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How would the BRI impact a Conflicting World Order?

Posted By Carl Michael, Friday, October 2, 2020

Carl Michael inspects the effect of Belt and Road Initiative on a conflicting world order in his tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The theme of this scenario is: ‘The BRI Facilitates Nationalism – A Conflicting World Order’. The key drivers are decreasing support for globalisation, coupled with the BRI working as a facilitator even though it engendered greater divergence. This is a scenario where the dominant themes are antagonism, fragmentation and the collapse of globalisation, and where a universal approach to cooperation is perceived as irrelevant. This and the following scenario differ from the previous ones which portrayed the future as ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

From a political perspective, states and sub-states compete with each other incessantly, with cooperation and coalitions being transient and used as mechanisms for self-interest. There are few effective multilateral ‘referee’ institutions. Chaos and conflict are rampant, and military and security spending are high. However, because of strong military deterrence, conflicts are regionally contained.

Economic imbalances grow because of unregulated global trade and increasing inequality cause greater dysfunction in the international system, in which there are few long-term multilateral agreements. The rate of development remains high and is not constrained by consideration for the long-term good of society.

From a social perspective, the impact of environmental stress increase migration to more liveable and prosperous regions. Since the migration is driven by economics, societies become less socially cohesive and numbers of stateless persons continually grows.

Technological advances are fuelled by weapons development and security and are largely driven by regional powers and large corporations. Technological and digital global governance is weak which exacerbates corruption and inequality. The information environment is open and is a key driver of innovation, yet remains vulnerable to increasing manipulation, theft and exploitation.

From a legal and governance perspective, international institutions such as the UN and WTO are undermined and weak. Megalopolises act in concert with large corporations to provide services, enforce laws and raise taxes. This weakens some states and increases the prominence of relatively unaccountable non-state actors, thus providing fertile ground for an increase in corruption.

From an environmental perspective, the background of conflict reduces the ability to mitigate the impact of environmental stress resulting in a focus on resilience and adaptation. Resource constraints increase tensions. Responses to natural disasters are inefficiently addressed leading to an increase in the power of private enterprises and the depletion of the global commons.

In this scenario, in 2050, the BRI has hindered globalisation and contributed to conflict and the fragmentation of the current world order. Despite the multilateral and geo-economic nature of the BRI, as a China led initiative it has provided a platform which enhanced polarisation, and because of the hegemonistic challenges it exposed, the BRI became distrusted and feared by other nations. China’s soft power did not grow, it did not dominate, nor did it stagnate. China continued to be the dominant economy in Asia and managed its neighbours’ apprehensions triggered by its authoritarian and mercantile approach. Since the growing automation of production and digitalisation reduced inherent manufacturing advantage, China asserted its authority by creating the occasional geopolitical crisis to deflect domestic discontent with its slowing economy.

China retained the BRI at the centre of its strategic intent. For those nations that were not partners, apprehension and the potential for conflict was less about military conflict and more about the weaponization of the free-movement networked elements of globalisation such as ideas, data and people which underpinned prosperity and security. Throughout this, the driving logic of trans-continental integration remained undiminished there by strengthening the role of the Belt in the BRI. Despite the background of constant information warfare, the Thucydides trap was eluded, though conflict was approached by the major parties with mindsets reflecting the games, Chess and Go.

© Carl Michael 2020

Tags:  Belt and Road Initiative  China  world order 

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