history, the real world today

In geopolitics, BRICS is the ocean, and the USA is Canute

The tolling of the bell for the American dream of a single world order, made in its own image, however does not mean the story of an expanding BRICS is the rise of a new hegemon. The multipolar world is becoming less unruly, and more plural.

If we take BRICS at their word, they do not want to be a global hegemon. There is no real reason to doubt this. Their leaders have frequently commented on the tragedy of the American century, and the unique historical circumstances that drove an unusual imperial predominance, and an unhealthy ideology of exceptionalism. Critically, the BRICS declaration states they do not want to replace collective multilateral institutions. They want to operate within the framework of existing multilateral institutions. Understanding this fundamental element of strategy offers a fresh perspective on what the BRICS countries need to achieve. They do not need to become the rulers of the world. They need to convince the West that it can live peacefully in a world without a single hegemon. They need to bring the west out of the shadow of Tamerlane

If there is one continuity that we should be able to glean from a long view of the past, it is Eurasia’s resistance to a uniform system, a single great ruler, or one set of rules. In that sense, we still live in Tamerlane’s shadow – or perhaps more precisely, in the shadow of his failure.” (John Darwin, After Tamerlane, pp. 505-506)

The US strategists made a disastrous miscalculation about world history after 1989. The USA declared independence from the international system in the early 1990s. The international rules based, Hollywood-proclaimed international order was born, and was born in war. Its strategy of a flat world was always a bit of a stretch, and its claim to dominate the world through a computer screen in the White House Situation was always a bit of a bluff. Perhaps, some of the strategists, like Wolfowitz, Cheney and the bitter ageing Brzezinski, sensed that the world would wake up to the illusion. They said, as reported by former US generals, that they had to strike with urgency into Eurasia, and get rid of all the ‘rogue states’ in the 1990s who might one day resist. They believed they had a small window of five years in which they could do whatever they wanted. The window was made shorter by disastrous miscalculations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the eastward expansion of NATO.

The BRICS nations do not suffer the same illusion of power. They merely need to counter the unilateral power that the US has used sufficiently for the American strategy to be no longer viable. This is the decisive importance of Russia’s success in countering the US economic war,  and India’s strength in resisting the related diplomatic pressure. BRICS expansion, and deepening cooperation outside the G7 is lifting all boats, and slowly drowning American exceptionalism that, like King Canute, sinks stubbornly in the seat of its golden throne, despite the surging waves of history. There are now enough counterweights to force the USA and G7 ultimately back to genuine international forums, to genuine inclusive multilateralism. BRICS nations do not need to be a new hegemon, but just force the USA to change its mind.  Will the elites of the USA drown on the golden throne; or will they save their people from disaster, and allow them to join the peaceful flotilla of the multipolar world? 

Image credit: 1915 image of a British politician resisting the cry for justice of social protest. THe cries now come from the Global South. Source Wikimedia Commons

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