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  Global Risk/ Innovation Blog

Piercing the Geopolitical Fog: The Wisdom of Bilahari Kausikan

By Shlomo Maital

 

 

Bilahari Kausikan is Singapore’s Deputy Foreign Minister.   Singapore is unique, because it attracts the very best and the brightest to its public service; most other countries practice ‘adverse selection’, which means that the best and brightest avoid poorly-paid underappreciated public service like the plague.  And the realm of politics and civil service is in most countries a wasteland as a result.   Singapore selects and develops its future civil servants the way Barcelona builds its stars with a youth team, starting from age 8.  Kausikan has long years of experience, knows several languages, has been posted in many parts of the world, and brings a knowledge of both theory and practice to his analysis of geopolitics. He trains his own team by bringing them along on field trips to many countries.  Here are a few of his insights, in an address he gave earlier this month.

      The U.S. has learned that it cannot, if it ever could, effectively exercise power alone. It must negotiate coalitions.  These can’t be created solely by the national charm of its leaders. Unlike during the Cold War, there is no reason for nations to subordinate their national interests to U.S. leadership. So America cannot insist, but only persuade. U.S. global leadership is still irreplaceable, but is increasingly questioned.  The result: A prolonged period of messiness in international relations.  There will be periodic crises.

    The key factor that will determine whether global ‘messiness’ can be kept within manageable limits is U.S.-China relations.  China is becoming more assertive in the pursuit of its interests.

     Global macro-economic imbalances and exchange rates are not really the core issues. The root of all crises is always political failure.  US and western economies allowed their economies to deindustrialize, over 30 years, and let their financial sectors grow too big. So, for the first time, Americans and others in the West contemplate a future where living standards will probably fall.  No Western government has been entirely candid with their electorates. Their tendency is to demonize an external cause. In America, this ‘demon’ is becoming China.  The slightest short-term improvement of the economy in the US or Europe will be seized upon to declare permanent victory, leading a slow slide back to old bad habits.  For the EU, it will be a very long time before it becomes more than a rhetorical global geopolitical force. The key players will be the US and China. All other players will be side shows.

    In Asia, all the major powers (India, China, Japan) are seeking a new modus vivendi with each other.  None of this is easy.  The outcome of Asian architecture will profoundly influence future global architecture.  Southeast Asia has little to unite it; its only intrinsic characteristic is diversity.  And the emerging East Asia architecture will affect US-China relations, which in turn drive future global architecture.    

The bottom line of this analysis?   Asia is crucial globally, not solely because of its growing economic muscle, but also because of its rising geopolitical power.  Of course, economic and political power are closely interconnected.  I think the crucial question is:  Will Asia look inward and create its own Single Market, as the EU did, or will it seek to create an Asia-oriented global architecture?   No-one knows the answer.  The result will impact all of our lives. 

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Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
December 2010
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