Global trends that will shape the next decade

WE LIVE in a time when rapid change is the norm. We experience more technological, cultural and political transformation in a decade now than the change that took place over centuries in the past.

By Muqtedar Khan (Issues)

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Published: Wed 20 Aug 2008, 10:07 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Globalisation has put history in a permanent fast forward mode. We will witness significant changes in the next 10 years and I hope I can identify the five major drivers of global change.

The challenge of climate change — global warming — is going to have the biggest impact on the planet. It not only threatens the topography of our planet, but it demands that we systematically alter our lifestyle. As we become more and more aware of the dangers of global warming, we will realise that in order to cope with the challenge, we may have to reorganise on a global scale. Perhaps the Federation made famous by Star Trek programmes and movies may yet come to pass, albeit to combat climate change and not some alien threat.

Religious fervour is the next biggest threat to the planet. The world is already alert to extremism in the Muslim world. Terrorists acting recklessly in the name of Islam have caused problems across the planet. Muslim extremism has become an important item on the global agenda and has consumed the attention and energies of the United States for the last seven years. But it is important that focus on Muslims should not blind us to religious extremism that is steadily on the rise everywhere.

Hindu extremism in India threatens India's secular character, undermines its traditions of religious freedom and causes recurring mob violence. Jewish extremism in Israel results in the expansion of settlements on Palestinian lands that is one of the major reasons why peace eludes the region. Extremist discourses from Christians are on the rise in the US. Millions are waiting with anticipation for an Armageddon — a global holy war.

As religious fervour rises, moderate voices are drowned, judicious policies are discredited and fear and hate shape security policies of major powers. Talk of global clashes and hundred year wars are becoming campaign rhetoric. Whether wars break out or not, the discourse of fear and war destabilises order and a strong sense of insecurity prevails.

The most visible driver of change will be the energy crisis. The rising demand for oil and other forms of energy as the global economy expands will force nations to address the energy issue on a war footing. Energy hungry giants like China and India need guaranteed and ever-increasing supplies and they will risk upsetting the current global order to satisfy their needs. For nations seeking alternate sources, this is an opportunity for unprecedented growth. The US is at a cross roads. It remains to be seen if it leads the world in developing alternate sources or merely helps in depleting existing ones? Energy needs along with religious fervour will fuel conflicts in the near future. In the Middle East where they combine, the situation will remain explosive for most of the next decade.

The Chindia phenomenon — the economic rise of China and India — is already changing the way the world does business. China is the factory to the world and India is gradually becoming the world's software centre and back office. They are both growing at an enormous rate of about 9 per cent annually and are now the world's third and fourth biggest economies after the US and Japan. They are both nuclear powers and see themselves as great civilisations that have not received the due respect they deserve on the global stage.

As their economies grow, their populations become more demanding and their governments more assertive. These nations have cornered a greater share in the world's economy, they will now want a greater say in how it is run. They both are heavily invested in the US' growing national debt and they also have strong diasporas in the US. This gives them additional international leverage. These giants, with populations over a billion each, will invariable change the way our world looks in ten years.

Finally the key factor that will drive our global future is the decline of US influence on the global stage. As US becomes less able to determine international outcomes there will be a leadership vacuum that neither Chindia nor Europe can fill.

The basic power structures of the world are changing. The key to stability will be the wisdom with which the US manages global change. I hope it does so in way that minimises conflict and maximises diplomacy as the musical chairs of global governance plays out.

Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

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