Future historians might look at the collapse of the Soviet Union as the end of the 20th century, and at the current financial crisis as the beginning of the 21st. Remarkably, these two macro events have a common root, which is also the root of globalization: the revolution of Information Technologies.
In the 1970s, the IT revolution accelerated the arms race; the Soviet Union proved unable to follow the United States. Ultimately, the Marxist-Leninist system and ideology vanished.
The financial and more generally the managerial revolution occurred in the 1980s. The world economy embarked on a strong and stable upswing. In the 1990s, many could believe that democracy and market economy had won an irreversible victory and would quickly spread everywhere.
The “international community,” led by the United States, seemed to be on the way to universal peace and prosperity. It was a dream. History came back under the presidency of George W. Bush, starting with 9/11 and ending with the burst of an unprecedented asset bubble. The institutional framework of world governance erected since World War II proved a failure.
What the international community can and must demonstrate now is a willingness to undertake a full reconstruction The G-20 summit would be a great success if it could achieve just that, in addition to agreeing on credible immediate economic and financial measures.
Any attempt to rebuild governance must recognize that the new international system must be multipolar, heterogeneous and global.
Multipolarity means that although the United States will remain the only superpower for the foreseeable future, it can no longer pretend to lead the world alone. This is why we need a relevant group of permanent members for the U.N. Security Council, which would potentially include at least the following five natural “poles” – the United States, Japan, China, Russia and European Union. The members of this group should recognize they collectively share responsibilities for a politically sustainable globalization process, including such issues as climate change.
They should recognize that collective leadership implies taking into account the interests of smaller states. In particular, efficiency and legitimacy imply that regional approaches should systematically be encouraged and developed. For example, no peace and security framework in the Middle East is conceivable without Iran as a major regional partner.
Heterogeneity is a crucial reality. Such countries as China or Russia will not become liberal democracies in the foreseeable future, not to speak of many smaller states. Nonetheless, Western countries should cooperate and develop confidence-building measures with all of them. They should refrain from arrogant neo-colonial attitudes. Democracy and human rights should spread by virtue of examples set by those who claim the superiority of these values.
There is no way to maintain an open world without strong states able and willing to cooperate through efficient and legitimate frameworks. If we fail to move in this direction, we risk reproducing a kind of post-World War I scenario: The combination of nationalist forces and beggar-thy-neighbor protectionist policies could lead to a planetary disaster.
By THIERRY DE MONTBRIAL
New York Times
Thierry de Montbrial is founder and president of the French Institute of International Relations.