World Order Under Stress

The Khmer Times, 16 November 2016

In a result that stunned the whole world, Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States, defeating the more favored Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Trump’s victory signified rising nationalist populism, not only in the US, but also in other parts of the world. It also challenges the liberal world order based on democratic values, economic openness and the rules-based international economic system.
From Brexit to Mr. Trump’s victory, there is one thing in common, and that is the increasing frustration against the old establishment driven by political elites. Many wish to see a different type of leadership and are hoping for change.
We are living in a highly unpredictable and uncertain world. We need to think the unthinkable and be prepared to adapt to unexpected changes. Those who can grasp the opportunities deriving from a crisis and uncertainty will remain competitive.

The bipolar world established after World War II was replaced by a unipolar world in which the US played a hegemonic power.
However, the US’ power has been declining since the world economic crisis in 2008. Over the past decade, the rise of others such as China, India and Russia has challenged the global role of the US from economic to security domains.
We are now entering either a multipolar world or zero-polar world. Under the multipolar world, there are multiple actors and stakeholders working together to shape and construct global governance and order.
In a zero-polar world, there will be no country taking a global leadership role. The major powers will become more nationalist and inward looking. Selfish national interests and zero-sum games will dominate international politics.
If this happens the world will become fragmented and chaotic. Global uncertainties and risks are going to rise. No country will be willing and able to take a global leadership role to maintain world peace and order.
The US is great nation largely thanks to democratic pluralism, multiculturalism as well as an open and liberal globalization which has provided tremendous opportunities for Americans. It has successfully integrated itself into and largely benefitted from the rest of the world.
Now it is different. Mr. Trump seems to be opting for a more nationalistic, protectionist and inward-looking foreign policy. His populist political rhetoric will adversely affect the liberal order created by the US seven decades ago.
Mr. Trump lacks a robust foreign policy. He seems to mainly focus on populist domestic social and economic issues. Global issues such as climate change will not be addressed effectively without a strong US leadership role.
It is predicted that the US’ global role will further decline, which in turn will create a global power vacuum and a deep hole in global governance.
China, Japan, India and Russia are expected to fill the gap and play a more proactive role in maintaining global peace and order. However, these countries are still struggling with their own domestic issues.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the US has been the hub of regional peace and order. Since 2010, the US has introduced and implemented its “rebalance” or “pivot” to Asia in order to strengthen its alliance system, promote economic integration and deepen people-to-people
ties.
President Barack Obama has had a strong interest in promoting the US’ role in the Asia-Pacific. He has committed to strengthening an Asean-led regional architecture.
The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership is a crucial US external economic policy towards Asia. However, it has an extremely low chance of ratification under the future administration.
Under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the US will be less engaged in Asia. In such a scenario, China will gain more strategic advantages in leveraging its regional influence.
US allies in Asia will be forced to invest more in the defense sector in their collective deterrence strategy. Japan, South Korea and Australia will speed up their defense modernization.
The new world order as well as the Asia-Pacific order will go through critical tests, uncertain power diffusion and transition as well as a severe security environment.
As we live in a world with high uncertainty and risk, leaders need to be equipped with the capacity to think the unthinkable, have the courage to change and create a safe space for institutional innovation and transformative leadership.
It is a wake-up call for world leaders to reconstruct the world economy so it is more inclusive and sustainable. Unless fair and just industrialization, and social justice, are respected, the prospect of global disintegration and fragmentation will continue to haunt the world.

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