2010: global cracks, human prospects

A volcanic decade in global politics ends amid deep unease about the world’s ability to rise to key 21st-century challenges. openDemocracy writers draw breath and look ahead by reflecting on three questions:

1) What was the most significant trend in the century's first decade?

2) What do you most hope for, and most fear, about the decade to come?

3) What idea do you see fading and/or emerging in 2010 and beyond?

David Hayes
22 December 2009

openDemocracy authors' responses to these questions are published in two parts - on this page and here. A full listing of the contributions can be found below:


Paul Rogers

1) The most significant trend worldwide was a composite one with three elements. The first was the further widening of the social and economic divide between an elite of around 1.5 billion people doing very well out of the globalised free market, and the great majority of humankind who were progressively marginalised. The second was the slow but steady increase in environmental constraints, especially the early impact of climate change. The third was the attempt by the world’s elite to maintain the status quo in their own interests, including an excessively militaristic and wrongheaded response to the 9/11 atrocities.

2) The fear is that we will learn nothing from the consequences of the “war on terror”; allow the financial system to continue unreformed; and will compound the failure of the Copenhagen summit by avoiding serious action on climate change. The hope is that after wasting the first decade of the 21st century, we will come in the second to a clear recognition of what is needed to move towards an emancipated and sustainable world.

3) The fading idea is the fantasy that one state can create a “global century” in its own economic and political image, and that “Islamofascism” is the crucial threat to its realisation.

The emerging idea is the integration of our understanding of three issues - development, environment and security - into a coherent vision of global possibilities.

Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. His books include Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010)

Also by Paul Rogers: “After war, security” (10 December 2009)

Neal Ascherson

1) These ten years carried on and made more manifest a trend which was first visible in the 1990s: the American loss of global control - the disintegration of the cold-war discipline which had kept most of the developed world and most of the post-colonial continents aligned with American policies for over four decades. After 1989-91, with the loss of old enemies and certainties, the United States failed to redefine its foreign-policy intentions. The neo-conservatives saw the gap, but their attempt to fill it with the mad “project for an American century” was discredited. The lurid conflicts of the decade, from 9/11 through the endless Afghan engagement to the Iraq war, concealed for a while but in the end only emphasised America's steady loss of influence in the rest of the world.

2) I most hope for the strengthening of the sort of globalised political and economic environment which has made so many small and micro states viable in the last two decades. I most fear American mishandling of Iran and Israel, making a unilateral Israeli strike plausible.

3) The idea of the “social state” could continue to fade. The worst response of governments (some more than others, admittedly) to the financial crash of 2007-09 is a loss of confidence that they can intervene in the private economy in order to protect the public interest.

The idea that will gather strength, conversely, is belief in direct action outwith the conventional political and protest frameworks; small spearhead groups will attract enormous but ephemeral mass support for attacking well-protected interests where it hurts.

Neal Ascherson is a journalist. Among his books is Black Sea (Granta/Hill & Wang, 1996)

Also by Neal Ascherson: “1989: how it ended” (4 November 2009)


Simon Critchley

1) The decline in American hegemony, which the George W Bush administration attempted to conceal through the infantilism of the “war on terror”. The Barack Obama administration’s extension of the United States/Nato military presence in Afghanistan has done nothing to arrest this infantilism. Politicians and their advisors should read more history.

2) The continuing rise of populism and racist nationalism in Europe, and something even uglier in the US associated with idiots like Sarah Palin. I mostly have fears.

3) The idea of concerted action on climate change will fade. The idea that will emerge is of a national self-interest that takes new and complex forms.

Simon Critchley is chair of philosophy at the New School, New York. Among his books is The Book of Dead Philosophers (Granta/Vintage, 2008)

Also by Simon Critchley: “Barack Obama and the American void” (24 January 2009)

Emily Lau

1) The most significant trend in the century's first decade is the emergence of China as a world power to rival the United States of America. The rapid expansion of the Chinese economy has captured the international business community's imagination. Many governments and companies are eager to increase their own wealth by getting a slice of the action. In doing so, even democratic countries are ready to overlook the Chinese government's appalling human-rights record, massive corruption and utter disregard for the rule of law. The rise of China may be inevitable, but the humane world should not kowtow in the face of imagined riches; rather, it should uphold universal core values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These are both right in themselves, and the only guarantee of a secure and prosperous future.

2) I hope that in the decade to come the international community can reach a consensus on how to deal with global climate change. The failure to reach an agreement in Copenhagen on what the rich countries should do and how much they should contribute to assist the poorer countries to deal with the problem is pathetic and deplorable. Most states would accept that the threat posed by global warming is very real, but many are too preoccupied with protecting their own national interests and are reluctant to take a global view of this urgent problem - let alone accept a fair share of responsibility in finding a solution. Citizens from every country must press their governments to take essential action to save the planet earth. If we insist on being selfish and short-sighted, calamity will destroy us all.

Emily Lau is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (Legco), Her website is here

Also by Emily Lau:

Tiananmen, 1989-2009” (4 June 2009)

Ramin Jahanbegloo

The events of 11 September 2001 altered the international order, and many people around the world continue to see them as the most significant political turning-point of the century's first decade. Now, the non-violent movement in Iran which spread in the aftermath of the June 2009 election is emerging as a forerunner of the next decade’s politics.

The use of violence after 9/11 provoked further violence, and made a sustainable and peaceful world even more remote. The “green movement” in Iran is a non-violent and non-ideological pro-democracy wave in which civic demands are more important than party politics. Its fusion of enduring Gandhian principle with an innovative use of communications technology is groundbreaking. This non-violent paradigm, albeit still in the making in Iran, is also the local manifestation of a global phenomenon: the arrival of a new generation of young people possessed of the self-belief, the maturity and tolerance needed to spark peaceful change.

Gandhi taught that in order to create a non-violent future at all levels (homes and localities as well as internationally) we must “be the change we want to see”. This wisdom - which is also an ancient wisdom of the heart - may seem too idealistic and religiose for a hard-headed world. But the Gandhian moment in Iran has shown that we need to take an imaginative leap toward a fresh and generous idealism for the sake of all humanity. The outcome of Iran’s non-violent struggle will shape the future of world politics in 2010 and beyond.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is professor of political science at the University of Toronto

Also by Ramin Jahanbegloo:

The modern Gandhi” (30 January 2008)

Conor Gearty

1) The most profound “inner” difference between 2000 and 2010 is that a once marginal and quixotically illiberal idea has become central: namely, that citizens should be scared by terrorism into giving governments and international organisations the freedom to rove above the law - just as long as this authoritarian flight can be justified in “the interests of national security” or for “reasons of counter-terrorism”.

The attacks of 11 September 2001 hardened this position to such a degree that those who persisted in arguing for human rights and the rule of law were  made to seem eccentrics. The high point of this new form of pseudo-democratic authoritarianism may have passed with the end of the George W Bush/Dick Cheney presidency in the United States, but even there the legacy of Guantánamo remains - and the country is only an election (or perhaps an atrocity) away from a renewed plunge into the worst excesses of the mid-2000s.

Elsewhere, counter-terrorism has embedded itself as a vital element in the rule of the Vladimir Putin clique in Russia, the Mubarak family in Egypt - indeed in every place where a veneer of democracy is required to camouflage the essential unaccountability of power. The United Nations too - with its blacklists, its counter-terrorism committees, and its flouting of its own human-rights standards - has not been immune.

2) My hope for the next decade is that the “green shoots” of civil-libertarian recovery - seen in the European Union (where courts have struck down UN blacklists), the United Kingdom (where judges have emasculated indefinite detention and other deprivations of liberty) and Pakistan (where lawyers engaged in a peaceful revolution of sorts, in defence of their chief justice) - will spread; and that the world of counter-terrorism will shrink to its previous size, a small island of security in a sea of reasonable freedom. My fear is that one or more violent incidents will become the pretext for a deeper plummet into counter-terrorism.

3) In the latter case, and amid the ever-scarcer resources of a warming planet,  the idea of counter-terrorism would become the legitimating tool that justifies the plunder of poor regions and the punishment of their people (also known in many cases as “terrorists”). A continued civil-libertarian recovery is the necessary antidote to this awful prospect. 

Conor Gearty is professor of human-rghts law at the London School of Economics. His website is here

Also by Conor Gearty:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the next sixty years” (10 December 2008)

Rein Müllerson

The heart of London’s celebration of the new millennium was near the Greenwich Observatory, just round the corner from where I write these words. In time as well as space, the move to a new decade, century and epoch can seem very close. But 2000 is also, already, impossibly distant.

When the decade started it could be claimed with some justification that the world had become “unipolar”. Al-Qaida had not yet fully emerged; the era of endless wars - on terror, in Afghanistan (“necessity”) and Iraq (“choice”) was in the future; the “those-who-are-not-with-us-are-against-us” mentality was still to flower. The years that followed 9/11 have led many to see United States hegemony as fragile, the world as more complicated than ever, and the line between “us” and “them” increasingly blurred. The defining characteristic of the epoch resembled less a “new world order” and more a mutated form of great-power rivalry between the liberal-democratic west and rising “authoritarian capitalisms”.

China’s “peaceful rise” and Russia’s refound confidence, and the financial crisis of 2007-09, have entrenched this view. Barack Obama’s election suggested that America was sobering up after a long intoxication. But there is a long way to go, and a lot of damage to repair.

After the optimism of the 1980s-1990s, and the cynicism of the 2000s, the world is trying to put the house in order. There will be no miracles - the Copenhagen climate-change summit is evidence enough of that. But there is hope. More and more people in the world accept that those who are not like “us” are not for that reason enemies; that liberal and illiberal moderates, if they join forces, can prevail over liberal and illiberal hawks. 

I fear that Afghanistan and Iraq may become Obama’s Vietnam; that recession in America will continue long enough for a Sarah Palin to be elected in 2012. In that case, even a gentle ascent by China may not save the world from worst-case outcomes. At the same time, I trust that the very acuteness of common threats will serve as a “stimulus package”, reminding responsible citizens everywhere that their particular interests can be met only when nobody’s vital interests are sacrificed.  

Rein Müllerson is rector of the Tallinn University Nord

Also by Rein Müllerson:

Democracy: history not destiny” (27 November 2008)

Patrice de Beer

1) The most significant trend of the century’s first decade is the current of history that can be glimpsed beneath the empty words of aimless leaders and the transient obsessions of media.

This decade, for example, saw the seventieth anniversary of Spain’s civil war. The final victory of General Franco’s forces in 1939 was signalled by the retirada - the flight of hundreds of thousands of defeated Republicans to to France.

The Francoist triumph owed much to the support of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the (legal) Republic’s strangulation to the cynical involvement of Joseph Stalin. But these dictators’ use of Spain as a military playground - which became a precursor to global war - was matched by the hypocritical “non-intervention” of the two great democracies, Britain and France. The echoes today include democracies’ indulgence of “friendly” dictatorships who sell them gas or buy their luxury-goods.

A little-known aspect of the retirada is how the French authorities treated the Spanish refugees: families were separated, men were sent to concentration-camps where many died of hunger and disease, and some were forced to return to Spain and certain death. They had been fleeing for their lives, just like their successors in the 2000s who have been (as sanctioned by a European Union directive of 2008) turned back on the high seas, herded in camps or sent home by chartered-plane. The lessons of history are not being learned.

2) For a Frenchman, hope lies in the fact that the country’s birthrate (2.02% in 2008) is among Europe’s highest. A society ready to make long-term commitments is a society that has not abandoned faith in a brighter (or at least less gloomy) future. In a world where belief in ideals often translates into a clinging to religions that promise only a bright afterlife, the fact that young people still believe it is worthwhile to create life and to bear a joint responsibility is refreshing!

Patrice de Beer is a former Washington correspondent of Le Monde

Also by Patrice de Beer:

France: identity in question” (11 December 2009)

Arthur Ituassu

1) The trend of globalism remains vital and essential. The financial crisis of 2007-09 and the failure of the Copenhagen summit again make clear that global governance is the precondition of a stable world order. The twin ideologies of nationalism and internationalism are important for domestic economic development and functioning international institutions, but they are no longer capable of managing the problems that confront humanity - foremost among them the very survival of the planet

2) I hope that globalism will reach into at least part of each nation’s political agendas, and that citizens become engaged with global issues as well as local, national and international ones. The field of everyday concern must go beyond city and state, and the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, to the global political arena. The great challenge for foreign-policy decision-makers this century, in my view, is to conciliate national interests with international ones and to make a positive global contribution

I fear the return of nationalism as the chosen route of progress for the less developed countries, for this could cause great harm to them and the planet alike. Such a process could be accelerated by international institutions’ loss of credibility as a result of their inability to ensure progress over trade, the environment and security

3) I see nationalism fading and globalism emerging; indeed this must happen for the sake of the planet. But I also see nationalism emerging and internationalism fading; this will benefit no one. The political world must not wait for another major catastrophe before it regenerates itself. There may be less time than we think.

Arthur Ituassu is professor of international relations at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His website is here

Also by Arthur Ituassu:

Brazil’s new political identity” (2 November 2009)

Saskia Sassen

1) The savage sorting of winners and losers of the last decade, one of the most extreme witnessed in the long history of capitalism, suggests that we are at the beginning of a new phase of this global system. The emerging dynamics of the new phase are many-faceted; they are reflected, for example, in the aggressive purchase of land in poorer regions around the world by wealthy investors (among them the Saudi and Chinese governments, Swedish and South Korean firms, and …JP Morgan). The purposes are varied: to grow food for richer countries, to access underground water-tables, and to be able to extract the minerals of sub-Saharan Africa, central Asia and parts of Latin America. This is the privatisation of global land

2)  A kind of political clarity - the extremes of inequality and brutality characteristic of this era should themselves begin to shatter the illusion that this type of capitalism brings hope for a majority of people. The current environmental struggles should also help achieve this political focus. I think/hope that being serious about the environment is a distributive force that pushes towards a new logic: the more households, neighbourhoods, firms, cities, and countries take what is happening seriously, the better for everybody. This kind of positive synergy is rare, and a striking contrast to the opposite effect that the so-called “advanced capitalism” of the last two decades has had

3) The idea that markets always know best, which triumphed after 1989, is fading fast. The as-yet-dimly-perceived attractiveness of distributive logics is emerging.. ..slowly, very slowly.

Saskia Sassen is professor of sociology at Columbia University. Also by Saskia Sassen: “A global financial detox” (3 September 2009)

Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao

1) The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed two significant trends that are contradictory to each other. The first is the global-scale truth-searching for the environmental destiny of the earth, founded on recognition of the ultimate limits to economic growth, production and consumption. This implies that the common cause of the human world must become survival in a decent life with freedom, democracy, and justice

The second trend is the rise of China, whose authoritarian political system and power-ambitions have been tolerated - even indulged - by those (such as the United States and the European Union) who claim to represent the free world. The liberal-democracies’ dependence on China’s dynamic economy fuels their consent to its undemocratic political and justice system (reflected in the eleven-year jail sentence awarded to the dissident Liu Xiaobo on 25 December 2009) and creates even less incentive for China to democratise

This weak attitude extends to China’s dependent neighbour, North Korea. In face of a totalitarian system armed with nuclear weapons and supported by China, the liberal democracies appeared incapable - thus making the Pyongyang regime even more demanding and indifferent to the suffering of its own people

2) These trends in turn point to my hope and fear in the decade to come. I hope that human society can work together to find solutions to the global environmental crisis. But what happened in Copenhagen in the December 2009 summit again convinced me of the iron fact that the exercise of nation-state interests are still far more powerful than that of the world as a whole. So hope needs to be more guarded. By the same reasoning, national interests (more accurately, those of power-elites) could thwart global ones in even more damaging ways: China’s and North Korea’s economic and military power could enable them in effect to kidnap the trend towards sustainability, democracy and security championed by the free world

3) The insistence on democracy, human rights and justice as both universal values and national objectives has faded in the last decade. The reports of Freedom House and the Bertelsmann foundation reveal a deterioration in the overall quality of democracy, human-rights and justice in many countries. The refusal of authoritarian states to introduce genuine political reform has been justified by reference to the rise of “alternative” models (such as “illiberal democracy”). The fading of the idea of universal democratic values and the emergence of political particularisms is another postmodernist challenge to which democracy-defenders must find a convincing response.

Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao is executive director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies (CAPAS) at the Academia Sinica, Taipei. Also by Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao: Taiwan identity and China: 1987-2007” (19 March 2008)

Michael Naumann

1) The most significant trend of the last decade is the unchecked growth of greed and ignorance in the international banking business. The internet was its enabler; the megalomania of its self-aggrandised tycoons was its indicator; the corruption of politicians unwilling to do anything about it was its saddest concomitant

2) What I hope for is a decline of terrorism, religious fundamentalism, nationalism - and of political cowardice in the face of the mental and economic origins of these evils. What I fear is that this hope comes to naught

3) Ecological arguments of the apocalyptic kind will be disbelieved and will fade, because the world's societies will neither collapse nor drown because of climate change during the next ten years. Unfortunately they might do so in the next fifty years. And by then it will be too late to regret our disbelief of yore.

Michael Naumann is publisher of Die Zeit, and was Germany’s minister of culture (1998-2001). Also by Michael Naumann:What happened to the new world order” (6 September 2006)


Kerem Oktem

1) The emergence and deepening of multi-polarity on a global scale. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the George W Bush administration’s aggressive unilateralism in Afghanistan and Iraq have obscured the fact that the world is fast ceasing to be a dominion of the “west”. The European Union is progressively turning inwards - battling “enlargement fatigue”, negotiating internal integration, and refusing to take a global leadership role. Vladmir Putin’s Russia seems unwilling to move beyond its old-fashioned hard-power politics. The global financial crisis has accelerated China’s (and to a degree India’s) arrival as economic and political competitors of the United States. China’s and India’s new global engagement is particularly tangible in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere in Asia, where a “great game” for resources and markets is in full play. Regional powers like Turkey and Brazil - whose non-colonial history means that they benefit from unstained reputations in new areas of influence - have joined in, using new instruments of economic interaction to extend their interests and influence.

2) The deepening of multi-polarity offers a historical chance to move from a semi-colonial world dominated and regulated by western Europe and the US to a truly post-colonial world order. This world will see Beijing and Delhi as centres of power on a par with Washington and London, and Paris as a regional European cultural capital at best. The crucial question is how the new actors will use their power globally: by promoting democracy, free trade and the rule of law, or by following their colonial predecessors in making profit-maximisation a priority. China’s and Turkey’s engagement in Sudan (to give but one example) suggests that human rights and accountability will not be at the top of the agenda.

3) The idea of “western” (i.e. US and European) hegemony - and by extension of “western civilisation” - is fading as a universal benchmark for modernity. However, the new multi-polarity is still only an empirical fact and has not yet been embodied in the structure and ideology of international institutions. In the next decade, this can be expected to change. After the disastrous appropriation of democratisation discourses by the former US administration, there is likely to be less talk of democracy and more of strategic partnerships, economic development and national cultures. At the same time, globalisation and internationalisation will continue to gather pace.

Kerem Oktem is research fellow of the European Studies Centre at Oxford University. Also by Kerem Oktem: “Turkey and Israel: ends and beginnings” (10 December 2009)

Øyvind Paasche

1) The understanding of how humans are influencing the global climate, and what it will require to reverse this impact, is among the most important recognitions of the century's first decade. The science that explains the connection between the concentration of atmospheric CO2 and air temperature is over 100 years old, but only recently has a wider public accepted it and its implications: that the conditions for life are now deteriorating, and that coordinated action will be required if this ever-expanding challenge is to be solved. Whether the United Nations will lead and organise this important work, or if other new geopolitical constellations will lead the way, remains to be seen. It is striking here that the leading emergent superpower - China - is both among the countries most reluctant to accept the science behind climate change, and yet the indispensable state in addressing it

2) A failure seriously to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the decade to come will lead to further destructive floods and droughts across large parts of the world. These natural disasters will affect regions beyond those immediately hit by catastrophe, in the form of climate refugees, the spread of diseases and water-shortages. The fact that “slum areas” are growing faster than any other form of habitat in the world (and now estimated to accommodate a billion people) suggests that our vulnerability to sudden climatic shifts is greater than ever before. The acceleration of both these trends - greenhouse-gas emissions and the expansion of slum areas - leaves little time to ponder the many possible ways of reacting, as emergency responses and thinking dominate

3) The notion that the people of this planet have shared interests which are not confined to a class, a particular region or an individual country is a grand thought that comes and goes throughout history; hopefully it is again due to bounce back to centre-stage. It is perhaps among the most human and inspiring of ideas: namely that we are all in our big old ship together, have the same interests in keeping it strong and seaworthy, and must look after each other regardless of how ferociously the storm blows.

Øyvind Paasche is a scientist at the Bjerknes Centre of Climate Research, University of Bergen, Norway

Also by Øyvind Paasche:

After glaciers: a new climate world” (27 August 2009)

Ivan Briscoe

1) The millennium opened for me with the sight of kids from the banlieue running amok on the Champs Elysées and (soon after) of Argentina straggling through the streets in search of a dog-eared dollar. This set the pattern for a decade’s encounter with the fury of the marginalised. But something in this phenomenon has changed. The violence, instability and insecurity of others are somehow more penetrative than ever - yet also more ineffectual. The decade has been unprecedently drenched in the hyper-real imagery of war, to the extent that the sensory feel of Gaza or Sadr City - reprocessed in text, photo, film, and videogame (and thus even dream) - occupies the shared world of  most western media-users. At the same time, public interest in and the public capacity to register this violence, instability and insecurity on a more than immediate level has waned, in many cases to near-zero.

What goes for war goes for much else. Nations, markets and individuals have been brought into crushingly intimate contact, creating a systemic complexity that is the decade's outstanding legacy. But the credit crunch and the Copenhagen summit have shown that this hurtling connectedness has not translated into any real ability at the appropriate level to reform the system or even ensure its survival.

2) The hope is that the new powers of the developing world act as a vanguard for responsible global government, and can be used as instruments to persuade the west that wealth and power can be shared without loss of face or democratic decency. The fear is more vivid and immediate: that the meshing of the globe blinds us with apocalyptic morbidity. In such an outcome, anxiety and a desperate urge to preserve peak life-standards could govern ballot-box choices in Europe and north America - or that, from the progressive side, the adoration for Obama-like seers turns into a kind of post-Christian paganism, placing all the weight of the world's unsolvables on the shoulders of one person and then wailing with vicarious pain.

3) At the point where the west's end-of-history project miserably implodes amid internal absurdity, environmental constraints, and the encounter with billions of enriched consumers, there is so far no real belief-system to guide us (though many new-age-style simulacra). How to meet the needs of VS Naipaul’s “unnecessary and unaccommodated”, and how to think ourselves rich and free while also genuinely excising the inner greed-monster, are questions that connect the afflicted and the comfortable. Expect many charlatans to offer magic potions.

Ivan Briscoe is a fellow of the Conflict Research Unit at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague

Also by Ivan Briscoe:

The writing on the wall: media wars in Latin America” (12 October 2009)

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh

1) A growing contestation of power in international relations in the midst of what seems to be business-as-usual. The surface has been dominated by the projection of brute force (the United States-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq), followed by a re-embrace of multilateralism by the Barack Obama Obama administration - qualified by a search for new norms (“just war” instead of “global peace”) and agreements (the G20, Copenhagen). But a closer look reveals that military-force-as-power is increasingly being challenged by the return of economics: China in Africa and central Asia, the rise of the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, the G20 stealing more headlines than the G8, the fragility of Nato as a rigid military organisation, and the growth of regional blocs that combine security, politics and economics (the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation).

Whle the Obama doctrine may propose a general rally under the banner of “just war”, others are making “just money” - and more. The spread of channels for markets, investments, and aid has vital political effects. Iran’s central place on the news agenda reflects not just its post-election tumult or its plans to become the fourth country in its immediate region to acquire nuclear weapons, but because it is exploiting the new financial choices available - and dares to challenge the hypocrisy and injustice of western-modelled international relations (including the composition of the United Nations Security Council).

2) I hope that all this contestation will lead to more pluralism in international relations: more equity and fewer defunct categories (north/south, east/west, developed/developing). I hope that can start with a combination of respect for diversity and recognition of shared responsibility.

But I also fear that instead, the international system will become even more conflictual when the powerful clubs refuse to admit new members, and old and new hegemons compete together more,  leading to further instability all around.

3) The fall of the Berlin wall may have been the “unipolar moment” of the last century, but the first decade of this is rendering so very passé the whole notion of “polarity”. The movement of people, capital and information means that real power is moving and often remains outside of the control of states - even the most powerful ones. The international system is becoming highly complex, dynamic and multifaceted; and polarity - whether of the uni-, bi- or even multi- version - doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh leads the concentration on human security at the master's of public affairs at Sciences Po in Paris and is an associate researcher with the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), Norway

Also by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh:

Afghanistan: peacekeeping without peace” (26 October 2009)

Joakim Kreutz

1 The remilitarisation of international relations. The decade started during an unprecedented period of successful peacemaking that saw the number of active armed conflicts in the world drop from fifty-four in 1992 to just twenty-nine in 2003 - the lowest number since the mid-1970s. This decrease in armed violence was accompanied by an upsurge in the signing of peace-agreements in conflicts across the world, including difficult cases such as Palestine, Sudan, Guatemala, and Aceh.

When it became clear that the signing of a peace agreement can sometimes (though far from always) be followed by a resumption of a conflict, the willingness to engage in the difficult task of peacemaking decreased. At the same time, the willingness to use military measures, both against direct threats and to provide global “stability”, increased. Even the so-called civil power of the European Union has it seems become obsessed with establishing “battle-groups” and “mutual-security clauses” 

2 I hope there will be a greater focus on improving individuals’ social and economic living conditions as an effective conflict-prevention and global-security measure. It should be acknowledged that the best way of ending and preventing conflict is to improve the quality of life for as many individuals as possible. The space for such a discussion should expand as the 2015 deadline for achieving the millennium development goals approaches

I fear, however, that the coming decade will be characterised by an increased focus on deterrence, and/or by the protection of national economic and political interests. The example of North Korea may be followed by other insecure and/or paranoid regimes fired by an ambition to procure nuclear weapons or similar deterrence-symbols

3 It is unlikely, but I would like to see the concept of “war on terror” fade away. Instead of concentrating on the means (“terrorism”), it would be more useful to identify and change the conditions that lead to the formation of such organisations, and people to choose to join them.

Joakim Kreutz teaches political science at Uppsala University, Sweden

Also by Joakim Kreutz:

Burma: sources of political change” (1 September 2008)

Hakan Altinay

The most significant trend of the last decade has been the intensification of our epic interdependence. We have seen how financial engineering in the United States could affect growth and jobs in every corner of the world; how carbon-dioxide emissions from China could end up determining crop-yields and livelihoods on island nations such as the Maldives, or in Bangladesh and Vietnam; and how an epidemic in Vietnam or Mexico could determine the rhythm of public life in the US and western Europe. Such connections across borders are not themselves new, for crops, ideas and the like have travelled for millennia; but the scale and intensity of the current global interdependence (whose paradigmatic expression is global climate change) is unprecedented.

The rapid proliferation of trans-border broadcasting has made us increasingly aware of each other’s griefs and joys: the pain of the victims of the great Asian tsunami of 2004-05, the helplessness of the Palestinians, the uplift of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Chicago. We are not yet the global village, but we are significantly more aware of each other’s predicament than even a decade ago.

During the next decade, I will be looking for the emergence of multiple conversations on global civics. We have been accustomed to thinking about our rights and responsibilities exclusively in the context of nation-states. Yet this  increasing interdependence and heightened awareness of our fellow human beings’ predicament raise the vital issue of what - if any - responsibility we have towards the billions who are our non-compatriots. The question demands an answer. The shape and content of this mega-exploration may well define what we do with ourselves as a species in this century.

Hakan Altinay is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and world fellow at Yale University

Also by Hakan Altinay:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: the Mandela test” (17 March 2009)

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