Spotlight on Geopolitics

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One of the key issues in IR & geopolitics is that of hegemonic transition. In the space of only thirty years, the world as we knew it has gone from bi-polar (international affairs dominated by the USA and the USSR) to unipolar (with the US as the only superpower left), to what is now a disorganised and anarchic state of affairs most commonly known under the label of G-zero.

As much as we would like to see a multi-polar world order emerging, the most touted options in IR to date are that of a G-2 order (“Chimerica”), or a G-3 world with the USA, China and the European Union in charge of global governance.

The G-2 formula was first advanced in US academic circles in 2006 by Jimmy Carter’s former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. In his view – and that of many IR specialists or diplomats like Henry Kissinger – the US and China should cooperate in order to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and to address together global problems such as trade surpluses, world hunger or climate change. The idea of a G-2 world order, however, has left both Washington and Beijing unimpressed. Its echoes were found only within some EU policy-making circles.

Thus in 2009, during a Sino-EU summit in Prague, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has stated that

“it is totally ungrounded and wrong to talk about the dominance of two countries in international affairs”. Indeed, as professor Jian Junbo from Shanghai comments in an article on this issue, “the responsibility of a G-2 member to jointly shape the world’s economy and international affairs is too far beyond China’s ability and ambitions”.

As he rightly points out, China is still a developing country with huge under-development problems, low per capita income and inferior military strength if compared to that of the United States.

China’s refusal to endorse a G-2 formula does not mean, according to ECFR specialists, that it would be adverse to the emergence of a G-3 order which would include the EU as well. As Mark Leonard and Parag Khanna argue in an article originally published in the New York Times, we are already living in a G-3 world,

“one that combines US military power and consumption, Chinese capital and labour and European rules and technology. The United States, the European Union and China are the three largest actors in the world, together representing approximately 60 percent of the world economy – with the EU being the largest of the three”.

Unfortunately, the EU’s strengths – the largest trade bloc, foreign investor and aid donor in the world – are constantly being undermined by an irresolute common foreign policy, or as former UK foreign secretary David Miliband put it, “confused messages, patchy coordination and relationships with global powers that lacked clarity, strategy or purpose”. (sources: Asia Times, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, NYT)