The multipolar world. An interview with Giacomo Guarini

Natella Speranskaya: The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the cancellation of the Yalta system of international relations and the triumph of the single hegemon - the United States, and as a consequence, transformation of the bipolar world order to the unipolar model. Nevertheless, some analysts are still talking about a possible return to the bipolar model. How do you feel about this hypothesis? Is there a likelihood of emergence of a power capable of challenging the global hegemon?
Giacomo Guarini: I would talk about a multipolar system rather than a bipolar one. It is clear that there are more than only one country which are emerging in the world and looking for a more fair division of power, based on multiple centres of macro-regional influence, in juxtaposition with the unipolar configuration. We can make different examples of regional and international organizations (and, above all, we can mention the BRICS group) as tangible signs of general tendency towards a new multipolar system. Assuming all that, I would say that we should not focus on the hypothesis of a single power able to challenge the global hegemon but on a whole system of emerging powers, which has to demonstrate its will to put aside both the possible rivalries existing inside the block and the strategies based on short-sided nationalistic perspectives. The role of both China and Russia in this process is fundamental, both because of their political, economic and strategic potential and because of their position which makes them the most important obstacles to the run of the US aimed at the penetration and at the control of the Eurasian landmass.
For sure, nowadays the US are facing a strong, reasonably structural crisis, but they still have in their hands very strong tools, such as military power and its worldwide projection, the economic and financial influence, the pervading soft power and the assertive work of their Intelligence. In all these fields as well in others, there is still an evident primacy of the US when compared with other countries; that is the reason why a competition against the global hegemon would be very difficult for a sole counter-power.
There is also, maybe, a political reason based on a sort of World consensus: a sole power facing US would be probably perceived by a large part of the global opinion as a possible new imperialistic force, which simply wants to replace the actual imperialistic hegemon and eventually act in a similar way. A group of emerging countries, instead, would probably spread a deeper trust about the idea of a substantial alternative to the actual global configuration.
Natella Speranskaya:  Zbigniew Brzezinski openly admits that the U.S. is gradually losing its influence. Here it is possible to apply the concept of "imperial overstretch", introduced by renowned historian Paul Kennedy. Perhaps, America has faced that, what was previously experienced by the Soviet Union. How do you assess the current state of the U.S.?
Giacomo Guarini: As I said before, the weakening and the crisis being faced by the US in the present phase is undeniable, and a number of signs make us think that their crisis is a structural one. But nothing can be taken for granted, and despite all evidences of crisis, the US are still able to confirm their preeminence in the world, or at least to delay their definite loss of supremacy to the new global actors.
I mentioned before some of the main 'tools' that US still can count on in order to defend their hegemony. We will start again from the most effective source of power: the miltary strength and the related strategic issues. I think that, in order to understand the subject under this perspective, we should look carefully at the evolution of some scenarios over the global chessboard, and especially:
- The Asia-Pacific area, where both US diplomatic work and military presence are struggling against the rising power and influence of China.
- The Central Asian area, where a wide destabilization process, somewhat similar to what has been called “the Arab Spring”, would have the potential to affect such a strategically relevant region and easily cross the borders with Russia and China.
- The Middle East area, which is notoriously an influent scenario for a number of reasons. I think we should focus especially on the Iranian issue, which is nowadays the one of primary importance: a strong and independent Iran, deeply linked with other powers such as Russia, China and also India, can seriously strengthen a continental block whose power would be able to challenge the US and their penetration into Eurasia. By the other hand, a defeated, weakened Iran, maybe even co-opted by Western block, may hinder the process of continental integration. About the hypothesis of cooptation, still far from reality, we should carefully follow the evolution of Iran-US negotiations and look whether it is aimed at creating tension with other Eurasian powers on a series of important topics such as energy.
Above here there are just three of a number of possible focuses of primary importance from a strategic point of view – in Africa and Latin America there are other interesting scenarios to analyse. I wanted to stress them because I think that their evolution will have an important effect on the competition between US and other global powers. And then we come to the point of your question: what influence the US can still have on the globe.
Of course it is not only a matter of geo-strategic relevance. There are other very important battlefields, such as the currency ‘war’, since the so-called “dollar hegemony” is still today one of the key factors of US prominence in the World, even though interesting proposals about alternative currency systems are emerging not only on the international, but also on the regional level. Generally speaking, we should focus on US effort to break the unity inside the BRICS and other alternative geopolitical and/or geo-economical clusters. Just to make an example among many other possible: can the evolution of the first geo-strategic scenario mentioned above (the Asia-Pacific area) lead to the strengthening of India-US ties, widening a rift in the relations between India and other continental powers, starting from China?
Indeed, there is a number of still-open scenarios on which the US are still able to win battles of strategic relevance. But, on the other hand, we should not forget that the US financial and economic system seems to suffer from serious problems, and very often those claimed to be signs of weakness and problems are just “the iceberg tip”; by other words, they show the structural problems of a system incapable of reforming itself since it is ‘genetically’ marked by the contradictions that are now emerging clearly.
Natella Speranskaya:  The loss of global influence of the U.S. means no more, no less, as the end of the unipolar world. But here the question arises as - to which model will happen the transition in the nearest future? On the one hand, we have all the prerequisites for the emergence of the multipolar world, on the other – we face the risk of encountering non-polarity, which would mean a real chaos.
Giacomo Guarini: I think that non-polarity is a serious threat, a sort of “bad turn” the multipolar system might take after the end of the unipolar phase. I think that such a threat would not be about the “next future”; it might rather affect the existence of an emerging multipolar system in the medium or in the long term. In fact the existence of a global power such as the US makes much easier for its competitors to temporarily bury the rivalries among themselves in order to face their common adversary. But whenever US will not constitute anymore the base of a unipolar world, which factor will be able to create a similar common ground for the emerging powers? Just to make an example: will Russia and China still be able to contain the factors of crisis among them in such a new scenario with no common (and stronger) adversary to compete with?
The shift toward a non-polarity is one of the most important problems that theorists of multipolarism must seriously discuss and reflect on, in order to give structured answers to decision-makers. But of course, it is clear that everything will largely depend on decision-makers themselves; it is fundamental for the leaders of the emerging powers to develop long-term strategies based on the refusal of strict nationalistic views and short-term interests, as said before.
Natella Speranskaya:  The project of "counter-hegemony," developed by Cox, aims to expose the existing order in international relations and raise the rebellion against it. For this, Cox calls for the creation of counter-hegemonic bloc, which will include those political actors who reject the existing hegemony. The basis of the unipolar model imposed by the United States, is a liberal ideology. From this we can conclude that the basis of the multipolar model just the same has to be based on some ideology. Which ideology, in your opinion, can take replace the counter-hegemonic one, capable of uniting a number of political actors who do not agree with the hegemony of the West?
Giacomo Guarini: I think that some of the existing international organizations are already creating the basis for a new system of values, even though this process has just started and it would need a long course of development and empowering. If we think about some declarations of organizations such as BRICS and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), we can find very interesting references about, for example, respect for of the sovereignty of States. This should be a clear and basic principle of International law, also recognized by the United Nations, though in the last years (especially after the fall of Soviet Union) we have seen this principle very often oversided by others such as the so called R2P (responsability to protect), which is based on external military intervention in cases in which a sovereign State is considered unable to protect the basic human rights of its citizens or, even worse, is directly responsible of heavy and systematic violations of human rights. Such a principle has actually been the justification for military intervention in many important scenarios and it is the root of at least two big problems:
- Who decides where and why to intervene and what priority of intervention should be given to different scenarios of crisis existing in the world?
- The justification of military intervention has also been very often (should we say “always”?) justified by a number of events which carried a strong emotional impact but then shown to have been total lies or strong manipulations (think for example to the many crimes supposedly committed by Gaddafi and his troops). And in case of fighting among different subjects, anti-western actors have been quite always claimed to be sort of ‘absolute evil’ while, at the same time, crimes overtly committed by their opponents have been ignored or not taken in proper consideration.
Moreover, the defense of human rights by the Western powers is strongly linked with the idea of promoting a western-like democracy model. But the question is: should we consider the western democracy model to be the only acceptable source of political-institutional legitimacy?
As I said before, such problematic questions have been taken in strong consideration by emerging powers in important international branches of discussion.
Another important topic which is emerging – and the BRICS group has made very interesting statements about, last March – is that one of new basis for the international financial system. Proposals which contain strong criticism against the actual international finance.
But I would say that new issues will have further development in the future, taking into account not only conceptions strictly related to law, politics, economics and finance as seen before, but also anthropological views and moral values different from the western ones. Referring to the SCO, Russian General Ivashov stated that one point of SCO ideology can be found in “establish[ing] a second pole of global power with life philosophy and attitude to environment different from those in the West, a pole assigning greater priority to spiritual and moral values, to collectivist tendencies”. I think that such a statement would implicitly be coherent not only inside the SCO, but also within the guidelines of the main international subjects who promote multipolarism, even if not explicitly stated in official declarations of juridical value.
It is not this the place to explain in details which ones would be the exact differences between western dominant attitude and philosophy by one side and possible alternative views of the world by the other. I think, however, that at the moment all the possible speculations about a multipolar theory start substantially from a principle: the recognition of the anthropological alterity which derives from the interrelation of geographic spaces and anthropological factors such as ethnicity, religion, political systems, socio-economic models of development. This recognition of plurality of human expressions is the main ideological juxtaposition to the actual processes and efforts of world's adaptation to western values and interests. All the rest of an ideological background can be taught as a corollary of this basic principle.
Natella Speranskaya:  If we project the multipolar model on the economic world map, then we’ll get the coexistence of multiple poles, and at the same time, will create a complete matrix for the emergence of a new economy - outside of Western capitalist discourse. In your opinion, is the concept of “autarky of big spaces”, suggested by List, applicable for this?
Giacomo Guarini: I think that under the perspective of a multipolar world, it will be very important the creation of autonomous economies, productive and financial systems in the different “big spaces” that will possibly be established in the world. Maybe it is already obvious but I think that we cannot talk of multipolarism if we do not stand in front of a series of “poles” that constitute the center of a greater political entity marked by self-sufficient economic spaces. By the way, we cannot think of radical “closed commercial spaces” as for example theorized by Fichte in his “The closed commercial states”. This work by the German philosopher is probably worthy because of his intuition about the problem of economic forces geographically 'escaping' from political control, but he was quite utopian when thinking of such radical economic enclosure. This is even more true nowadays (even though we are talking about “big spaces” and not of single nations), since the evolution of technology has brought forth such easiness and fastness in circulation of people, goods and information. That is the reason why self-sufficiency of macro-areas will be necessary to mark a multipolar frame, but this will not mean at all a radical closing of spaces.
Natella Speranskaya:  We are now on the verge of paradigmatic transition from the unipolar world order model to the multi-polar one, where the actors are no more nation-states, but entire civilizations. Recently in Russia was published a book "Theory of multipolar world," written by the Doctor of Political and Social Sciences, Professor Alexander Dugin. This book lays the theoretical foundation, basis, from which a new historical stage can start, and describes a number of changes both in the foreign policy of nation-states and in today's global economy, which involve a transition to the multipolar model. Of course, this also means the emergence of a new diplomatic language. Do you believe that multipolarity is the natural state of the world and that transition to the multipolar model is inevitable?
Giacomo Guarini: At the moment, multipolarism is a global order which is yet to come, though there are explicit tendencies going towards this point. That is why multipolarity is still something that we do not know in most of its practical manifestations and adaptations to the present age, but I would like to say that under certain circumstances and for what formerly said about it, I would consider it to be more fair than the system which is currently prevailing. I would talk about its “fairness” rather than its “naturality”, because this last expression would probably lead us towards further anthropological or metaphysical implications which would not have enough space in an interview to talk about. Moreover, I prefer to avoid deterministic views about inevitability of a multipolar system, but I think that multipolarity could constitute an interesting chance for the World, and some slow but deep phenomena of macro-regional integration we have also mentioned should be considered positive steps towards the instauration of such a global order.