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The Baltics were in safe hands, at least for two days in early September as dignitaries and decision-makers arrived for meetings and discussions over regional and global safety and security. Attendees to The Riga Conference 2013 and Gymnich, in Vilnius, included Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, British Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond, Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt, Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and many others. This year’s discussions focused on transatlantic defense, economic and security challenges faced by the European Union and NATO, policy priorities of the Central Asian countries, the continuity and vitality of the Eastern Partnership, and partnership with Russia.
RIGA - Security and defense and a changing world were the main topics at The Riga Conference 2013 that took place in Riga’s Old Town on Sept. 6-7. Trade representatives, military brass and diplomats gathered to look at where the world is today, after having emerged from the depths of the economic crisis, and what lies ahead in areas ranging from energy security, regional partnerships to Islam’s compatibility with the modern world.
Though the West has been the leading force for much of development over the past 500 years, nations including India and China are rising once again with expectations to add their influence in shaping international economic, political and social developments. The discussion ‘Who is Calling the Shots: the U.S., China, Europe, India, Others?’ centered on how the rise of these new powers will affect the current world order.
Maj. Gen. (Rtd.) Huang Baifu, vice chairman, China Institute for International Strategic Studies, said it is important to “understand the implications of China’s rise” and what opportunities there may be in a rising Asia.
He said that Asia will continue its rapid increase this year, acting “as an engine of the world economy.” The IMF, he notes, has predicted growth of 6.9 percent of GDP this year.
Indeed, the Asian Development Bank earlier this year released its forecasts for GDP growth in developing Asia, calling for 6.6 percent growth in 2013 and 6.7 percent in 2014. China, it says, is forecast to expand 8.2 percent in 2013, and 8.0 percent in 2014.
But in comparing a surging Asia to a relative decline in Europe, Gen. Baifu says that there are “still lots of problems, and a long way to go” for Asia.
One big problem facing Asia is that “regional development is low and unbalanced.” The example he uses is the difference between Japan (a global economic giant and ranked 23 among nations in a World Bank ranking), and Bangladesh (ranked 151).
“Pollution, poverty; a large gap exists between Asia and Europe in the quality of life,” exclaimed Gen. Baifu. “Europe is still in the dominant position, with solid economic foundations, technical innovations, a leading world position in science, in many areas. [The euro] is the 2nd largest reserve currency. These don’t indicate a decline.”
Europe’s outlook is clearly looking brighter, but still faces potential problems on the economic front, as recovery has not yet regained a solid footing. GDP growth across the continent remains just in positive territory. Peripheral eurozone countries such as Greece still face uncertainty on their debt obligations.
Constanze Stelzenmuller, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States says that “Problems remain significant. We are far from out of the woods.” In terms of global leadership, she notes that the EU “has already worked to increase integration, [which is] needed for leverage on the global stage. [But] there is too much emphasis on the economic crisis, and not on other areas, such as social issues, Syria.”
How long can the U.S. remain the world’s sole superpower, a role in which it appears to call the shots?
“We have reached a multi-polar world,” argues Archana Upadhyay, associate professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, adding that it is “no longer possible to be led by just the U.S. [And] India has the potential to be among the leaders.”
Will the existing world order then need to change? Yes, says Upadhyay. There is a “need for a network of partnerships. Existing relationships have to be renegotiated.”
Stelzenmuller suggested that with the rise of India and China, they need to put less emphasis on their global search for commodity access, and more on efforts in global governance, a more responsible attitude to their growing global presence.
Elena Bryan, the U.S. Senior Trade Representative to the EU Mission in Brussels, says there is active debate on the U.S. role in the world today, and alliances are a measure of this. But she raises the point that “A greater [international] role means greater responsibilities” to those involved.
A peaceful rise to global prominence was a constant theme from the Chinese speaker. Gen. Baifu expects that “in the future, more big powers will come together. There will be consultation on international problems.”
The general’s position is that as the greater powers come together, peacefully, they will develop the world. This is because of the global economy, where all countries are interdependent.
“It is possible to have a peaceful coexistence, [one in which we] can now avoid war,” he says.
Stelzenmuller confirmed this thought: “For Europe and Asia, a lot more work is needed to stabilize the neighborhood. And the neighborhood is now much larger. It is dependent on global trade. There is a need for diversification of duties, with more strategy consultations around the world.”
But it isn’t possible for change to happen overnight. The U.S. is instrumental in maintaining order on issues ranging from space, maritime law and international shipping routes, and resource access.
“I am grateful still to have America [as leader], even in a reduced role. I rue the day that this is no longer the case, [because] I don’t see an alternate guarantor of the international order,” said Stelzenmuller.
What most everyone can agree on is a system outlined by Gen. Baifu: “International trade [concerns] all countries. International law, order, structure needs to be followed, and decisions for actions need to be done by the UN, by international rules.”