Balance of Power is an International Relations term that describes the status quo of political power among nations as determined by the weight of influence of one nation or a set of nations over others.
There have been two major shifts of the balance of power in the last 20 years that must be understood if we are going to have an increased awareness of what the key drivers of global change are. We must begin to perceive the shapes of God’s future design for the earth, and we have to exercise our ability to see the world through the lens of a Kingdom perspective.
Following WWII, the world was defined by a bi-polar balance of power in which the United States and the Soviet Union were known as “superpowers”. Other nations aligned themselves with one or the other to create two large blocs of competing powers which produced a somewhat predictable international order which lasted roughly from 1946-1991.
The balance of power between the two superpowers was very fragile and had to be carefully guarded, and there was a level of political paranoia that existed. The Cold War occasionally erupted into combat, though it was always in foreign lands outside of the two superpowers that served as proxies for the projection of strength of these two behemoths. Places like Korea, Vietnam, Angola and Afghanistan all served as locations where either direct military intervention by one of these powers or their armed proxies sought to project their dominance.
There was a strong ideological basis during the Bi-Polar era in which America and the West stood for political and economic liberalism defined roughly as democracy and capitalism / free market trade. The Soviet bloc and the East were proponents of centralized planning and politically they offered an alternative to what they called neo-capitalism which they declared to be an extension of oppressive European colonial history. Those nations which didn’t agree with either stated extreme, mainly developing nations emerging from centuries of colonialism, formed a non-aligned movement.
Those of my generation will remember how the ideological fervor spilled over into even trivial matters such as the Olympics, where U.S. against the Soviets athletes was more than a sports contest; gold medals served as an affirmation of systemic superiority. The bi-polar arrangement led to political stalemate which produced stagnancy on major political issues, such as arms control, environmental issues and global economic structures. The shape of the UN Security Council in which three Western Powers (the U.S., the UK and France) and two communist powers (Soviet Union and China) had a veto facility was ample testament to the grid locked international environment.
The bi-polar era came to an end at implosion of the Soviet superpower, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Perestroika and glasnost were terms which indicated the new openness of the Soviet system which was liberalizing out of economic necessity. The collapse of Soviet communism indicated the ills of socialism, and it launched the earth into a season of uni-polarity in which the United States, democracy and capitalism became preeminent.
The Uni-Polar order was a much more stable political environment since the tension which existed in the stand-off between the great powers had been eliminated. There was no military threat to the ascendancy of the United States, and the period from 1991-2003 also facilitated the rapid spread of democracy both as a political model and in the form of greater openness of systems. It was during this time that the internet became popularized, and people’s thinking systems also became more open and connected to global realities beyond their physical borders. The dominance of America during this time also produced the rapid spread of Western / American values and culture, and U.S. economic and military might allowed their policies to been trenched in a rapidly globalizing world.
We have emerged from the Uni-Polar era and it is obvious to even the casual observer that America is decreasing in power in relation to the rest of the world. China and India are the most notable of an entire host of rising powers which will develop in the next 20 years into forces to be reckoned with on the international scene. The Chinese economy recently surpassed Germany’s as the world’s 3rd largest, after only the U.S. and Japan, and last September a Chinese astronaut conducted their first space walk and they are intent on building a shuttle program and their own space station.
India is a global provider of IT services and pharmaceuticals and is predicted to become the world’s most populous nation by 2025. While both China’s and India’s economies are expanding rapidly, they will suffer a relatively low per capita GDP due to their large populations. Brazil is also a rising power (in comparison with the rest of the world) and is embracing nuclear power, not to create nuclear weapons, but to power their submarines. This indicates a rise of military strength on the South American continent which has never before existed. Russia has re-emerged and is now showing increasing hegemony. It has vast oil and gas reserves, and the EU has an increasing ability to act coherently on the world stage. Clearly there are multiple poles of power which affect how other nations can act, and there is an increasing bravado among nations to confront the dominant global leader. The multi-polar order will require world leaders to consider what is happening in New Delhi, Beijing and Brasilia, as well as Washington DC, Moscow, London, Brussels and many others, especially those rich in oil such as Riyadh, Tehran and Caracas.
This in turn requires a different style of foreign policy on behalf of American leadership, and there are many questions that will only be answered by the passage of time and developing events, such as: a) will Japan move more towards an accord with China? If so, how will that influence Tokyo’s historic alliance with the West? b) how will the rise of India and China in the same region affect developments in Asia? and what should the U.S. do in its relation to each? This has ramifications for American relations to Taiwan as an economic ally and Pakistanas a military one c) what will be the response of Russia to the growing influence of the U.S. and the EU in the Baltic states, as former Soviet states move towards alignment with NATO and the EU, for instance in the placing of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland? d) how will relations between Latin America and the U.S. change as China and other nations seek to procure natural resources from the South American continent, which has been under direct U.S. influence for several centuries and which is still defined in the minds of U.S. policy makers by the Monroe Doctrine?
There are many other concerns and possible developments which could be listed, but it is clear that the immediate future is destined to be an increasingly competitive international environment.
The following characteristics and trends will characterize the future:
A less stable international order and an increased likelihood of destabilization and crisis.
This multi-polar arrangement is highly conﬂictual and competitive as formerly under developed nations rise up to claim a piece of the globalized pie, while traditional powers ﬁght to hold on to their disproportionate share of the world’s resources. There will be conﬂicting interests and an increasing number of stand-offs among nations over major political and economic issues, and a less stable order to ensure they are resolved with a minimum of harm. Nations will form new regional blocs and strategic alliances to buttress their standing on the global stage, and sudden and dramatic shifts will make the entire earth more susceptible to peril and crisis. The multi-polar order is a perfect vehicle to fulﬁll the words Jesus used to describe the time of the end when he said that
‘nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom’ (Matthew 24:7).
A new architecture of global ﬁnance.
The dollar will eventually lose its status as the global reserve currency and probably become a “ﬁrst among equals” in a basket of currencies, a necessary development in a more equalized world. One aspect of the economic crisis is a recognition of the fragility of the system, and a basket of currencies will be more likely to include multiple ﬁnancial centers to form a system of redundancies to help insulate against future economic crisis. Therefore, the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, World Bank and WTO) will have to be amended in some ways that make them more globally acceptable in the new multi-polar environment; they may even be replaced by other, more globally acceptable organizations that allow the nations to transact in this new environment.
An increased ability for non-state actors to impact global events. In the era of open systems, global communications and the internet, the ability for non-state actors to have a dramatic affect on a large scale will increase. The forces of democratization have opened people’s thinking as well as the systems that govern the earth, and the state is no longer seen to be as strong as it once was. Whether it is the formation of interest groups via the internet that transcend national boundaries or phlianthro-capitalists that propose and fund private innovative solutions, the trend is that power is being redistributed and there is a greater diffusion of authority. The inability of transnational institutions to adequately address global problems will make them increasingly irrelevant, further increasing the relative power of non-state actors to inﬂuence social, economic and political issues.
A blurring of ideologies.
For the nations of the earth to effectively participate in a global ﬁnancial system there will need to be a blurring of ideological systems of thought that used to form barriers between nations, and we see this taking place before our eyes. For example, when China liberalized their economy to include private ownership and market driven trade, Deng Ziaoping minimized the importance of economic ideology with a Chinese homily: it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice. More recently the ﬁnancial crisis has prompted governments in the West to buy large portions of private debt and consider nationalizing banking. In an interview on CNN, former President Bush stated, "I've abandoned free-market principles in order to save the free-market system". The two systems which in the past contradicted and opposed each other now are moving more towards oneness in a preference for greater state control and distrust of an unregulated marketplace. The nations seem to be moving towards a sort of collective pragmatism that could be called State Capitalism, but which is not ideological as much as it is a functional approach to the real issue which preoccupies nations: interest deﬁned as economic power.
These changes are leading the earth towards a place of ultimate completion written about thousands of years ago in the Word of God, where it was declared that the nations would be in a place of functional economic oneness built upon dark Babylonian value systems that God would ultimately judge as He brings the ages to a climax (Revelation 18). It is in this context that a powerful Church stands outside of the system or in a different set of values as the nations are judged.
Q & A - Multi-Polar Order
What has prompted movement in the nations from bi-polar, to uni-polar and now to a multi-polar balance of power?
There are many factors that lie behind the shift to a multi-polar balance of power, including the movement of capital from West to East, and the emergence of nations from the global South in an acronym known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China). Cheap labor costs allow the world to access China as a factory and India as a back office and with today’s interconnected systems multi-national corporations can function from multiple and different locations. There is also the issue of American overreach and the way their political leadership managed American ascendancy during the brief uni-polar era. However, we know that God’s purposes are being worked in the earth and that behind these natural events there is Divine strategy. Daniel saw empires rising and falling in successive global dominion, but the cause behind it was God’s intent in the nations. These movements have to eventualize in the natural realm but they have a cause in the unseen realm. Powerful movements of God have been released into the earth over the last 20 years and have expanded globally and built powerful Kingdom life especially in the developing nations, and this is a primary catalytic influence to the natural shifts that we now see taking place.
Can you explain more about non-state actors and their influence in the multi-polar environment?
By 2025, nation-states will no longer be the only — and often not the most important — actors on the world stage, and the “international system” will have morphed to accommodate the new reality. The relative power of various nonstate actors— including businesses, tribes, religious organizations, and even criminal networks—will grow as these groups influence decisions on a widening range of social, economic, and political issues. For example, recently in South Korea, an anonymous blogger who went by the pen name Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, posted correct predictions and observations about the South Korean financial reality that was largely read. In the environment of the economic crisis, he influenced the Korean won enough that the government spent $2 billion to support their currency from further devaluation vs. the American dollar. Minerva was found and charged with “cyber slander,” setting off protests by civic groups over the issue of free speech. This is a significant development in terms of the emergence of Kingdom entities networked across the earth by common values and Divine purpose. It is a time when the Global church must rise above the carnal divisions of ethnicity and national boundaries and be defined by a universal standard of the Kingdom of God. Such entities will have the ability to have significant influence on a broad range of global issues which perplex the planet, and will often replace historic and ineffective institutions in addressing transnational issues.
What will be America’s role in this re-deﬁned world?
America’s role will be somewhat ambiguous, since even though it is decreasing in power relative to the rest of the world, the United States is still by far the strongest nation on the earth, with a GDP far beyond its near peers. However, it is becoming less able to act unilaterally in economic issues, and intense consumerism, American debt owned by foreign powers and the emergence of extremely competitive global suppliers makes the U.S. economy truly vulnerable. Militarily the U.S. has a vast advantage in technology and has spent far more on weapons and military systems than the rest of the world combined; therefore it will continue to be the preeminent military force for decades to come. Because it is able to project power globally, many nations will continue to rely on U.S. military power for security and to guarantee the flow of energy. However, American hegemony will be reduced as it has to consider its foreign policy in light of its affect upon the weakened dollar, and it will be less able to bring broad economic sanctions against other nations. A major shift in the American public’s mentality will need to occur as their political leadership will need to lead the nation away from the raw hegemony of its recent historical past and towards a more nuanced foreign policy able to navigate through compromise and balance of power trade-offs.