World Watch: A Clear Power Shift

The standings in the medal tallies at the end of the Beijing Olympics were China, the United States and Russia, which I suppose is pretty unsurprising given the amount of money that is able to be thrown around by them. Post games, the most interesting sport to watch is these three countries jockeying to establish position on the world stage.

We all knew the United States was a fading light, and it’s still vogue to criticise the Western Superpower (though not as much as it was), but how far are the critics willing to let America slide before they start calling for them to stand up and take the lead again?

Russia (or the Russian Federation as it now seems happier to call itsel) has been making it’s intentions exceedingly clear recently, and lack of serious consequences from either the USA or the EU will embolden them further. The Russians talk about Southern Ossetia and the other place (doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well) as though it were Kosovo, and if you’re into swallowing rhetoric it all  holds up. Personally, I think it’s more like the German Anschluss of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia just before the official kick-off of WWII.

Do I think Russia is thinking about going for the world domination version of Risk? No, but I think it will push it’s geographical and politcal boundaries as far as it can until it towers over the EU and the Middle East. And why shouldn’t they? The European Union is being shown up as a bit of a wet biscuit at present, I’m sure the US military must be fuming that they’re holding the burden of all western “peacekeeping” efforts worldwide. Time to step up to the plate, Europe, or step aside and stop whinging.

Let’s not forget China though, who have a great deal of goodwill (or good press) following the Olympics, and are never likely to be thought of as a hidden dragon again. With tight controls over all aspects of their society, they’re quite adept at slipping under the radar and avoiding the international spotlight when they don’t want to be seen. I’m sure that Beijing is watching developments in Georgia extremely closely, because if Moscow pulls off a neat little land grab without more repercussions than a nasty letter.

The lopsided world power-balance after the Cold War was never going to be sustainable, not should it have been. Hyper-capitalism in the West not only exploited the poor people in poor countries, it also helped to raise the fortunes of the countries in question. For capitalism, the market rolls on, happily shifting the production end of workplaces to where the wages are lowest. The Chinese have been particularly adept at using this market capitalism to their advantage, keeping national wages low while leveraging their profits into whatever projects they deem most serve the national interest. Democracies do not have that luxury.

Russian President Medvedev at least has it right when he says that the world should be “multi-polar” and that all decisions shouldn’t be made by one country. When the USA was dominant most people were saying the same thing. But how many pegs are the USA and their recalictrant wingmen willing to step down to allow Russia and China to step up? Should be interesting.

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