Last year, Argentina played host to the G20 Buenos Aires summit (Nov 30 to Dec 1). Amid protests on the streets, powerful member-nations of the exclusive G20 group met.
Leaders called for the reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), for a fight against climate change and for continued work towards sustainable development goals. They also condemned terrorism.
The summit brought together 19 countries, plus the EU. G20 accounts for over 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and hosts almost two-thirds of the world’s population.
G20 is a group of the world’s leading economies, and policies that are accepted or rejected here will have a lasting impact on global politics, finance and economics.
The Buenos Aires Summit would probably be recorded in the annals of 21st century economic and geopolitical history for a few key reasons.
World media focused on the G20 summit with more fervour than ever before.
Brexit, the Khashoggi murder, Nafta, Ukraine (Kerch Strait) and US trade tariffs vis a vis China were the sizzling issues of media interest.
What interested me, though, were several headlines throughout the world mentioning a “new world order” (NWO), again.
In the build-up to Buenos Aires, headlines such as “China will dominate the new world order” and “All eyes on Trump-Xi—sign of a new world order”? have not been uncommon.
A decade ago, similar headlines appeared. Radio Free Europe’s online publication headlined its report of the Pittsburgh summit, “’New World Order’ Emerging at G20 Summit”. This was dated Sept 25, 2009.
So, how many “new world orders” do we have then? For the layperson, this can be overwhelmingly confusing. For the schooled and experienced bureaucrat, this can be frustrating. For the insightful and learned intellectual, this can only be a yawning ploy.
Last year, G20 leaders adopted a joint communique reaffirming their commitment to a “rules-based international order”.
To me, this sounds as good as a “no-holds-barred by the powerful” international order. In fact, the entire NWO discourse over three decades has been nothing but an agenda devised to surreptitiously monopolise perceptions about who should and should not be economically and geopolitically influential.
Malaysia’s defence and security establishment sees the current global security construct as an “end of the 1989 world order”. In other words, we too seem to believe that we are in a “new world order”. Our defence ministry says we have to “look for a new one (world order) for the coming decades”.
Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong recently mentioned that the US of today is “less interested in foreign engagement while considering China’s meteoric rise”. He also said that we are at the end of a 30-year period in world history and in need of a new geopolitical environment based on multi-polarity.
There is truth to Liew’s comments. However, we need to critically deconstruct the current NWO propaganda. We should realise that it is being used as a new type of geopolitical weapon.
The late George HW Bush delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress on Sept 11, 1990. It was entitled “Toward a New World Order” and projected a dramatic shift in world political thought.
Bush was indirectly saying that the days of the superior land-based military might of the USSR were numbered. Soviet air defence equipment and nuclear missiles equally matched US airforce technologies, though.
But Americans were confident of the disintegration of the bipolar world. The Soviet Union did collapse the following year, in 1991. Various analyses of this speech and the ideas behind it point to the US commitment to “collective efforts to identify, understand and address worldwide problems”.
The notion of collective efforts was nominal, at best. During this period, we saw the beginnings of a NWO. It was dominated by US hegemonic “humanitarian” interventions, an oxymoron.
These interventions were both military and economic. For example, Bush intervened in Somalia, Panama and the Kuwait conflict.
After 9/11, terrorism became the new bogeyman. Less attention was paid to the NWO construct. For all intents and purposes, the world was moving along within an acceptable order, dominated by US anti-terrorism rhetoric. It was within the same NWO framework.
However, anti-US sentiments in the Muslim world, which had been brewing throughout the Cold War, had worsened. Muslims increasingly felt the injustices of the US in the Palestine catastrophe, and the propping up of dictators who ruled almost all of the Muslim world.
Muslims were enraged. They realised that the moral supremacy that the US earned immediately following the terrorist attacks on US soil was rapidly declining due to the geopolitics of oil. Most Muslims, even today, see through the double standards of US foreign policy.
Then there are the views of conspiracy theorists regarding the NWO. They claim it is a clandestine plot to promote a totalitarian world government. They believe that a secretive power elite is pushing a globalist agenda to replace the nation-state and sovereignty.
Conspiracy theorists are convinced that the NWO debate is propaganda in support of Fukuyama’s End of History thesis. The totalitarian aspect of the argument is far-fetched. However, these conspiracy theorists might be right in one aspect, although they fail to articulate it properly.
International relations reality has always been hierarchical. The principle of the balance of power among equals is no more than a myth, to my mind.
This realist paradigm of a balance of power is disguised legitimation of US hierarchy. The “China rising” polemic by the US and its allies is a continuation of the Cold War diatribe.
Quite simply, the US needs to invent an “enemy” to confer a status of equality on China; China can either accept partnership or choose to be that enemy. China knows that it does not equal the US in military or political power. Its clear strength lies in economic superiority.
Two out of three does not make for equal entities. So, demonising China within the “new world order” construct is overkill, at best.
Having said that, there are real tangible developments signalling China’s (and Asia’s) competitiveness. This does not mean that China alone threatens to transform the existing world order.
Demographic changes point increasingly to an “Asian century”. China, India and the Muslim world alone account for almost four billion people. Economic growth has slowed down in Europe and the US.
China’s e-commerce has already outstripped the US. Even India has over 730 million mobile phone users. Given these demographics alone, a multi-polar world is on the horizon.
This would be the NWO. Debates about it should include India and the Muslim world, as well as regional powers like Asean. Middle powers like Malaysia should play a leadership role in Asean, to rebuild intra-Asean relations at the bilateral and regional levels.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.