Global Harmony RIP

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  • Relevance of international institutions is declining while global conflicts remain endemic
  • Three summits in quick succession the APEC meeting in Beijing, the annual East Asia Summit (EAS) in Naypyidaw and the G-20 summit in Brisbane will bring together a host of world leaders, including US President Barack Obama.
  • Although the world is at a turning point in its history, these summits would seek to tinker at the margins, instead of boldly considering fundamental reforms to rules and institutions.
  • Current international crises and conflicts cry out for far-reaching changes in the global institutional structure, which has remained largely static for more than six decades.
  • Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was not exaggerating when he told a recent conference in Sochi that the international order is broken because its rules have broken down.
  • The spectre of crises and conflicts multiplying looms large.
  • While we know the world is in transition, the contours of the new order are still not visible.
  • If the pressing challenges are to be effectively managed, the 21st century world cannot remain saddled with 20th century rules and institutions.
  • In different ways, the EAS, G-20 and APEC underscore the slow retreat of the age of Atlantic dominance.
  • With the global balance of power clearly shifting, circumstances that helped spawn the Bretton Woods system are no longer relevant today.
  • One reality is that wealthy economies in the West are increasingly dependent on capital inflows from the cash-laden economies of the East.
  • G-20, for all its shortcomings, symbolises a shift towards the new realities, even if the change is occurring too slowly from the perspective of emerging economies.
  • Geoeconomics still does not dictate geopolitics, belying the predictions of some pundits when the Cold War ended.
  • The declining relevance of political institutions inherited from World War II is reflected in one stark fact: The 21st century has so far turned out to be no different than the 20th or 19th century, with conflict endemic and peace illusive.
  • To compound matters, geopolitical competition and rivalries between the great powers are sharpening, including over natural resources.
  • Africa has become the theatre of a new Great Game over resources.
  • Worse still, the power shifts and imbalance are having a profoundly destabilising effect.
  • Powerful states interpret rules to suit their own geopolitical agendas and interventionist policies.
  • The US-led overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi through aerial bombardment and Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea.
  • Putin justified the Crimea takeover in the name of “responsibility to protect“, the very moral (not legal) principle that Obama invoked to rationalise Gaddafi's overthrow earlier.
  • The EAS meeting in Myanmar will not have on its agenda the most pressing concern for several Asian nations :China's unrelenting efforts to change the territorial status quo in the East and South China Seas and the Himalayas and to re-engineer the cross-border flows of international rivers that originate on the Tibetan plateau.
  • China, as if to stress that might makes right, rejects the dispute settlement mechanism of even a treaty it has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The US, for its part, is undermining the post World War II order it helped to set up by sidelining or bypassing international institutions.
  • Obama's latest war in Syria is his presidency's seventh military campaign in a Muslim nation, yet this Nobel peace prize winner made no effort to seek a mandate from the UN Security Council because he wishes to wage an open-ended war on US terms, like his earlier interventions.
  • The new Cold War between the West and Russia makes it more difficult to fix a broken international system.
  • After all, Obama has lumped Russia, Ebola and terrorism together as the leading international threats, and spearheaded western economic sanctions to squeeze Moscow.
  • This is likely to result in an effectively paralysed UNSC and greater dissonance on regional and global issues, while making China the real geopolitical winner.
  • The only way to contain the new international instability is to search for solutions on the basis of dialogue, dignity and respect for international law and for each other's interests.
  • The upcoming summits will likely yield new promises to establish a rules-based order.
  • Mao Zedong famously asserted that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
  • If great powers assert one set of rules for themselves and a different set for others, the answer will be yes.
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