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posted on 28 May 2016

Changes In A Multipolar World

from LEAP/Europe 2020,

Since 2006, when the GEAB bulletin was launched, our team has placed the emerging multipolar world at the heart of the global systemic crisis. The effects of the growing relativity of the American power were the first visible signs of a vast global reconfiguration. Then, in 2009, with the creation of the BRIC(S) [1] club, the new players started to impose themselves in an organized manner on the international stage, really giving substance to this concept of a multipolar world [2].

That said, the strategy of the emerging powers first consisted of creating a common front aimed at reforming the existing international institutions, in particular through the G20 [3]. Initially, the new powers mostly intended to be recognized and integrated into the international architecture built by the West in the twentieth century.

Some changes have indeed occurred as a result of this "lobbying". However as the West was thus beginning to lose control of their power tools, they started acting more and more outside those bodies which they had created. For example, the United States started stepping out of the UN framework [4[ and even of NATO [5] when they led their military campaigns. Similarly, the Westerners also withdrew from WTO at a point in time [6].

Yet, the Westerners' partial withdrawal from the international system did not necessarily allow the bodies of twentieth century international governance to really take into account the new diversity of interests involved. The strong Western DNA of these institutions remained at work. And, the new powers mainly see in their participation in those instances a way to limit the risk of polarization between them and the West.

In fact, just like the Westerners, they act on the international stage via a wide range of new governance tools: BRICS, NDB[7], AIIB [8], OBOR [9], etc., as we have seen many times before.

Deepening the concept of multipolarity

This finding requires more careful consideration of the concept of a multipolar world. Indeed, the new world "poles" are not just important new "members" of the international club, and the method that consists of integrating countries such as Russia, India or China into a system of pre-established Western rules, has no chance of summarizing these countries' roles and action.

A multipolar world is made up of highly differentiated actors with different languages, cultures, value systems, strategic interests, business models, etc. Peace and prosperity are two aims on which these actors agree, but this quest cannot be done under a pre-existing regulatory supervision, in the elaboration of which these actors have not participated. Increasingly visibly, the so-called "international" method is that of a Western club inviting the world to line up under its banner of values and principles for peace to reign. In this statement, we can see to what extent the method is unacceptable in the eyes of some actors whose power is at least equivalent to that of the "masters" of that game.

For a global governance guarantor of peace, instead of an "international" approach, it's time to think of a "multipolar" method based on a plurality of dominant players: the US, Europe, China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa... Contrary to the international method, the multipolar method accepts differences and incompatibilities, instead focusing on the common goal of peaceful coexistence in a globalized world. The multipolar method does not confine its components in a club with strict rules; it brings independent actors around the same table so that they discuss about constraints, risks of overlapping and necessary compatibility, project by project, topic by topic. It is based on the recognition of the legitimacy of all agendas, while imposing the need to find ways for the most harmonious relationship possible.

A precedent: the European project of the 50s

This method is actually very similar to that initiated by the ECSC [10] and then by European communities at the end of World War II, for the management of its continent. It is the so-called "community" method, balanced between federalism and inter-state approach, abandoned in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty which moved to the "unionist" method, which is much more levelling, by the way. Therefore, even if the EU has certain strong features linked to its history which can meaningfully contribute to the establishment of the multipolar method on a global scale, its most recent wanderings hold it back from this playing this role. But undeniably, the European construction engaged in during the 50s and aiming to end the European wars was meant to manage the multipolar nature of a European continent which would never agree to submit to the laws of either one or another of its nations.

The BRICS, flagship of the decade 2010

The BRICS are the most obvious incarnation of this method. If Westerners keep seeing their disparity as a sign of their unsustainability, it is because the BRICS' sustainability is actually considered along the criteria of the international method. In fact, the BRICS build on complementarities rather than on similarities. Once again we see that the community of goals is the cement of alliances of circumstance, with no vocation to sustainability. The BRICS have aggregated in 2009-10 on an objective of global governance reform, aiming for multipolarity. They will dissolve in the advent of this governance. This method has the advantage of not leaving on the international scene any heavy and already useless expensive institutions.

The multipolar concept at play in the reorganization of the oil producing countries

More recently, we noticed a new multipolar rapprochement: that of countries which found themselves around the table of the oil producing countries in the Doha meeting last month. We talked about it in the last issue: Russians, Saudis and Iranians, in particular, decided to meet outside of a de facto non-inclusive and dying OPEC (perhaps with the further aim to reinvigorate it) to acknowledge their differences and find common grounds, a minima. From an internationalist point of view, the meeting was a failure because participants have not commonly agreed on output rates for centuries ahead. Actually, the fact that such a meeting took place is in itself already a masterful success; the proof is in the rise in oil prices... while Iran is greatly increasing its production [11].

A multi-everything Middle-East

As anticipated by us three years ago [12], the multipolar method is also underway in the current reorganization of the Middle East. The main poles of the region, notably Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel (we noted at the time that their coexistence recreated the conditions for a multi-religious and multi-ethnic Middle-East in line with the multi-millennial nature of the region) are currently undergoing a seemingly paradoxical process of differentiation (they show more of their particularities) and of rapprochement (they express more clearly their need to work together):

₋ Turkey, through Davutoglu's [13] symbolic eviction, resolutely turns its back on European integration after having marked its distance from Russia [14]. One may think that Turkey with head towards Saudi guardianship. Well this is not the case at all: Turkey is close to Saudi Arabia on the Syrian issue [15], but it is close to Iran on the Kurdistan issue [16, and it is close to Israel on energy issues [17]. At the same time, Turkey has proved to be irreducible (it is notably an economic and military giant of the Middle East), so everyone must reckon with it. Currently President Erdogan is playing the reorganizing map of the area based on a multipolar logic and through increased interaction with all of the other major players which are recognized as such;

₋ Saudi Arabia enacted its "coming out" and is officially entering the regional and international scene, notably through its post-oil economy project on the horizon of 2030 [18], which puts its strategy on the table. This strategy can be spooky in some aspects, but it has the merit of being presented to everyone, and so it can be taken into account and linked to other strategies (we'll say more on this, later in this issue);

₋ Iran is now an essential and central player in the Middle East, also imposing developmental strategies which are hardly deniable in terms of legitimacy;

- and Israel, facing these axes of reorganisation, has no other choice but to take into account its new regional environment, which no longer looks like the old empire borders (as in the 70s-80s) nor like the chaos of the 1990s-2000s. Its strategic rapprochement with the largest regional ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the opening of this strategic ally to the entire region, is about to contribute to the integration of the Jewish state into a multi-religion Middle-East (Shiites, Sunnis, Jews, Christians...) [19].

At the core of the acceleration of these restructuring trends in the region, we find the Islamic State, which we anticipated as the new regional common enemy (instead of Israel) and which causes everyone to agree. But, undeniably, the transition catalyst has been the Russian intervention in Syria.

We have listed some examples of management of international relations based on the multipolar method, the Middle-East being currently its most striking example. In other regions, this method is actually at struggle to impose itself.

European expansionism: turned down flat

The European integration, which has turned into an expansionary process after the fall of the Berlin Wall - Europe being unable to manage its neighbourhood other than by trying to integrate it, presently provides a good example of the internationalist model and the limits that it reached. The Ukraine, Turkey, Russia... had futures only within the EU, futures of ecstatic communion around the European values according to the European institutions, an economic upgrade vector according to the candidates. Ideologies, hidden agendas, lies and manipulations, have all rushed into the crazy European conquest of the 1990s and 2000s. Today, the European integration/expansion has stalled, although nothing is finished yet, in particular the political integration of the continent. And Europe is left with its indignation at the gaze of the former candidates to its paradise now claiming the right to not want to be part of its club:

Of course, there is Russia, to which Europe officially refuses to talk [20], draped in its outrage that Russia bases its foreign policy on the legitimacy of its national interests; an intransigence which, as we have already mentioned, is at great risk of fracturing buffer zones such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe. No, Russia does not wish to be integrated into a pan-Europe squinting at its riches. However, should we stop talking to it while the organization of the Balkan region is a vital theme of the Euro-Russian dialogue?

And now we have Turkey, about to be considered as a pariah ever since it dared deny the legitimacy of European demands, such as this request for modification of Turkish anti-terrorism laws in exchange for visa liberalization [21]... a request which in fact is pure and simple interference from the point of view of a country which needs the EU less than the EU needs it (especially in the case of the migrant crisis). No, Turkey will not be the fifth wheel of the European coach, while it is actually the leading economic power in the Middle East. Yet, shall we not speak with Turkey, thus risking to give momentum to the thesis of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, so dear to Huntington and other Armageddon ideologues [22]?

Then there is the United States, in a process of differentiation from the "Western camp," as revealed by Donald Trump's campaign success, the anti-thesis of all values advocated by the West. The case of the US visas gives a hint of the deteriorating EU-US relations [23].

While it is obviously desirable for Europe to finalize the strategic and political independence of its continent, isolation is the pitfall which it will have to absolutely avoid now. To this purpose, it will need to recognize the legitimacy of the political and strategic choices of the major global players and deal with it, putting aside its vocation of judge, which does not mean giving up its vocation in terms of universal values. Yet, values which are no longer accepted by everyone are no longer universal values. If Europe recognizes this fact without being offended, it will then be able to initiate a major project of rethinking an a minima set of "unsurpassable" universal principles, one in which everyone recognizes himself... at least for a while... Read all the GEAB 105

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


[1] Launching of the BRIC in June 2009, in Yekaterinburg. Source:

[2] The title of this book relates perfectly to the BRICS' project: « The BRICS and coexistence, an alternative vision of global order », Cedric de Coning, Routledge 2014

[3] As we can see here, for instance: « BRICS can give shape to G20: Modi ». Source: The Hindu, 15/11/2015

[4] The war in Iraq in 2003, of course : a terrible mistake according to Hans Blix. Source: CNN, 19/03/2013

[5] A visible chaos in Libya during the intervention. Source: Deutsche Welle, 23/03/2011

[6] Mostly when they dropped the cycle of Doha. Source: Delta Farm Press, 24/07/2006

[7] A development bank of the BRICS. Source: Hindustan Times, 17/04/2016

[8] An Asian bank of development aiming to finance the Silk Road in China. Source: Financial Times, 29/06/2015

[9] One Belt, One Road, the Chinese project. Source: Xinhua Finance Agency

[10] The ECSC was inaugurated during the Treaty of Paris in 1951. Source: Toute l'Europe, 26/08/2008

[11] Iran considers this an important step. Source: CNBC, 23/04/2016

[12] Article « Middle East: is there a light at the end of the tunnel? », GEAB N°92. Source: GEAB, 15 Febr 2013

[13] The Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the pro-European face of the Turkish government, has quit. Source: LSE, 10/05/2016

[14] When Turkey took down the Russian plane. Source: CNN, 25/11/2015

[15] Turkey welcomes King Salman on April 11. Source: Hürriyet, 12/04/2016

[16] Erdogan meets Rohani on April 16. Source: Hürriyet, 16/04/2016

[17] The gas and Syria bring Turkey closer to Israel. Source: Times of Israel, 17/02/2016

[18] Saudi Vision 2030. Source: Arab News

[19] A very interesting article on the geopolitical environment challenges of Israel. Source: Value Walk, 12/05/2016

[20] The official sanctions are in fact increasingly criticised by democratic boards such as the French National Assembly, which voted for the stop of the sanctions against Russia on April 28. Source: Le Monde, 28/04/2016

[21] Source: The Guardian, 06/05/2016

[22] Source: Wikipedia

[23] The European Parliament requires the reintroduction of the visas for the American and Canadian citizens coming to Europe, as a response to the newly required visas imposed by the US and Canada to certain EU nationalities. Source: Politico, 20/04/2016

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