When Democracies Collide

BERLIN – The multipolar nature of today’s international system will again be on display at the upcoming G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Global problems are no longer solved, crises managed, or global rules defined, let alone implemented, the old-fashioned way, by a few, mostly Western, powers. Incipient great and middle powers, such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and South Africa, also demand their say.

Some of these powers are still emerging economies. Politically, however, most of them have crossed the threshold that has long limited their access to the kitchen of international decision-making. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the “P-5”) still defend their right to veto resolutions, and their military power is unmatched. But they can no longer dispose of sufficient resources, competence, and legitimacy to cope with global challenges or crises on their own.

Bipolarity is a thing of the past, and it is unlikely to re-emerge in a new Sino-American “G-2.” It is equally unlikely for the foreseeable future that any one club of countries, such as the G-7 or G-8, will again assume a quasi-hegemonic position. Even the G-20 in its current composition may not really represent the forces that can and will shape the twenty-first century.

For the Unites States, the European Union, Japan, and other members of the “Old West,” the good news is that most of the emerging powers that are positioning themselves for a more active global role are also democracies. Within the G-20, only two states – China and Saudi Arabia – explicitly do not want to be liberal democracies, while a third, Russia, has developed into an autocracy with a democratic façade.