Global Power Shift and its Impact on the Stability of the World Order

In today’s twenty-first century, a global power shift emerged as a tremendous issue in international politics. We are now experiencing two tectonic power shifts, one is power transition from West to East and the other is the shift from all governments to the non-governmental or non-state actors, known as the rise of the rests. This new century will also see China and India, emerging as world powers. However, this rise of the rests produces many good things but also many problems – and the world is not yet equipped to tackle all of them.


In September 1990, the end of Cold War allowed the reunification of Germany and the elimination of the enmity which the West and the Soviet Union had confronted one another for some 45 years. One super power remained, the liberal democracies of the West thought had triumphed, and history was at an end.[1]

Today, the international security environment is witnessing the economic growth of countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and many others. This used to be called among policy makers and academics as the era of ‘the rise of the rest’, a tectonic power shift from the developed Western states to Asia led by China and India.[2] We are experiencing a new era of world history, completely different with what we see in the last two hundred years.

According to Joseph Nye, what happen in the twenty first century is that there are two great power shifts; one is the shift from states, which means that there are power transition from west to east, and the other is the shift from all governments to the non-governmental or non-state actors. The shift away from all governments, whether in Asia, America, or Europe, to the non-governmental or non-state actors are going to happen because of the enormous progress of an information technology, which means that the barriers to entry in playing a major role in international politics is greatly diminished. It is now very cheap for anybody with access to skype or facebook, for example, to communicate around the world. What we see in power diffusion leads to non-state actors, who can do things they could not do, some are very good like Oxfam, and some are very bad like Al-Qaeda and also to support power individuals as we saw in the case of Wikileaks. However, these two shifts power transition and power diffusion are going on simultaneously.

There are two points about the shift of power transition; first is the era of the end of western domination of world history (not to mention the end of the west) and the return of Asia. The return of Asia means ‘the return to the norm’, given the fact that since the year 1 A.D. to the year 1820 A.D., the two largest economies in the world were consistently China and India. And only in the last two hundred years first Europe took off then America came along. The evidence comes from Goldman Sachs’ studies, which show that by the year 2050, there are four largest economy; namely China, India, the United States, and then Japan.

Explosive rates of population and economic growth in Asian states are indicators of a new world order in which power will be more dispersed. This is of course contradictory to the Malthusian proposition, which argues that population tends to increase faster than the supply of food available for its needs.[3] This fact likely gives us an assumption that society’s fertility would also lead to economic progress.

This power shift is generating a new global landscape that will have a significant impact on global world order, which also means that a multipolar world is in the making. By all accounts, today’s multipolar world is not simply a result of the rise of other states and organizations or of the failures and follies of U.S. policy. It is also an inevitable consequence of globalization.

The Emergence of New World Order

The emerging international system is likely to be quite different from those that have preceded it. For United States historian, Will Durant in 1935, Asia had clearly been a land of promise.[4] Yet it lost most of the 20th century – even much of the second millennium, while Europe and later America shot ahead in human achievements, colonized the globe and took control of the world economy. When we look at Asia in the 1800s, it was more than half of the world population and had more than half of the world products, which in 1900s was down into 20% of the world products mainly because of the industrial revolution in America and Europe. Consequently, there was a multipolar order run by a collection of European governments, with constantly shifting alliances, rivalries, miscalculations, and wars. Then came the bipolar duopoly of the Cold War, more stable in many ways, but with the superpowers reacting and overreacting to each other’s every move. Since 1991, we have lived under American imperium, a unipolar world in which the open global economy has expanded and accelerated dramatically.

And now in the twenty first century, we are seeing Asia returning to proportion of world products consisting of shared world power population and this expansion is now driving the next change in the nature of international order and this sometimes called the rise of China and India.  Already the top exporting nation and second largest economy, China is expected to overtake the United States in terms of economic output in 20 to 30 years’ time. Besides its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), China’s leading role is evident in the G20 and G77 groupings.

In regards to the rise of China, Francis Fukuyama argues, different with the rivals of the US in the 20th century, China for America is a very difficult country to deal with because it does not have a universalistic ideology. It legitimates itself on the basis of its ability to grow rapidly and on the basis of Chinese nationalism, which is a desire of China to reoccupy a kind of respected place in the world that used to have a priority of an economy with Europe in the 19th century. But unlike the former Soviet Union, they are not going to be sending a military to Central America simply to create trouble in America’s backyard.

The reason is that Chinese all over the world is for commercial reason so they want to pursue deals, and therefore they want to protect those economic interests possibly and excessively in a mercantilistic way. However, according to Fukuyama, China is probably going to be much more like a nineteenth century great power, with strong nationalistic, strong national interest but does not have a universal doctrine that they want to impose on the rest of the world.

The critical question of this shift from unipolar to multipolar world is that whether this new world order will have a benign or a malign form. There are two likely possibilities on this. First, the world could fragment into competing blocs that attempt to resolve their differences through power politics as nation states did in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this regard, Robert Kagan has talked of an ‘axis of democracy’, including the United States (US), European Union (EU), India, and Japan, counterbalancing a ‘club of autocrats’, including Russia, China, and Iran.[5]

The other possibility is of existing and rising powers choosing to manage their relations through mutual interdependence, as has been attempted successfully in Europe over the second half of the last century.[6] The question is, therefore, which possibilities the world will face and how the world should deal with this new power game.

The United States and the New Emerging Powers

Given the fact that the West, over two hundred years, has occupied so much political and economic space in the world, such as the leading role in the World Bank and the IMF, and the rest of the world was passive and accepted it, the West is increasingly becoming a large part of the problem. Now the West has got to learn to share power and this is not going to be easy. People who occupy privilege positions never give up power easily.

What has made the anxiety of the West more is the emergence of China as a frightening economic and military power and India with its nuclear tests and steady growth 8-9 per cent over the past two decade. For, what the rise of China and India challenges is not just peace in their neighborhood, but also western dominance, and this is a shift, for which, according to the West, they are not ready.

Bill Emmott believes that China and India continue on their high growth path to join the U.S. as the three largest economies in the world. He also sees the Japanese economy coming out of its long depressed state into a better condition. He recognizes the key weakness of the three Asian powers – the authoritarian political structure in China, the weight of past sins in Japan, and India’s difficulties with its immediate neighbors. But he sees the economic and military power of all three rivals growing and given the several potential flashpoints, a risk of violent conflict. For him, the challenge is about how the world, continuing to be led by the U.S., will manage this.[7]

The US has sought to maintain its position as the pre-eminent power by following policy of defence transformation, using its technological superiority. As the US National Security Strategy states, “Innovation within the armed forces will rest on experimentation with new approaches to warfare, strengthening joint operations, exploiting US intelligence advantages, and taking full advantage of science and technology.”[8]

A head of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Australia and Indonesia in November 2011, his administration has increased its rhetoric in its strategy of re-engagement with East Asia. In an opinion article in the November issue of Foreign Policy magazine titled “America’s Pacific Century,”[9] U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the region ‘a key driver of global politics’ and promised substantive U.S. involvement.

The United States’ main goal in this strategy is to counterbalance an increasingly powerful China, especially in light of Beijing’s recent moves to aggressively stake its maritime claim in the region. As a result, the US comes with the establishment of a new permanent military base in Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia, that will deepen the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific. This supports an answer proposed by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992 in the report of the US’s military position in the post-Cold War period, in which its salient prescriptions is preventing the emergence of any new rival power using preemption instead of containment and undertaking unilateral actions if necessary to protect US interests.[10] To this end, the United States has pursued a leadership role in Asian multilateral organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the East Asia Summit (EAS) while attempting to strengthen bilateral relations with Asian nations, including both traditional allies such as Australia and Japan and emerging regional power, particularly India and Indonesia. So, will China become a threat to the global world?

The Positive Impact of the New Global Power Shift

Kishore Mahbubani says that there are at least three positive impacts of this new global world order. One is that we are not moving into a more dangerous world, rather we are moving into much saver world than anything we have experienced. And the reason quite simply, that the number of responsible stakeholders in the world is growing, hundreds of millions of people are going to join the middle classes, and the reality is that middle class people do not want to become suicide bombers, middle class people want precisely the kind of stability, order, and predictability. So it is not a more dangerous world.

Second, Asian countries have finally figured out what they actually need to succeed. What Asian countries are going to do is to implement certain wisdom of western best practices to succeed, such as free market economic, which its impact most dramatically occurs in the case of China. The minute China switch from the centrally plan economic to free market economics, China today has become the fastest growing economy over last thirty years. However, watching the most populous country in the world having the fastest growing economy is unnatural phenomenon. But it has, and its fundamental reason is free market economic and the Chinese today believe in it. And fortunately, the reality again is that if they want to implement the free market economy, then they have a vested interest, for a strong free market economy can be ensure only by the presence of global stability. So all the new rising economic powers have powerful vested interests in greater global stability.

Third, the mass to modernity, which began initially from Japan and then to the four tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong) to Southeast Asia, China, and India, is about to enter the Muslim world as well. In the past, in the Middle East there are likely two choices, they have on the one extreme from the Osama bin Laden vision, which most of them rejected and the other they have the vision of those who are trying to copy western societies and many of them did not want to copy western societies. So now the rise of China, India, and the other Asian societies has finally provided the model that they can grow fast economically and keep their cultural identity. Therefore, the modernization of China and India will have tremendous impact on the Islamic world.

Current trends likely show us optimistic evidences towards creating a more peaceful world. The two Koreas are finally reunited peacefully after the death of Kim Jong-il. Japan experiences a fresh wave of innovation and productivity growth that revives its economy. India resolves issues with its neighbors and opens trade to integrate the South Asian economies. A rising middle class begin pressing for and getting constitutional democracies in West Asia, and many other positive factors.[11]


Both China and India’s development has enormous implications for the world. First, China and India’s development and progress per se are a great contribution to the world. The significance of the fortune of both two largest world’s population cannot be neglected. Their development thus has great implications for the prosperity and development of the world.

Second, China has gone to great lengths to assure its neighbors that its path to development will be peaceful. Maintaining international peace and stability is in China’s ultimate national interest. Without a peaceful external environment, China would not have been able to undertake its reform measures. China’s current and future development still requires a peaceful international environment. Third, China’s development will hasten China’s opening up to the world and strengthen China’s integration with the international system. The rest of the world will have more opportunities to benefit from China’s huge market of consumers.

In comparison to the importance of finding peaceful ways to manage the relationships between Europe’s great power during the twentieth century, managing the relationship between China, India, and Japan shows to be one of the most important tasks in world affairs in the twenty-first century. But for this to happen, these Asian powers must be part of the management. Only the Asian powers can manage Asian security and build institutions required to reduce the risks of an economic, political, or military meltdown. The more difficult part is the sharing of global power that is necessary, whether the West will allow this to take place with the political equivalent or the new emerging powers will require a hostile takeover.


Clinton, Hillary. America’s Pacific Century. Foreign Policy Magazine: November 2011. Accessed from:

Coronado, Jaime Preciado. ‘Between Soft Power and a hard Place: Dilemmas of the Bush            Doctrine for Inter-American Relations’. Journal of Developing Societies: 2005, 322-335.

Dallek, Robert. (2007). Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Australia: HarperCollins Publishers

Desai, Nitin. ‘Review Essay’. Global Affairs Asia. Accessed from:

Fukuyama, Francis. (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. New York: MacMillan.

Landes, David. S. (1998). The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. New York: W.W. Norton and        Company.

Mahbubani, Kishore. (2009). Can Asians Think?. Singapore: Marshal Cavendish Editions.

Nye, Joseph. (2011). The Future of Power. New York: Public Affairs.

Raghavan, V. R. ‘Global Power Shift and Strategic Transition in Asia.’ The Hindu: 22 September 2009.

_______________ ‘India and the Global Power Shift’. Accessed from:

Zakaria, Fareed. (2008). The Post-American World. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.


[1] Francis Fukuyama,  The End of History and the Last Man. (New York: MacMillan, 1992), pp. xii

[2] Fareed Zakaria, ‘The Post-American World. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008), pp. 1

[3] David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998), pp. 345

[4] Kishore Mahbubani, Can Asians Think? (Singapore: Marshal Cavendish Editions,2009), pp. 42

[5] V.R. Raghavan, ‘India and the Global Power Shift’, pp. 1

[6] Ibid., pp, 2

[7] Nitin Desai ‘Review Essay’, Global Affairs Asia.

[8] V.R. Raghavan, Op. Cit., pp. 3

[9] Hillary Clinton, ‘America’s Pacific Century’. Foreign Policy Magazine: November 2011.

[10] Jaime Preciado Coronado, ‘Between Soft Power and a Hard Place: Dilemmas of the Bush Doctrine for Inter-American Relations’, (Journal of Developing Societies: 2005; 322-335), pp. 323

[11] Nitin Desai Op. Cit.


~ by zulkhanip on May 21, 2012.

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