and be equally crucial for a functioning global economy. Europe would be able to enter political and economic alliances without needing a green light from Washington. The US will not be able to give unconditional support to apartheid Israel without significant economic and political costs. All these factors do not have to play out in the exact way described above, but the leveling of economic, political and military fields in a diversified and multilateral way is essential.
Let us conduct a brief overview of some specific economic features which would have to be firmly established for the world order to be functional and truly multipolar.
From an economic standpoint, the key shift must take place in the entire so-called neo-liberal economic narrative. It does not mean that all features of free trade and capitalism will be eliminated, but many of the key economic dogmas of neo-liberalism projected as economic truths will have to be called out for what they are, dogmas. This is already taking place and not only due to the economic rise of China which dismisses key tenets of western capitalism. Even in the US some key dogmas of the so-called free-market economy are being significantly reconfigured.
Joe Biden’s decree to institute “Buy American” provision for the federal government when purchasing goods and services may appear to be a sensible economic policy, it is also an admission that Washington’s global economic narrative has failed. For decades, western educational institutions, think-tanks and media outlets preached the virtues of free trade as the primary engine for world peace and global economic prosperity. The US was the principal political and military champion of free trade economic narrative. Now it admits serious shortcomings of its classical ways.
Also, one should not dismiss the increasing appeal of the Scandinavian economic model. It has become a key example of how to do things better in many educational institutions and media headlines shaping global attitudes. Twenty years ago, the narrative of how economic activity should be managed was symbolized by the US economy, which brought with it certain economic dogmas. Today this is no longer the case. Scandinavian countries which chose to follow a different economic path have become the symbol of correct economic thinking.
Islamic banking is also gaining ground and even non-Muslim policy centers are looking at it as a serious alternative.
Other key economic factors that would need to be set in place for the durability and authenticity of a multipolar world order would be a significant movement away from the US dollar as global trade currency and the establishment of Africa as a manufacturing hub to counter China’s dominance.
Since there is intense discussion about the supremacy of the US dollar, more attention needs to be paid to the necessity of Africa being the new global economic miracle. The African continent is a treasure-trove of many vital minerals. Further, its climatic diversity makes the continent an ideal hub for diverse economic sectors.
With its economy still largely underdeveloped, the continent has immense space for many services and products that can be initiated for the local markets to absorb. With sincere and committed political leadership, there is no reason why Africa cannot become an economic success story. True, this will not happen overnight or even in the next few years, but it is a plausible scenario in which the developing world should take keen interest and lend active support.
Western hegemony should have taught developing countries one important lesson: not to place all their eggs in one basket. The basket owners have a tendency to weaponize their currency and adopt policies to accrue other economic advantages. By making sure that China does not hold all the economic cards, especially in manufacturing, the developing world, West Asia in particular, can avert a scenario where Beijing will utilize medium powers mainly as leverages against its bigger competitors. To avoid this scenario, Africa’s economic advancement should be a key pillar of the strategy to balance out China’s manufacturing monopoly.
At the political level, multipolarity must develop a robust and practical mechanism of collective global cooperation and decision-making. Absent this concrete alternative, the declining western hegemonic order will appear as the only real and working global political framework. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If countries like Venezuela, Iran, Bolivia, Turkey, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil, Algeria, South Africa and Ghana come together for a coordinated political push to reform the current UN security council system and increase the role of the UN General Assembly, multipolarity can reflect a more realistic and relevant picture of the world.
If western powers refuse to play ball at the UN—and it is quite likely that is what will happen—there is no reason why a sizable bloc of countries cannot create an alternative political structure to replace the UN. Will power and political prudence can make this a reality.
Another key political development which must take place for multipolarity to firmly set in is the normalization of local conflict resolution. Conflicts should be resolved without US, French, British, Norwegian, Russian or Chinese involvement. Local and regional problems should be resolved by actors directly affected by them. While this has already started to a certain degree, as recent developments in Chad, Venezuela-Columbia and Iran-Saudi negotiations show, this needs to become the norm in all parts of the world. This will take time to become fully functional but the fact that this is already taking place is a positive development.
In practical terms, this means the emergence of organizations like the African Union, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and others. This is the only way to win global public opinion on a broad scale by showing that multipolarity is acted upon at a practical level and can deliver positive results.
Political institutionalization of multipolarity will naturally eliminate the need for non-regional military involvement. This means that the interference of non-regional militaries around the world needs to be eliminated or at the very least reduced to a minimum. For this to happen, a realistic approach needs to be taken. It should be kept in mind that war is the perpetual vice of humanity. Therefore, regional military cooperation systems, not alliances, need to be formed.
If this sounds idealistic or utopian, it should be remembered that at some point in history, the abolition of slavery, minimum wage, the UN or emergence of a European Union were also considered utopian. Today such developments and institutions are a reality because people chose to work towards establishing them.
The same should apply to the establishment of a functional multipolar world order which is in the process of being formed. While the road will be bumpy, it seems to be an unstoppable process. For it to become a fully functional reality, the process must deliver real positive results, sooner the better.