Monday 26 Feb 2018 | 14:05 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Feb 2018 | 14:05 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Defensive bipolarity


This post is part of the A new bipolarity debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.


4 June 2012 18:05

This post is part of the A new bipolarity debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Harry Gelber, an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Tasmania, writes:

I am intrigued by Michael Wesley's suggestion of new patterns of cooperation/institutionalisation in Asia, Africa and Latin America. I offer a few reflections:

1. This kind of pattern-making does not, it seems to me, have an entirely happy history in recent times. To take only one example, the creation of the UN after 1945 seemed to work quite well for some decades. But, although some of its agencies — WHO and WLO come to mind — have worked well, the UN as whole, meaning the General Assembly and the Security Council, have gone far in the direction of becoming mere talking shops, for all that states often use the 'authority' of one or the other to do what they think they need to do.

2. Your thesis does not seem to me to account for the increasing rather than decreasing multipolarity of the current international system.

3. But there is one point which seems to support your thesis but may rest on very different principles as far as I can see. This is the case of the British and French empires in the 1880s and 90s. As we all know, both London and Paris were increasingly alarmed by the economic, political and military growth of Russia, Germany and the United States. Each of them attempted to unify its empire into a more coherent and effective political unit that might hope to counter-balance one or other of the emerging great powers.

Each failed, though it should not be forgotten how many Indians not to mention Australians and Canadians fought under the Union Jack and saw themselves as fighting for 'King and Country' (or equivalent) in the first and, in Australia's case, even the second World War. And how many Senegalese or Moroccans etc fought under the Tricolor.

I wonder whether the patterns you suggest might not, for all the evident differences, echo these earlier examples. Smaller African states and most Latin American ones may well have become impressed with how little weight they carry internationally, and how vulnerable they are, in comparison to the great powers of the US, China etc and even, in trade and financial matters, the EU. If so, perhaps the institutionalisation that you detect is, in each case, a somewhat similarly defensive manoeuvre. Whether such motivations would be more likely to strengthen or to undermine effective unity in the longer term I leave to you.