British Academy – Emerging Powers Going Global Conference

One of the first things that I’ve had the privilege to be a part of in London in is the British Academy‘s two-day conference on emerging powers and global governance, here at the British Academy on 8 and 9 Oct.  The event brought together an impressive lineup of the who’s who of the global governance field and various issue related areas. The agenda, on the whole, attempted to examine and delineate the impact these emerging powers are having on global governance, diplomacy, international development, global economy, development financing (banks) natural resource supplies plus their influence on developments in the global health, food security and agriculture and the dialogue surrounding global sustainability. Needless to say, the content and speakers were excellent.

The day commenced with emerging powers and their impact on the 21st century’s geopolitical order and its possible futures. G John Ikenberry, pre-eminent liberal institutionalist, opined on the nature of the global order as a largely liberal one, which invites and ushers in myriad opportunities for cooperation between emerging and established powers. The range of issues and problems to be tackled and the range of global public goods that stand to be provided accord a special and unparalleled opportunity for cooperation for both groups of powers – they are in essence ‘stakeholders’ and have common interests in working together to provide global public goods since it is the global liberal order that has assisted their rise and will, undoubtedly, fortify and enable it in the near future. Ikenberry dismissed Charles Kupchan’s notion of ‘multiple modernities’ existing and that the world and global politics is not fragmenting further, cause of concern for many. He also noted that three  clashes can roil the prospect of cooperation and future global governance. The end goal is the institution and consolidation of a liberal order that is able to solve collective action problems through some understanding of principles and norms that would endow sufficient legitimacy.

– Power differentials and possible strategic miscalculations (which are inevitable)

– Major divergence in terms of principles or norms to govern the world (which are already stark as witnessed through debates surrounding Syria and Libya)

– disagreements in terms of authority and rights vis-a-vis managing and addressing particular collective action issues as they emerge

Amrita Narlikar gave her take on India’s role in global governance, principally referencing her work on global trade and India’s moves and postures at the WTO and other trade venues. Narlikar began by offering three nuggets on India’s global role

– There is considerable reluctance on India’s part to assume a larger role in the world, at least multilaterally, and reticence towards accepting major power status and assist in the provision of global public goods

– That being said, India has contributed to providing certain ‘club goods’ (leadership of developing country coalition at the WTO, trade and investment in Africa) for itself and other developing countries by taking strong positions within major global institutions and defending their rights and prerogatives.

– And this divergence or differentiated responsibilities can be traced to India’s deep rooted negotiating culture and colonial past which has predisposed them towards adjudicating and debating on the merits and morals of particular issues as they affect middle and low income countries. Also, this practice can be attributed to the domestic political constraints that inevitably impinge on major global issues as they apply to India.

Ngaire Woods presented on the emerging powers as emerging economies and how their rise is affecting global economic governance. Woods argues that the current period is an interesting one insofar as there exists an ambiguity confronting emerging powers – should they reform global economic institutions and take their rightful place befitting their economic status or should they instead expend political capital at the regional level by building regional economic institutions (a la AMF) and turn their backs on the global plateau. No question, several regional institutions exist and several are being proposed. But this question rests beside the extant reliance of emerging powers on the existing global economic order, which means they will continue to have a big stake in its sustenance and operation. We are facing an interesting juncture where a clear choice stands for emerging powers. They need a clear agenda in terms of what they expect from global economic institutions and possibly, vice-versa?

Other interesting anecdotes/points:

– Role of history and historical events critical in determining China’s possible global futures.

– Brazil seeks to play and carve out a larger role for itself in global governance, more than just a seat at the table. And many global problems today requires Brazil’s participation including environmental sustainability, energy security, climate change, etc. However, there exists ambivalence for Brazil as to playing a leadership role within the region (what is the region?!)

– Is Russia reverting to its cold war personna given Syria or is limiting itself to regional power ambitions?

– Within all emerging powers, domestic politics critical to their respective global stances and inclinations and also democracy where applicable.

–  China’s international development assistance portfolio is 80% financing instruments channelled through various ways and only 20% official assistance. Interestingly, for OECD countries, the ratio is converse. (Keep in mind, the exact nature and definition of AID and its distinctions)