April 26, 2009

The Transpolar Future: A New Geo-Political Ecosystem

In Geo-Political circles it’s generally accepted that the Cold War represented a bipolar world where all nations fell into the sphere of influence of one or both of the two great powers: The USA & USSR.


With the fall of the Iron Curtain, most foreign policy experts expected that a multipolar world emerge from the Cold War cocoon.


“Ever since it became clear that an exhausted Soviet Union was calling off the cold War, the quest has been on for a new American role in the world…Accordingly, thinking about post-Cold War American foreign policy has been framed by several conventionally accepted assumptions about the shape of the post-Cold War environment… it has been assumed that the old bipolar world would beget a multipolar world with power dispersed to new centers in Japan, Germany (and/or “Europe”), China and a diminished Soviet Union/Russia.”


This view represents Charles Krauthammer’s view of the status quo, as conveyed in his influential 1990 lecture: The Unipolar Moment.


Here, Krauthammer continues his assault of the status quo, circa 1990:


“All…assumptions are mistaken. The immediate post-Cold War world is not multipolar. It is unipolar. The center of world power is the unchallenged superpower, the United States, attended by its Western Allies…”


In other words, after the Berlin Wall fell, the global consensus was that a multipolar world would emerge from the bi-polar Cold War vacuum. Krauthammer went against this consensus, and insisted that a unipolar strategic ecosystem would emerge.


So who was correct?


Krauthammer?  Or the Post-cold War consensus that he refers to?


Certainly a virile argument can be made that the United States, post 9/11, asserted (or re-asserted) itself as the motive force in International relations, with it’s largely unsupported “war on terror” in Iraq.

On the other hand, perhaps equally virile arguments can be made that the multipolar world that was promised, did indeed emerge as predicted.


During the 1990’s, as the former Soviet bloc fragmented into small regional conflicts and eventually into a number of newly sovereign states, we observed the dream of a fraternal Europe, manifest in both word and deed. Simultaneously, we also witnessed the brisk Economic rise, along with the rapid economic reprimand of the 4 Asian Tigers, both of which were imprinted deeply into the global consciousness.


Either way (unipolar or multipolar), there are many other examples of “major events” that occurred in the intervening period that can be chosen to bolster either camp’s argument.


Some more relevant examples include these events:


-          The emergence of the WTO

-          The Kyoto protocols

-          The dot com boom/bust

-          The European monetary union

-          The emergence of the BRIC countries

-          The emergence of the Sovereign Wealth fund

-          NAFTA

-          And many others…


Thus, 2o years later (with the benefit of hindsight firmly in hand), it appears from this author’s perspective at least, that neither school of thought was persuasively accurate.


Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that in the intervening period since the Cold War,  a “polar pendulum” of sorts emerged, where at certain points in time, either the unipolar or the multipolar camp was in the ascendant as borne out by emergent historical events.


Due to the muddled historical evidence on both sides of this divide, or perhaps due to the vacillation of the aforementioned pendulum, we cannot confidently state that one school of thought or the other, was completely accurate in predicting what would unfold on the global stage after the end of the Cold War.


However, we can safely state with a high degree of confidence that both the unipolar and multipolar world-views co-existed since the end of the Cold War.


If the preceding statement is true, as I perceive it to be, then this leads your author to consider if we need a new “model” from which to view our current situation?


If both a unipolar and a multipolar world can exist and evolve simultaneously, as it appears that they have, then logically an accurate model of the world must contain both.


Therefore, I will attempt to describe just such a model: The Transpolar model.


The Transpolar model depicts a world of International Relations and Geo-Politics that is simultaneously unipolar, multipolar, and metapolar.


The Transpolar model is an open-system where; power, might, and influence, continuously change, evolve, and merge.


This heretofore unknown epoch is characterized by the rise of new actors on the Geo-political stage, actors that were henceforth not encompassed nor considered by the legacy models.


These new actors now compete directly with nation states, and concomitantly work with them or against them, along with the other actors in the system, to exert power, might, and influence in the global ecosystem.


So who are these new actors in the global power ecosystem?


Perhaps a list would be useful here; as the newly present actors in the global Geo-Political ecosystem are numerous:


§              Transnational corporations

§              NGO’s

§              Multilateral Trading Blocs

§              Bi-lateral trade agreements

§              Sovereign wealth funds

§              Global capital and Investment markets (both primary & secondary)

§              Local, regional, and global faith-based organizations

§              Local, regional, and global terrorist and organized crime groups

§              Self-organizing local, regional, and global social networks of all stripes

§              Internationally prominent and wealthy individuals of all nations

§              Local, regional, and global thought leaders

§              Transnational Educational Institutions


The above list does not pretend to be exhaustive; rather it is intended to be indicative of the type of actors currently comprising the contours of the new Geo-Political ecosystem. Over time these actors are likely to evolve, die, and be replaced by new forms of organization that may emerge as human capability, human needs, and human desires morph through time.


Perhaps the most striking trait of the Transpolar era is not the type of actor that is competing with or assisting the nation state, but rather how it does so?


In the new system, interaction is comprised of clusters of relevant actors, who in a self-propelled manner, cluster around the issues and agendas that each actor deems vital, important or worthy of interest.


Hopefully this new Geo-Political ecosystem will assist us in modeling modern geopolitical complexity more accurately and effectively. 


Pamela Drew said...

Great thought provoking piece, thank you.

It will help if we stop consolidating the power and control of information in the same few hands on Wall Street.

It would be interesting to see a global map detailed in terms of the economic powers that have stakes in each area. While divisions continue to be defined in terms of Nations, the better measure is in terms of global strength and ownership.

When a country exports something it is really revenue for a corporate entity and those figures never seem to be reflected. We do need new definitions but new accounting to reflect the reality of the monetary flow is an essential component.

For more than 15 consecutive years, Cargill in Argentina has been distinguished as the leading agribusiness exporter in the country. Does this help Minnesota where they have their HQ or Argentina where the exports become part of the GDP? Who benefits from this and does the operation of a US corporation deliver benefits to anyone but the investors?

MetaPort said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly Pamela. Thanks for the excellent feedback.

The economic complexity that you allude to is indeed part of what I was trying to address with the Transpolar model.

Economics-wise there is certainly a large disconnect between the static models taught in schools, and that which takes place in the real world (which you aptly pointed to a few examples of).

It's my belief that as large as this disconnect is, there is an even larger chasm when looking at the interaction of the nation and its economy.

Pamela Drew said...

- Economics-wise there is certainly a large disconnect between the static models taught in schools, and that which takes place in the real world..

Like most valuable lessons, I learned that the hard way. It took many years of working in banking and finance before the disconnect was something that I could understand in a broad context.

Newsvine has also helped tremendously in finding others who know more or can add views that help create a bigger picture of how the world really works. I think the biggest issue for me was accepting the idea that free markets exist only in small segments of the economy and the global players make their own rules that distort and defy what we are taught in economic theory.

MetaPort said...

So true Pamela, I definitely agree in terms of the reality of free markets. I wonder though, do you think that those that laud the free market are actually just ignorant or do you think that they are purposefully deceiving others? Or perhaps a little of both?

Perhaps we've hit on the real "inconvenient truth" here.

Thanks for the re-posting permission, I'll definitely do so.

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