It’s no secret that the technology and communication revolution has produced manifold socio-political consequences. While there have been many advantages, these advancements are also creating numerous headaches for the existing political, economic, and security systems that were meant to preserve order. Change is inherently dynamic but overtime is slowed down by the human systems that are initially developed, or imposed, to bring a semblance of stability.
There is increasing evidence that the present political, economic, and security models are no longer working optimally, as discontent mounts amongst the participants at the global, nation-state, and individual level. Adding to this is the uncertainty being produced by climate change. But there are no clear alternatives to replace what is malfunctioning – at least not at this stage. For more than a decade, Globalization was presented as the emerging model – but that appears to have been shot down in the form of reactionary ‘Brexit’ and the ‘America First’ approaches.
What Ails the System?
Future looking entities are constantly trying to make sense of the flux, often proactively inducing it, and then attempt to manage and shape it. This process usually starts with a review of the existing system to determine if it is tweakable. Alternatively, if the situation has grown too out of sync from reality, it might be preferable to focus on fresh mechanisms altogether.
The business world is more proficient in adapting, and to determine what is changing as it relates to the customer and the business environment. However, often the choices they have made under the laissez faire approach have had an adverse impact on the political and economical governance models connected to the present nation-state structure, especially as it relates to the phenomenon known as Globalization.
No wonder, a lot of effort is being directed in the developed world to understand the emerging trends – so as to position better for the future. However, there is a growing alarm, bordering almost at paranoia, that the present models are unsuitable for the future needs, and thus the participants are also freaking out.
To make adjustments to the existing systems or develop them anew, an essential prerequisite is also to comprehend what is changing, why, and the trajectory. Obviously, developing a solution that is inconsiderate of this is likely to have a short life span.
Participants of the System
Moreover, the sentiments of the participants of any system also need to be gauged; to what extent they have evolved versus their expectations and tolerance level? There is a symbiosis between the participants and the system they live in. The systems should represent the participants, and they in turn tune the system to make them relevant.
In addition, the continuous interaction between the system and the participants produces mixed results. Some are always disproportionately benefiting and prefer statusquo, while the losers desire reforms and a better outcome. And then there is the middle tier whose involvement is essential for the preservation of the model. In the political and economic domain, many such models have recently been experimented with, and go by the names of Socialism, Communism and Capitalism etc.
Irrespective, anyone attempting to change a system has to put in place a strategy on how to deal with those desiring a status quo versus those not benefiting, especially if the beneficiaries are few and influential. And this is particularly true today.
Other than technological and communication revolution, including climate change, the most significant challenge has to do with the weaknesses in political governance that have failed to deliver to the masses with inequality at all times high. The democratic systems are faltering first because the societies are extremely polarized – and developing consensus on critical issues is acutely difficult. The election results are failing to produce majority, and thus the resulting governments are fragile and indecisive.
Moreover, the collusion between money and politics has gravely polluted governance – as this means the interests of the powerful are represented at the cost of less affluent, leading to highly biased policies and corruption.
In the developing world the situation is further aggravated when the corrupt political leadership is often supported by the West, which does not cater to the masses and the needs of the youth bulge. This also results in anti-west sentiments and has created an environment that is ripe for revolt. Many of these reasons are also responsible for why extremism has spread.
Campaign Against Extremism and the Global Balance of Power Tussles
The campaign against extremism is another big source of societal change and polarization in the regions where the war against terror is being waged. While considerable effort is being devoted on collecting data on how many incidents took place, how many people died or were maimed, but the long-term impacts of this campaign are the least researched.
While the Global War on Terrorism is continuing, it has resulted in precious resources being spent on security related matters than on the development of people. Moreover, large populations have been dislocated by the ongoing conflict. According to the 2017 data of Watson Institute’s Costs of War website, 21 million Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, and Syrian people are living as war refugees and internally displaced persons, in grossly inadequate conditions.
The western nations have also been facing the consequences of this campaign indirectly – in the form of mass migration from places like Syria and Northern Africa to Europe and Northern America. This has increased resentment against immigration have strengthened far right groups.
As the war against extremism spread and reached Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, it had morphed into a full fledge proxy war with different brands of extremists being supported by various powers. For example, in Syria, the Assad government is backed by Russia, and Kurd forces are supported by the US, while Turkey considers the Kurds as terrorist. In other words, the campaign against terrorism has fully merged with the global balance of power tussles.
Balance of power tussles are also immensely contributing towards creating internal fissures in many nations – on whether to support western connected systems or those tied to the emerging powers, such as China and Russia. This is amply visible when one studies the dynamics related to CPEC in Pakistan, or the broader One Belt One Road initiative. Sanctions were also introduced for entities with business and energy dealings with Iran, and Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline became a casualty. On the other hand, India and Afghanistan were given a waiver on dealing with Iran and developing the Chabahar port.
In Europe, US recently introduced sanctions on German entities for continuing the work on Nord Stream 2 – with Russian support. According to the US, this will make Germany dependent on Russian energy supplies.
The question remains, is the present system salvageable, or has it changed to the extent that it’s better to develop a new system. The organization of the emerging powers known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) represents one such an attempt.
In the past, any major overhaul to the global political, economic, and security order were only possible after major conflicts; and the winners got to implement the systems of their choice. At present, the tensions amongst the global players are playing out in the internal politics of many countries, in an attempt to pull them away from the Chinese, US, or Russian influence.
As far as the Islamic world is concerned, the recently held Islamic Summit organized by Malaysia, and backed by Qatar, Turkey and Iran, indicated a preliminary attempt to present an alternative system. This endeavor was opposed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.
“We are attempting to start small, and if these ideas, proposals and solutions are acceptable and prove workable, then we hope to take them up to the larger platform for consideration,” Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir stated. He added, I have suggested that we re-visit the idea of trading using the gold dinar and barter trade among us.
As described previously in this space, the core Arab states have remained allied with the US, but the Peripheral Islamic states, represented by Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, have moved closer to China and Russia. The Muslims of Sub-Continent, including Afghanistan, could prove to be the decisive factors in determining the direction of the balance of power and the associated systems. This could also be the reason why UAE and Saudi Arabia have increased their involvement and investments in India.