It’s difficult to discern patterns of conduct in this rollercoaster world. Still, halfway through 2017 is a good a time as any to try and capture some vibes – however fleeting – of a world in flux.
Geopolitical competition and rivalry – among nations, people, banks, businesses and just about everyone else – continues to tear us apart. But, there is also a new resilience in the system and in people. Shocks happen, we are shaken – and then we bounce back. And if we don’t like what is happening, we make sure our voices are heard and bad policies are resisted.
First, rivalry. There is nothing new about bitter rivalry and tensions over competing territorial claims, including in the South China Sea or in the Middle East, which continues to be a battleground between competing states, factions within states, and religious groups. Ongoing economic and political rivalry among the ‘Great Powers’, America and China, or indeed between Russia and the West, remain in the headlines.
But even as they compete with and challenge each other, intelligent rivals and competitors are trying to work together, bilaterally or through multilateral conventions, to avoid open conflict. This is the case of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, which are trying to negotiate a code of conduct to manage conflicting claims in the South China Sea. India and Pakistan are more or less managing their chronically acrimonious relationship.
“The EU has made resilience-building a key component of its foreign and security policy”
But in the conflict-racked Middle East the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar has ratcheted up long-entrenched intra-Arab rivalries and divisions between Shia and Sunni Muslims. How America and China manage their rivalry concerns a watching world.
Second, resilience is the real buzzword for a 21st-century world that is constantly shaken by destabilising rapid-fire shocks. Not surprisingly, handling disruptive pressures and shocks has become the new normal across the world.
Development experts are trying to build resilient societies in fragile nations, disaster specialists want resilience built into national policies to reduce disaster risks, and people across the world, including in Europe, are showing commendable resilience even as they face terrorism and devastating violence.
Resilience in the face of man-made disaster was in full view after the Grenfell Tower fire in London as people came together to offer succour and support to victims.
Resilience, courage and stamina are also the name of the game for refugees and migrants as they embark on perilous journeys to seek shelter and better lives. And many countries and cities in Europe are opening their arms to the newcomers, confident and proud of their societies’ resilience.
The EU has made resilience-building a key component of its foreign and security policy, saying it’s time to move from crisis containment to a more structural and long-term approach to global challenges.
“Shocks happen, we are shaken – and then we bounce back”
A similar strategy, with an emphasis on anticipation, prevention and preparedness, needs to be followed at home. The EU has in fact shown remarkable strength and resilience in the face of the populist threat that only a few months seemed about to engulfing parts of the bloc.
Despite being shaken by Brexit and the venomous campaigns led by populists in France and the Netherlands, anti-EU forces have been put on the back foot in those two countries as well as in Austria and Germany. In Britain, the electorate appears to have voted against a harsh divorce from the EU.
Which brings us to ‘resistance’, whether it’s in the US, where courts, journalists and women are putting up a strong (and often successful) fight against some of the craziest actions and policies of the American President, or in Egypt, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and other states where courageous men and women are standing up for their rights in the face of detention and worse.
For many, the new French President Emmanuel Macron embodies the resilience of a confident new Europe. But beware of complacency. Europe’s East-West divisions continue to fester. Many will resist the reform and change that are needed to embed the European bounce-back.
But even if it’s just for a moment, let’s acknowledge, consolidate and celebrate Europe’s unexpected revival and resilience.