Impact of world order on conﬂict, poverty, human rights and the environment
The structure of power in the international system (world order) plays a key part in the extent of conﬂicts and poverty in the world. It can aﬀect whether states protect the human rights of their citizens and whether states co-operate over environmental issues, such as climate change. What is the impact of unipolarity and multipolarity. From the realist perspective, unipolarity could promote peace and the protection of human rights if the global hegemon acts as the world’s police oﬃcer.
States might be encouraged or forced by the dominant power into co-operation to reduce global poverty and to combat climate change. Liberals, however, see unipolarity as inherently unstable and more likely to lead to conﬂict and the abuse of human rights, especially if the hegemon is predatory. States may be less likely to co-operate on poverty and the environment if the dominant state does not set a good example. Realists and liberals also disagree about whether multipolarity is any more likely to have a beneﬁcial eﬀect on these issues.
How has the changing balance of world power affected poverty?
Globalisation has led to an increase in free-market capitalism. This has dramatically reduced global poverty, since it has enabled developing countries to take advantage of the opportunities for growth that global trading presents. As a result, there has been a significant convergence between the Global North and the Global South, challenging the utility of the concept of a North/South divide. The share, for example, of the developing world’s population living on less than US$1.25 a day (the international definition of poverty) has fallen from 30% in 2000 to below 10% in 2014. One of the main reasons why the Millennium Development Goals (2000–15) achieved the success they did was because globalisation provided greater opportunities for extreme poverty reduction than ever before. A number of developing countries have achieved remarkable success in lifting their citizens out of poverty. In 2017, South Korea had the 11th biggest economy in the world, beating Russia into 12th place. Among the top ten biggest economies in the world, three are in the developing world — China (2nd), India (7th) and Brazil (9th) (2016). African countries with the most spectacular growth rates are those that have focused on taking advantage of new opportunities in global trade, such as Ethiopia (textiles and coffee) and Côte d’Ivoire (the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans). Across Africa, too, Chinese investment is providing massive opportunities for the development of infrastructure. In 2015, for example, President Xi Jinping pledged a further US$60 billion to African investment.
However, although millions have been lifted out of poverty in emerging economies such as China, India and the East Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), the changing balance of global power has had much less of an impact on what Paul Collier has called ‘the Bottom Billion’. Often located in Sub-Saharan Africa, the billion people living in poor- resourced, land-locked and poorly governed states are more likely to be victims of globalisation, as cheap manufactured products are ‘dumped’ on them, undermining their potential for achieving initial-stage industrialisation.
Neo- Marxists, such as Immanuel Wallerstein in his ‘world systems’ theory, also argue that even those developing states that seem to be expanding as a result of globalisation are actually being exploited. Neocolonial powers utilise their cheap labour and raw materials so that the profits from globalisation go to the core (colonising) rather than the peripheral (colonised) power. Furthermore, their growth rates can be misleading, given they are starting from a very low baseline. Amy Chua has also argued in 2002’s World on Fire that the sudden imposition of free markets can dramatically increase inequality and resentment. Globalisation does have the potential to raise all boats but not equally, and so in increasing numbers of states (both North and South) the gap between rich and poor is becoming worryingly extreme. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was due, in part, to his victory in the ‘rust-belt’ states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where manufacturing jobs have steadily been lost to the developing world, so creating a new poverty underclass.
How has the changing balance of world power affected the environment?
Globalisation of trade has expanded the wold economy and damaged the environment while pulling millions of people out of poverty. The changes in the global order have therefore had a mixed impact. Trade, global travel and industrialisation has taken a massive toll on the environment.
However, the increased cooperation that has come with globalisation, together with greater emphasis on global governance, has led to climate change and environmental protection gaining greater prominence in international debate. The rapid economic growth of emerging powers has led to significant environmental damage due to heavy industrialisation, deforestation and increasing pollution, all of which have significantly increased carbon emissions. The focus of the developing world on lifting their populations out of poverty has made it difficult to address the problem of climate change. This has meant that the developing world has prioritised economic growth over sustainable development.
The way the developed world has criticised the developing world for its use of cheap, carbon-emitting fuels, like coal, might also be seen as hypocritical. After all, during the last two centuries, the developed world became rich by polluting the atmosphere and now it could be seen as trying to deny the developing world the opportunity to become wealthy. The difficulty of achieving a consensus between the developed and developing nations on how best to limit carbon emissions is one of the key reasons why the Copenhagen Conference (2009) was not more successful.
A 'Malthusian nightmare' or 'where there's a will there's a way? '
The political economist Thomas Malthus pessimistically argued that population growth was unsustainable and that we do not have the global resources to continue to support growth at current rates. In other words, there is a ‘limit to this growth’. While we have now passed Malthus’ predicted time of crisis, many have adopted the ideas of neo-Malthusianism, arguing that without a significant focus on resource management and sustainable development, we will reach a crisis point characterised by famine, disease and civil war. Arguably, we are already witnessing these effects in certain parts of the world.
However, the Danish economist Ester Boserup argued that the challenges created by population growth necessarily force us to come up with new and better solutions. There will be a growth in the creation of new technologies and this will enable us to better manage resources, so that population growth will once again be sustainable. In 1965 Boserup wrote necessity is the mother of invention . That means, if you need it, someone will invent it. So if more food was needed she wrote that people would invent ways of increasing food supply
The Paris Climate Change Conference (2015) demonstrated that the developing world is becoming much more aware of the dangers of unrestricted economic growth. The conference succeeded in getting nearly all of the 200 states represented to agree that temperature rise in the twenty-first century should be kept as close to 1.5°C as possible. Nation-states will also accept regular reviews of their efforts to limit carbon emissions and the developed world will provide ‘climate finance’ to help the developing world transfer to greener technology. Furthermore, in 2017 the attitude of the leaders of the developed and developing world to climate change seemed to ‘flip’. In January, China reversed plans for 104 new coal plants and President Xi Jinping expressed regret that President Trump had not lived up to the global aspirations of the Paris treaty. China has become a global leader in renewable energy, with about 581 GW of installed wind and solar power generation capacity as of October 2021. But officials have said coal-fired power is still a priority to ensure a reliable supply of electricity.
Make America Great Again
In the USA climate policies are seen by many as damaging to the economy and even as a plot to restrain American power. This is in the context of a global power balance where the USA is see its dominance as being challenged. The perception of American decline and a feelin go lost greatness contributed to the election of Trump. The USA is no longer the self confident hegemon.
In March, the Trump administration reversed the restrictions President Obama had put on the extraction of fossil fuels. In April 2021, Biden announced a target for the US to reduce its emissions by 50-52% between 2005 and 2030. Compared to his predecessors, this was a huge increase in ambition. The Barack Obama administration’s target was 26-28% between 2005 and 2025 and Donald Trump didn’t have a target.