Thursday, December 22, 2016

The World We Hoped We Had Outgrown

Twenty-five years ago, some people were writing obituaries for the nation state -- and Francis Fukuyama  was proclaiming the end of history. But, Robert Muggah writes, they got it wrong:

The end of history has not arrived and liberal democracy is not ascendant. According to British journalist Misha Glenny, Fukuyama and others under-estimated Western hubris and the greed of financial capitalism that contributed in 2008 to one of the most serious political and economic crises since the Great Depression.

“These shocks”, he argues, “enabled alternative (governance) models to reassert themselves … China and Russia most importantly … and the consolidation of illiberal democratic nation-states.”

History -- the old fashioned kind, where nations compete against each other and occasionally go to war -- is reasserting itself:

Far from experiencing a decline in hard power, the larger nation-states are shoring up their military capabilities. The top ten spenders in 2015 included the U.S., China, Russia, India, Japan and Germany. Some of these countries are clearly preparing for confrontations in the coming decade. They are not alone. Global defence expenditures increased steadily since the late 1990s and topped $1.6 trillion last year. These trends are set to continue.

These same nation states are also continuing to dominate economically. The above-mentioned countries also registered the largest GDPs in 2015. If adjusted for purchasing power parity, China comes out above the U.S. and Russia also rises up the rankings.

As these ascendant nations flex their muscles the global order will be transformed. The post World War II consensus is crumbling:

Established 20th century powers such as the U.S. and EU are ceding importance and influence to faster-growing China and India. Old alliances forged after the Second World War are giving way to new regional coalitions across Latin America, Asia and Africa. While these reconfigurations reflect underlying economic and demographic changes, they also increase the risk of conflict breaking out.

At the same time, there is a new level of government emerging:

Indeed, nation states themselves are busily establishing legal and physical enclaves to contract out core functions to private entities. There are already more than 4,000 registered special economic zones spread out around the world. While some have been more successful than others, these para-states deliberately fuse public and private interests and pose interesting questions about the purchase of state sovereignty. 

 It's very much a brave new world which is emerging. And yet, in some ways, it's the same old world we hoped we had outgrown.

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