The multipolar moment has arrived — and it’s nothing like Americans imagined.
|Portugal protests: AFP – Image|
Looking for a sign of when the multipolar moment suddenly seemed real? You could do worse than mark the day when Brazil and Turkey — two of the world’s most avidly internationalist emerging powers — joined together this May to announce they had stepped in to broker a nuclear-fuel swap deal with Iran that potentially — though sadly not actually — paved the way toward a peaceful solution to the standoff. Turkey and Brazil aren’t superpowers, nor are they permanent U.N. Security Council members. But just as U.S. President Barack Obama came into office preaching a renewed focus on multilateralism, rising powers are reminding us that respect for hierarchy is no longer on anyone’s agenda.
What a difference a couple of decades makes. A little over 20 years ago, then U.S. President George H.W. Bush — who had just witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and saw the Soviet Union disintegrating before his very eyes — stood at the granite podium of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and proclaimed a “new world order,” a U.S.-dominated international system “where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle.” Two decades later, the “new new world order” we are in fact living looks almost nothing like what Bush — and most Americans — imagined or hoped.
The United States still has the world’s most powerful military, of course, but its utility is diminishing as the capacity to deter and resist spreads. Just look at Iraq and Afghanistan. Military might and political influence no longer necessarily go together, and too much of the former can even undermine the latter. More fundamentally, the world has quickly become multipolar, with the European Union a larger economic player than the United States while China rises quickly on all measures of hard and soft power. Obama couldn’t give the “New World Order” speech today; he’d have to negotiate it first with his peers in Brussels and Beijing. And as for democracy: Meet authoritarian state capitalism, a new entry into our lexicon that underscores the non-Western options every state can pursue today. Nobody’s talking about the Washington Consensus anymore — instead the Beijing Consensus, the Mumbai Consensus, and even something only half-jokingly called the Canuck Consensus are competing for the hearts and minds of global elites.