By Swaran Singh/The Pacific
Cooperation and contestations amongst great powers continue to determine the nature of international relations. However, the time for old-style geopolitical conflicts and contestations is over. Even the twentieth-century East-West geopolitical divide - driven by irreconcilable ideologies of two superpowers - has only limited lessons, if any. Yet legacies of the Cold War continue to dominate major power equations and undermine peace and prosperity.
The world today has become deeply intertwined. This makes old-style power politics increasingly circumscribed by their growing complex interdependence. Concepts of peace, security, power, and governance stand transformed, with the global focus shifting from minimal physical safety to maximal well-being. Sovereignty, once seen as absolute power, becoming responsibility, blending security with development and both becoming indivisible.
This makes the G20 central to our growing consciousness about building a shared future for humankind. But the G20 must avoid myopic great power politics or at least mitigate its destructive consequences. The G20 undergirds this norm of indivisibility of development though the old G7 mindset lingers on. The G20 represents nations that are driving global economic trends. It allows space for emerging economies - the new locomotives of global growth.
But even the G20 faces geopolitical obscurantism. Among its most formidable challenge, the US and China - the world's number one and two in economic size, energy consumption, carbon footprint, military spending, and technology - remain at loggerheads. Imagine the impact of their contestations when they together account for about $42 trillion ($60 trillion if you include US allies) of the world's $110 trillion gross domestic product.
The US National Security Strategy of October 2022 mentions PRC/China 55 times, calling it not only the“most pressing strategic challenge” but the“only competitor with both intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so.” Instead of learning from facts, their zero-sum perspectives make the US convinced that China's rise is equal to its decline, making them assert how Beijing aims to replace the US as a world leader.
It is time the US recognised the unprecedented economic rise of China by accommodating China as also all other emerging economies in global governance decision-making. But the US and its allies remain paranoid about losing their preeminence. Change, however, appears inevitable. India's overtaking its former imperial power, Great Britain, to become the world's 5th largest economy in 2022 provides one apt example. The Ukraine war provides another apt example of geo-strategy still overriding geoeconomics.
While the G20 remains the most representative platform and also the most potent forum for overriding myopic great power politics, the key within G20 deliberations lies with its middle powers that have stakes in avoiding major powers' contestations. The economic potential and their neutrality/hedging in great power politics remain their key advantage in bringing sanity to the G20 and building a stable world order on an enduring basis.
Just like the 2008 global financial crisis had been the catalyst for upgrading the G20 to leaders' annual summits, the devastating experiences of the pandemic and Ukraine conflict must compel these middle powers to steer the G20 towards appreciating the inherent connections of humankind. And to work for that inordinate goal, the big powers of the G20 must also shun their old divisive legacies. They must avoid their myopic preoccupation with geopolitical contestations that continue to dwarf their potential to achieve shared prosperity for all.
The Author: Professor Swaran Singh is currently Visiting Professor, the Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia