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The Unstable Global Order: About a Missing Voice from the South

Osama El Mourabit | Posted : November 29, 2019


During the past few years, the different global ongoing events have left us baffled and astonished. Given the decreasing ability to understand and assimilate the amount of changes, mutations, and crises, one would wonder: what happened to the global order? How has -in this short period of time- the power of its values and institutions that much decreased? What are the causes for these protectionist and massive populist waves? Why are we witnessing an increasing settlement of conflicts out of the international institutions?

Who could have predicted a few months ago the crisis in Kashmir between Pakistan and India after a long-lasting status quo, or the intensified Proxy War in Libya between a large number of regional competing powers, or the sudden relationship deterioration between Japan and South Korea – the two major U.S ‘allies’ in East Asia -. In fact, looking to the daily agenda became nowadays a very hard task, not only for normal individuals, but also for analysts and officials who struggle to understand what is really at stake in today’s increasingly shifting global order.

In other words, unpredictability became a major aspect and a key definer of global politics, and the ability to provide a rational analysis of today’s world has become almost impossible. Being mainly the result of a failure to provide a rational response and a concrete answer to the question of: what went wrong?

The Systemic Earthquake and the loss of confidence in the International System

From Lebanon to Chile, protests have broken out around the globe, and despite the nonexistence of any direct links connecting their mobilization, the general sentiments of unhappiness and frustration shape the general global opinion, and reflect an increasing pessimism that became a characteristic of today’s politics.

Throughout the modern history, the crises have never ceased to represent a key aspect that defines the global order. They are what can be called as ‘aftershocks’ of ‘systemic earthquakes’1, where a series of crises shake the international system itself and lead to its continuous transformation. Having said that, a number of crises formed, since the end of the cold war, a systemic earthquake that has shaped the actual international system. Among them, the geopolitical and institutional vacuum generated by the fall dawn of the USSR which weakened the effectiveness of the international system and reduced its ability to address the new geopolitical challenges2. There was then the Economic Crisis of 2008, which shacked the international economic structure and called into question its neoliberal model. And finally, there were the massive protests of 2011 that spread in the Middle East, and which triggered the collapse of the Westphalia model of nation-state in the region and brought back the issue of sovereignty3.

These crises however, have not only created deep structural shifts and transformations, but also led to a decreasing faith in the international system’s ability to overcome the different difficulties. The consolidated assumption is nowadays about a system that is unable to solve regional problems and provide effective mechanisms for conflict resolutions.

This lack of trust in the international initiated is what led to the emergence of a number of ad-hoc systems, where countries sought to solve their issues outside mediation processes led by the international community. That was illustrated by the Syrian case, where countries of Turkey, Russia, and Iran established a tricephalous regional platform in an attempt to bring an end to the Syrian conflict without any direct involvement of the international community.

About a Missing Voice from the South

Most of the discussions about the situation of the world today tend to analyze the future of power competition in the international system and whether the USA is able to preserve its global hegemony while facing a rising competition from China. The failure of the system in this regard, is due to a declining power of the USA whose new behaviors became incompatible with the liberal system it was supposed to lead, and due to the emergence of new powers that are increasingly contesting a global system that partially ignores their real weight in the balance of power. However, neither the trajectory nor the problems of the international system can be reduced to this analogy of big powers competition. In fact, the International Relations discipline has been much criticized for the inappropriate tools it offers to address the issues of other regions, remaining unable to ‘travel’ well and understand the issues taking place in the rest of the world4. The South in this regard remained ‘the empty spaces that have no role in the making of the world history’5, and its concerns were most of the time addressed only once they overlapped with the Western agenda.

The movement that emerged after the Bandung conference (1955) was at that time a response to an exclusive system that created sentiments of humiliation and marginalization. It was a rising voice that struggled for recognition6 and which rejected a bipolar global order that was formulated without taking the South into consideration. The world today finds itself at crossroads, between on the one hand restoring the international system through a new vision and adaptive frameworks, and descending into chaos because of the deteriorations of the international institutions’ legitimacy and representation in the other. Accordingly, the need for new tools and paradigms capable of including the different regions of the globe and understanding the vast array of issues in its different parts became very urgent. Any ignorance of the hidden crises shaping the different regional structures threatens to fail the initiatives that attempt to save the international system.

Today presents an opportunity for the west to hear the voices rising from the South. The first steps of the international system’s long awaited reform start by the instauration of an inclusive paradigm that addresses the problematics and the sufferings of the others. Only then, can the horizons of the system be extended, and its missing balance be rediscovered.

1Ahmet Davutoğlu. “Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for World Order”. Cambridge University Press (2019).

2 Despite the optimism generated by the idea of the triumph of the Liberal values, which was developed by Francis Fukuyama in his theory of the end of history (1992). This latter was much criticized due to its reductionist approach in analyzing the complex reality of the global order and its less attention to the ramification of the world’s socio-cultural structures.

3 With the collapse of the Sykes-Picot boundaries in the Middle East after 2011, notably in the countries of Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, sovereignty became a field of competition that is proclaimed by a variety of actors.

4 Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff. “Theory from the South; Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa”. Routledge (2011).

5 Hans J. Morgenthau. “Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace”. McGraw-Hill Education (2005).

6Axel Honneth. “The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflict”. MIT Press (1996).

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