Challenges galore as America braces for a new world order

The broad expectation is that the 21st century will be an Asian Century, powered by China and India

By Chidanand Rajghatta

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Published: Wed 23 Mar 2022, 11:09 PM

Last updated: Wed 23 Mar 2022, 11:13 PM

It came towards the tail end of his speech in what was almost a casual, throwaway remark. “And now is a time when things are shifting. We’re going to — there’s going to be a new world order out there, and we’ve got to lead it. And we’ve got to unite the rest of the free world in doing it,” US President Joe Biden said at the conclusion of his address to a business round table of American CEOs.

Within hours, “new world order” was one of the top trending topics on social media, fuelled by a frenzy of speculation about what he meant. “New world order” you see, is no ordinary phrase, at least not for conspiracy theorists, who have built many mountains out of this molehill. In their reading, a New World Order is an upcoming geo-political paradigm where a rich, secretive, globalist power elite — “enemies of the people” — will supplant sovereign nation-states to rule the world with an authoritarian one-world government. This would involve dismantling the United States too.

One meme that emerged quickly showed a shadow world government headed by trillionaires and billionaires that deliberately caused a “plandemic” and economic collapse in order to erase borders and introduce a global digital currency in a cashless society, in what would be a totalitarian one world government that would control everything from guns to abortion, the two pet themes of the American far right.

While erasing of borders, which is seen by many as the root cause of global strife, might sound like utopia to some, Biden’s New World Order is less sinister than crackpots would have it. In fact, it is just recycling of something wheeled out more than a century ago, with a little bit of 21st century grease applied to keep it going for another century. But it is unique in the sense that it is aimed at securing a second successive American Century — an American double century.

Historians broadly describe the period 1815–1914 as Britain’s Imperial Century, when it was said the sun never sets on the Empire. America’s entry into the first world war in 1917 to bail out England and France, and its subsequent victories in two world wars and the Cold War, accompanied by a raft of technological and medical feats and unprecedented economic prosperity, resulted in what is now decisively considered as the American Century.

By some accounts, the United States has reached the acme of its power, and the past decade or two has seen a decline in its influence and primacy. The broad expectation is that the 21st century will be an Asian Century, powered by China and India.

In fact, the idea that the United States would not, could not, should not cede its primacy took birth almost as soon as realisation dawned a few years ago that China was starting to eat America’s lunch. There was a brief decade in history, between the fall of the Berlin Wall, dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and end of the Cold War, and 9/11, when the United States was the unchallenged superpower — a hyperpower. But a lot changed in the decade after 9/11.

By the time Obama came to the White House with Biden as his deputy, talk was rife in right wing circles that they were presiding over the decline of America. That brought about a hard pivot to the Pacific, from a US establishment that was largely Atlanticist in its orientation, and a commitment to back India’s rise as an Asia-Pacific power, in part to contain China. Beijing’s own burning of bridges with New Delhi in an edgy relationship with a Himalayan wall between them, helped.

While that project is now hampered by the Russian attack on Ukraine and the need for Washington to turn its attention to the Atlantic/Europe front, the project to extend American primacy is by no means canned. If anything, resurgence of Russia (assuming it does not self-destruct soon), the renewed salience of Europe, and the continued threat from China, means the US has to plan for a two-front scenario, with Moscow and Beijing acting in cahoots to challenge American pre-eminence.

But such an oversimplified scenario does not take into account other key players on the stage but on the sidelines: India, the Gulf/Arab bloc, Islamic nations, even African and South/Latt-Am countries, many of whom are leery of both the United States and Russia. It is a script still being written. As the Nobel Laureate singer Bob Dylan wrote: And don’t speak too soon/ For the wheel’s still in spin/ And there’s no tellin’ who/ That it’s namin’/ For the loser now/ Will be later to win/ For the times they are a-changin’. One thing is certain though: America will not go quietly into the night.

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