The world in 2020

Written by Mark Leonard, 23 January 2007

The world in 2020
by Mark Leonard

By 2020, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Chinese economy could overtake the US to become the largest in the world, at least when measured using purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates. India is expected to grow rapidly to become the third biggest economy. Alongside these Asian giants, a series of smaller powers – such as Iran and Russia – will increasingly be able to exploit their nuclear weapons and energy to increase their say in world affairs.

This shift in economic power could be all the more significant, as it is overlaid with an ideological struggle over the shape of world order. Many of the new poles of 2020 will not simply be great powers pursuing their national interest, but networks of countries united by ideas about how the world should be run. In the 1990s it seemed prophetic to talk of the ‘end of history’. Francis Fukuyama’s famous thesis was not that power struggles or even wars would end (in fact, he thought they would continue), but that the great ideological battles of the 20th century would end with “the universalisation of western liberal-democracy”. However, although the differences between major powers are less stark today than during the Cold War, the big story in international relations seems to be history’s dramatic return.

By 2020 we will most likely not see a new world order, but at least four. Already the contours of a new ideological map are emerging that splits the world across two axes. One is domestic: between democracy and autocracy. The other is about philosophies of global order: between those who want to see the world governed by law and international institutions and those who want to see it governed by power. These divisions could give rise to a quadripolar world.

To Europe’s west, the most powerful bloc will continue to be the American World, underpinned by the dollar, popular culture, and the prevalence of the Washington consensus. The goal of US foreign policy is to build a ‘balance of power that favours democracy’. Instead of seeing international institutions as the ultimate foundation of a liberal order, US foreign policy will increasingly seek to maintain US primacy, and the power of key democratic allies such as Japan and India in East Asia.

To Europe’s East, Russia and China. Although they will continue to be suspicious of each other, they are united by their autocratic systems of government, and they will increasingly use international law and institutions to protect the sovereignty of states from western interference. Together, China and Russia could turn the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation into an anti-NATO of countries that are repressive. They will also use their seats in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations to contain the United States.

To Europe’s south will be a stateless world of faith – defined neither by democracy nor the rule of law. While some countries in the Middle East – Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey – may develop a new strain of ‘Muslim Democracy’, many won’t manage to change their politics quickly enough to keep up with social demands.

And that leaves the fourth zone. An expanded EU will share a belief in democracy with the Americans – but be alienated from them because of its belief in multilateralism and international law. Around its core, the ‘Eurosphere’ will include another 70 countries that are deeply dependent on the Eurosphere for trade, aid, investment. These will gradually be drawn into the European way of doing things, through the European neighbourhood policy that links market access to compliance with European standards on human rights, the rule of law, migration and proliferation.

Not all countries will fit neatly into one sphere or another. This will lead to a global battle to co-opt ‘swing countries’ in South-East Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The biggest swing-state will be India.

The shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world could be almost as significant for global politics as the end of the Cold War. Like the events of 1989, it will force European strategists to change their mental maps of the world, and develop relations with countries that were outside the EU’s sphere of influence.

So what should European leaders do?
Their most urgent challenge should be to prove my predictions wrong. By pursuing a ‘disaggregation strategy’ of engaging the relevant forces in each of the other blocs, they could prevent the ‘quadripolar world’ from coming into being. For example, there are strong forces in favour of the international rule of law and international co-operation at a federal and state level in the United States, that the EU could engage with on climate change and international trade. Russia and China have major differences on energy and proliferation that could be exploited, in order to prevent these great powers from becoming a cohesive force. And in the Middle East, the EU should do all it can to play off the differences between Iran and Syria, and Hamas and Hizbollah, through policies of conditional engagement. The alternative to breaking down these emerging blocs could be a permanent sense of frustration, and a gradual shrinking of European influence in the world.

Mark Leonard was director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform until November 2006. In early 2007 he will set up and direct a new pan-European initiative of the Soros foundations network, to promote the EU as a model for an open society.

Comments

Added on 15 Oct 2008 at 22:37 by Anonymous

Interesting, But you seem to want the world to be divided up. also whats wrong with Russia and China, you seem to think they'll be some evil eastern world. Still interesting take

Added on 26 Apr 2007 at 08:04 by Stephane MOT

I see some other key structural changes within :
- America enjoying good demography dynamics but becoming more monolithic, more focused on itself, welcoming fewer influences from abroad. Growing old a different way.
- At the opposite of this Mainland Amerika, China is embracing its own diversity. Chinese imperialism is no more about spreading a unique monolithic model but about a much smarter pervasiveness, leveraging on all minorities instead of crushing cultural diversity (ie China intends to build the core of Koreanhood on its very soil, claims the Koguryo cultural heritage, and position the Korean peninsula as a motherland's satellite).
- What I call "Asianitude" keeps growing. Asian countries developping intra-asian relationships beyond the traditional bilateral relationships with Western countries, students and executives moving from places to places, a common ground and cultural identity, a sense of belonging to the same community at the individuals level...
- The Korean moment. Surrounded by ambitious giants (and a Japan dangerously returning to ultra nationalism and Showa-style fascism), seen as the herald of cultural diversity for other Asian nations, Korea has to cope with the collapse of North Korea. In what I call the Albania scenario, the people who used to live in a quasi sect are totally unprepared for a market economy : con men and gurus get the bulk of the values they received as a kick start in a new world.
- The turn of the millenium rise of fundamentalism (Christian in the US and Eastern Europe, Jewish in Eretz Israel and Islamist everywhere) may last if democracies keep electing leaders who put religion at the top of their not so hidden agendas (the collapse of Iraq, the rise of Iran as the regional threat, and the boost to fundamentalists across the globe were not collateral damage but the very aim of Bush's game). And while terrorists trained in Iraq blossom on new urban and suburban playgrounds, al Qaeda survivors and wannabes focus on rural Asia, Africa and South America.

Added on 06 Apr 2007 at 08:06 by Anonymous

Yes I agree, EU needs a common army as well as a common foreign policy. European military forces are falling behind in military tech. Only with pooling of resources can greater effeciency be achieved.
I also do think that Britain would be better off by picking up the Euro, but I'm not British so I am not going to stick my nose in that.
But the common army and common foreign policy is absolutely necessary.

Added on 23 Mar 2007 at 22:31 by Anonymous

European Union needs a common army as well as a common police force. This will improve our security.

Britain should also adopt the Euro as the standard.

Best Regards