Globalization or Multipolarisation – Which Way Is the World Heading?
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Globalization or Multipolarisation – Which Way Is the World Heading?

Though globalization has been dominating the world in the past decades we start to observe a change in the balance of the world. The emergence of new economical power of China as well as growing importance of the European Union, distributes the world power into three centers: Europe, Asia and Americas. Is today's world multipolar rather than globalized? Let's have a closer look at the factors which may influence the possible outcomes.

Round 1: Automation

While a fully humanoid robot is still a fantasy, industrial and consumer robots start taking over tasks previously done by humans. 3D printing enables on-site production of crucial inputs. Self-driving cars are not far away from a commercial breakthrough. Even warfare is executed by robots with the rise of military drones. The replacement of human labor by robots and computer algorithms has the potential to alter demographic challenges as well as change the marginal products of capital and labor on a global scale.

Robot sales as evidence of growing automation

Robot sales as evidence of growing automation 

Source: International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Credit Suisse

How it could make the world more global

Even if robots, once produced, reduced interdependence between countries, the production of those would still be concentrated in a few regions of the world, keeping up global connection.

How it could make the world more multipolar

Innovations such as 3D printing could reduce the need for global trade once we can print goods instead of transporting them across the globe. Also, in the far future the use of robots in warfare could lower human interaction and risk for the combatants lowering the political price for military action. This could possibly lead to increased instability in global politics.

Round 2: Internet Security

Big data storage and powerful internet connections have led to the internet being increasingly present in everyday life. It creates unprecedented possibilities for companies or governments to track every action of its users. Revelations about government agencies such as the NSA have shown that effective mass surveillance is possible – and progressively done (as the Wall Street Journal reports there are average of 64 tracking tools on the top 50 websites in the United States).

Internet perceptions

Internet perceptions

Responses to the poll question: 'the internet is a safe place to express my opinion', percent of internet users responding 'strongly agree' or 'agree'

Source: BBC Global Poll

How it could make the world more global

Movements for free internet access as a fundamental right and net neutrality continue to fight for open connections worldwide. At the same time increasing awareness about tracking technology might cause a backlash with internet users starting to protect their privacy online.

How it could make the world more multipolar

The danger of surveillance threatens countries without extensive capabilities in this field, giving them an incentive to try to control or even limit internet connections across their borders. This could lead to creating closed national networks (e.g. the Great firewall in China).

Round 3: Digital World

Services, products and even money are becoming digital. Digital content is increasingly making up a growing share of wallet, heightening the importance of intellectual property protection. Digital money transfers are creating decentralized systems, sidelining sovereign control.

Number of internet-connected devices

Number of internet-connected devices

Population and total device numbers in billions (lhs), devices per person (rhs)

Source: CISCO, Credit Suisse

How it could make the world more global

Digitization is one of the strongest trends today when it comes to fostering globalization. The digital sphere makes many things redundant: transportation, production space, even national borders. Digital translation algorithms and real-time translation in VoIP communication (e.g. Skype) make global communication easier than ever before. It also lessens states' influence on many activities, strengthening globalization even without interstate cooperation.

How it could make the world more multipolar

We are still far from a truly globalized digital sphere. Cultural, linguistic and historical barriers strongly compartmentalize the internet.

Round 4: Food and Obesity

Obesity is a major healthcare issue not only in the developed world but also in emerging markets, like China and India. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has more than doubled since 1980. The latest OECD statistics shows that overweight and obese people are now a majority in many countries, such as the United States, Mexico and Aus­tralia. At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that around 805 million people globally were chronically undernourished in 2012-2014.

Obesity among adults

Obesity among adults

Percent of population aged 15 years and over

Source: OECD (2014), OECD Health Statistics 2014, forthcoming, www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/health-data.htm

Note: for the year 2012 or nearest year

How it could make the world more global

Obesity, and at the same time lack of food, are now critical global issues, which require international intervention strategies. Comprehensive international cooperation is needed to fight against the imbalances of obesity and undernourishment.

How it could make the world more multipolar

Besides the problems caused by overweight and obesity, the even larger issue is food scarcity, given the global growth of population. Food security could become a major political issue for many countries. Being overly dependent on food imports can possibly lead them to shy away from globalization in food markets (let Russian ban on wheat export serve as an example).

Round 5: Climate Change

The oil price has seen dramatic price movements in the last 12 months and the supply and price of energy will continue to play a crucial role in world politics. At the same time concern about the environment and adverse climate change is rising.

Global temperature deviation and CO2 concentration

Global temperature deviation and CO2 concentration

Source: NOAA, Credit Suisse

How it could make the world more global

Most issues regarding climate change can only be tackled on a global level, requiring more cooperation between nations. Rising environmental concerns in emerging countries align their interests with the developed world. At the same time fossil fuels will remain a major global energy source, connecting energy-consuming countries with producing countries, many of them in geopolitical hotspots.

How it could make the world more multipolar

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or hydro energy have the potential to decentralize energy production, lessening the need for energy imports in many countries. The desire to be more energy independent may lead many countries to reduce global interdependences.

Let us not forget that globalization is a necessary factor for multipolarisation as one evolves from another. Globalization means rise of global cities, but it also supports development of smaller states and wealth in emerging economies. This on the contrary promotes polarization. So the most probable outcome is that the fight will continue.