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Frequent world crises show faults of global system

By Xu Chao | 2016-04-14 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A woman puts down flowers to honor the victims of the terrorist attack that took place in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, on March 22. The Brussels terrorist attack marks the third major assault in the heart of Europe in just over a year. An effective global governance system is needed to respond to increasingly frequent international crises.


Since the dawn of the 21st century, the world has witnessed a slew of global crises: the US subprime mortgage meltdown, the European debt crisis, the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War, Occupy Wall Street, the Snowden incident, the rise of the Islamic State, and the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. These international events have sent shockwaves through the financial, economic, political and social landscape.

There are multiple explanations for why the world has seen so many crises since the start of the 21st century, but three factors are most prominent: Western countries have ignored the reasonable demands of emerging economies, the mainstream view in the West has failed to keep pace with the times, and the development of global governance has lagged behind.

Disregarding emerging countries
At the turn of the century, nothing was more significant than the structural change in the balance of power in the international community. While the West was generally on the decline, the BRICS nations were rising.

The simultaneous rise of emerging economies has far-reaching implications. For one, the West can no longer claim to be solely responsible for the sustainable development of the global economy. It is now a common project to which emerging economies and the Western world contribute equally.

After the 2008 global financial crisis, emerging economies, including China, overcame structural problems to take the lead in economic recovery. In the 21st century, the contribution of emerging economies to global economic growth has been greater than that of developed Western economies.

Moreover, Western countries have lost their claim to absolute dominance as the arbiters of international disputes, crises and conflicts. For example, in the Syrian war, it was the active meditation of Russia and generous support of emerging nations such as China that helped prevent the war from escalating.

In addition, a material foundation has been laid for a new international political and economic order. In the 1970s, the international community called for a new order to supersede the old one. However, the developing world was too weak at the time to provide a material basis suited to a new political and economic order.

Today, emerging economies, especially the BRICS nations, have risen as a whole. When adjusted for purchasing power parity, or PPP, the output of the non-Western world first exceeded that of the West in 2012, when the combined economic contributions of BRICS nations increased to 27.2 percent of the world total. Their growing economic power will certainly consolidate the material basis for rebalancing the international order.

Objectively, only when Western developed countries and major emerging nations share the global leadership can international relations be stabilized. Emerging economies will become vital participants in international relations, rulemaking and the transformation of the global system.

Yet regrettably, some Western countries are reluctant to embrace the new era of international relations and accept the active contributions of emerging economies to world stability. They instead make trouble by various means in a bid to set back the healthy development of emerging economies
If they continue to ignore the justifiable demands of emerging countries and take containment measures, they will further escalate the conflict with emerging economies, including China.


Outdated view
Since World War II, the international community has seen dramatic changes, the most notable of which is a series of technological revolutions. The popularization of computer technology has substantially facilitated exchanges and cooperation among regions and countries while deepening understanding and friendships among different peoples and reducing barriers and disagreements between nations.

Furthermore, economic globalization has rendered international economic interests interdependent. Barriers to global financial development, trade and capital flow are being eliminated while connectivity is intensifying, linking all countries inextricably.

It is inevitable that more countries will participate in global governance. The world is in a stage of rapid transition. Formed on the basis of the original Industrial Revolution, the rules and institutions of the international system have been so affected and challenged that a suitable international governance system is needed to promote and ensure prosperity and development of the international community.

In the foreseeable future, the monopoly Western countries exercise on the international governance system will be broken, and emerging economies will necessarily take part. The progress of human society requires a fresh perspective to guarantee that international relations are sound and harmonious.

For example, in the early stage of the 2008 financial crisis, the G20 took the lead and was widely credited with stabilizing the world economic order. However, it is just an international forum for informal dialogue and ultimately plays a limited role in international politics and economy. Besides, Western countries were unwilling to yield their custodianship of the world economy over to the group, so despite high expectations, the G20 was reduced to a platform for gathering debtors and creditors. More important international affairs are still addressed within the G7 framework.

Regarding the aforementioned situation, the outdated view in the West is largely to blame. The deeply rooted Cold War mindset has had a profound impact on the way Western countries implement foreign policy. Peace, development and democracy are not regarded as the cornerstones of international relations. Instead, countries are classified as allies or enemies based on their values, human rights or ideology.

Furthermore, they see international governance in terms of a shifting balance of power, taking for granted that the rise of emerging economies will naturally mimic the ascendancy of Western powers in the past. They believe that rising powers will necessarily bring war and expansion.

Now Western experts on international relations have recognized shift of power from the West to the non-Western world, but some Western countries remain self-centered in their view of human development.

It can be foreseen that if their outlook remains behind the times, international exchanges will be more difficult, hindering the establishment of a harmonious, faithful, fair, cooperative and mutually beneficial international order while aggravating crises, conflicts and confrontation among countries.

Backward governance system
The current international governance system was established following World War II, but contemporary global problems are a far cry from the international scenario at the time. Formed after World War II, the Yalta System attempted to achieve not only a balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union but also established principles for maintaining world peace, settling international disputes and advocating national freedom and independence.

The original intention of the Yalta System was to defend the fruits of the Allied victory in World War II, sustain cooperation between big powers and prevent world wars. Nonetheless, it failed to stop the Cold War. The two blocs, the United States and the Soviet Union, fostered their own characteristics in economic, political and ideological governance during the confrontation that lasted for more than 40 years.

After the Cold War ended, Western scholars like Francis Fukuyama expressed optimism that capitalist liberal democracy and market economy are the best political and economic systems for human society. The US-led Western world therefore began to promote Western values, political and economic systems to the world, only to meet with resistance and crises of various kinds. Terrorism, extreme nationalism and sectarianism, regional conflicts, trade disputes and environmental problems have become increasingly acute.

Instead of bringing stability to developing countries, liberal democracy has led to civil strife and frequent coups. Taking advantage of the market economy and privatization, oligarchs and interest groups have manipulated the economies of some developing countries, while the general public is denied the benefits of global economic development.

So to speak, the frequent world crises are products of not only history but also the ineffective international governance system that has resulted from Western countries’ excessive promotion of their political and economic systems worldwide, and it is incompatible with different regions and cultures.

Without a sound international governance system to serve the international community, subjects of international law will have no alternative but to rely on diplomatic means and their strength to handle divergence, crises and conflicts, rather than legal approaches.

Whenever major state interest conflict occurs, however, diplomatic means have quite limited effects. Take the recent Ukraine crisis, as an example. Given that Western countries and Russia believe whichever country owns Ukraine and Crimea will have geopolitical advantages, it has been difficult to solve the Crimea issue by diplomatic means.

The reform of the current international governance system is an inevitability, because an updated system is crucial to solving future world crises.

Xu Chao is from the Institute of Information Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.