French intellectual Laurent Cohen-Tanugi visited the Carnegie Council in New York City last month to present his new book The Shape of the World to Come: charting the geopolitics of a new century. In true French philosophical fashion, Laurent presented globalization as a paradoxical phenomenon with conflicting consequences.
The geopolitics of today, with the rise of non-Western powers, such as Russia, China, and India, the “rise of the rest,” is the result of the positive aspects of economic globalization. That is the good news, according to Laurent. The bad news is the potential for conflict, partly as a result of economic globalization. Laurent sees potential enduring conflict between the “Arab-Muslim word and the West,” as well as from rising nationalism and resource competition—or a return to traditional geopolitics.
Laurent takes aim at Thomas Friedman’s description of a flattened world and offers a more complicated view. “Between integration and fragmentation, nationalism and multilateralism, dialogue and clash of civilizations, the shape of the world to come will depend to a great degree on the use the new economic giants make of their power and on the ability of Western democracies to preserve their dynamism, their cohesion, and their influence for the common good.”
With the recent election of Barack Obama in the United States, the policy implications seem clear: seize the consensus on the urgency of today’s problems to build new global public goods, such as energy cooperation, climate change mitigation, and longer-term investment strategies, tapping into what makes market capitalism a force for good. As Al Gore and David Blood wrote yesterday in their excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “At this moment, we are faced with the convergence of three interrelated crises: economic recession, energy insecurity and the overarching climate crisis. Solving any one of these challenges requires addressing all three.”
In Laurent’s analysis, the West has lost influence in multilateral institutions since these institutions are out dated for today’s world. The notion of democracy promotion is also challenged in many quarters, such as Russia and China, says Laurent. Laurent is courageous and correct in saying that today’s multi-polar world is not just more equal but also more unstable, contrary to the European hope of equalizing relations with the United States. Nationalism is returning and we are “moving away from the post-modern ideal of global governance,” and we are witnessing a return of “19th Century geopolitics.”
Nevertheless, the world is one, and we all face the same big problems—climate change, financial instability, etc. “We are all in the same boat,” Laurent says. The new paradigm for the world will be paradoxical: harmonizing through integration and fragmentation through competition. The question is: Which trend will prevail?