Rebuild the foundation of peace and progress

The war in Ukraine has upended the so-called “system of peace and progress” in the world. It has three components: globalization, global collective action, and the absence of war.
These components are mutually reinforcing. According to conventional wisdom, globalization — along with the existence of nuclear weapons and the deterrent of mutually assured destruction — has made war increasingly untenable, and collective global action has made globalization socially and environmentally acceptable.
Today, however, many countries have large-scale cyberwarfare capabilities that allow them to disrupt each other’s critical infrastructure — from power and water supplies to health and emergency services. An international arms race is inevitable.
Western reaction to Russia’s military action includes freezing the assets of the Russian Central bank, banning Russian banks from using the SWIFT international financial information system, revoking Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status and banning technology exports to Russia, etc. Taken together, these measures could change the global financial landscape and the future of globalisation. In the long run, they will tempt Russia and its affiliates to develop alternative systems.
The war, and the pandemics that preceded it, also exposed the fragility of global supply chains. In future, governments around the world will seek supply chain resilience through greater source diversification and greater self-sufficiency. The world economy will become more Balkanised as more and more countries pursue incompatible political objectives.
Countries will also vigorously promote energy security. This would involve major economic disruption because it would mean accelerating the transition to renewable energy in some energy importing countries and promoting nuclear energy in others. Similarly, the search for food security, now threatened by the impact of the war in Ukraine on grain and fertiliser supplies, could lead to beggar-thy-neighbour policies.
With the disappearance of the peace dividend and partial reversal of globalization, the world has come to a crossroads. On the one hand, there is what might be called the Great Disintegration: deglobalisation, the collapse of global collective action, the resurgence of nationalism, the collapse of the environment and the danger of large-scale war. On the other hand, the current political crisis may mobilize a transnational collective spirit for new forms of peaceful progress.
Is “the other hand” possible? Countries must meet this challenge in the G20, the G7, the United Nations and other international forums. We have no choice if we are to tackle crises such as pandemics and climate change, as well as the many other threats that await us — biodiversity loss, financial instability, antimicrobial resistance, water and food insecurity, digital destruction and manipulation, to name a few.
The establishment of a new and moderate world order requires a reconfiguration of the three pillars of peace and progress. The first is a new effort to uphold international anti-war norms. While we have entered an era of heightened geopolitical tensions, the sudden resurgence of the risk of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare should be enough to convince all sides that containing the threat is vital to their own interests. The NPT needs to be strengthened and expanded. The convention banning chemical and biological weapons needs to be inclusive and verifiable. The Geneva Conventions, which set the rules of war, need to be extended to cyber warfare.
Moreover, the rules governing economic globalisation need to be reformed. At present, GVCS are mainly established for profit maximization. While efforts to make supply chains more resilient have begun, there is little sign that they will make trade more environmentally or socially sustainable. Businesses and governments should be required to report on the social and environmental impacts of trade, and trade rules should be reformed according to those indicators.
Finally, we need a new multilateralism that emphasizes complementarity between national and global goals so that we can seize win-win (positive sum) opportunities in the economic, social and environmental fields. The resulting multilateral agreement should decentralize the results of multilateral coordination for the benefit of all participating countries.
Recognising that such multilateral agreements will be particularly difficult to achieve in this time of conflict, leaders could start by forming “coalitions of the willing”. A good example is the G7 proposal to create a “global climate club” that could accelerate implementation of the Paris climate agreement.
The dangers of pursuing national self-interest in the face of global problems should be obvious. To avoid great disintegration, we must rebuild the foundations for peace and sustainable prosperity in a beautiful but fragile world.