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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Proliferation of ‘middle powers’ will shape 21st-century geopolitical order: WEF panel
LONDON: A proliferation of “middle powers” will provide the driving force in shaping the 21st-century geopolitical order, according to a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Dino Patti Djalal, founder and chair of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, said the end of the Cold War had led to a “proliferation” of so-called middle-power countries in both the Global South and the Global North.
“These countries have the ambition, the resources and the size to play a great role in the global order, and are building relations among one another to achieve this,” he told attendees.
“Furthermore, you’re seeing their significant influence in defining and shaping regional architecture.
“Take Southeast Asia — do you think it’s shaped by the US? No, it’s shaped by the likes of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the East Asia Summit.”
Exemplifying the powers in this region, Djalal pointed to Indonesia and Vietnam, but noted the importance of cross-over between middle powers in spheres of influence.
“Australia and India … are two middle powers from the Global South but also from the West,” he said.
“They’re making significant strides in elevating the relationship they have between one another, and I think we can expect to see this trend continuing.”
While the panel could not reach consensus on what a middle power is, they agreed that they exist on a spectrum and lack military capacity to touch any point on the globe.
Among those constituting this proliferating class are Austria, Australia, Canada, South Korea and Japan in what typically constitutes the Global North, with Global South middle powers including Argentina, Brazil, India and Indonesia.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen concurred with Djalal over the importance of new regional and international organizations.
Together with Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Ethiopia became one of the new countries acceding the BRICS economic alliance. Hassen told the panel that it offered Ethiopia an opportunity to build new partnerships.
“From our point of view, BRICS can help us increase the number of effective, multilateral partnerships we have,” he said.
“Africa is a rising continent with a huge population and emergent economies. It’s a dynamic set of markets but, as is the case globally, Africa has its own set of challenges, and it needs to be ready to compete in this landscape.”
In commenting on its accession to BRICS, Hassen appeared to indicate that Ethiopia had grown disenchanted by the opportunities afforded through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Karoline Edtstadler, Austria’s federal minister for the EU, appeared cognisant that Western powers had alienated elements of the Global South.
“Austria sees itself as a bridge-builder, and it’s important that we come together and negotiate rather than take the moral high ground and give countries the middle finger,” she said.
“Europe must grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, and rather recognize that the world’s problems are Europe’s problems too. We must show strength through our capacity to care for others.”
Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon professor of government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, shared the view that the post-Cold War era had led to a diffusion of power.
Noting the declining US share of global gross domestic product from around 50 percent at the end of the Second World War to 25 percent at the end of the Cold War, it now hovers at about a seventh of total GDP and, he said, comparable dips are true for other metrics of power.
“The world isn’t unipolar nor bipolar,” he added. “Multipolar has become the phrase, but it’s more complicated than this. What’s true is the desire for something beyond the first two.”
For Djalal, who described multilateralism as being in “bad shape,” upset by the war in Ukraine and geopolitical strife elsewhere, the establishment of different relations through different organizations such as BRICS offers a path beyond fragmentation.
“These new organizations aren’t fragmenting the world, they’re expanding the content, and the more middle powers you have that aren’t attached to big powers, the better,” he said.
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