President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Office. Whoever emerges as Nigeria’s President after the 2015 elections should set as one of his priorities the formulation of a new conceptual doctrine to guide Nigeria’s relations with the major world powers)
Historic changes are taking place in the international system that should command our attention. The tectonic plates of world history are moving. Shifts in the global balance of power, barely perceptible 10 years ago, have gathered pace. The unipolar era, characterised by America’s unrivalled primacy in global affairs, is drawing to a close. The contours of an emerging multipolar world, with its multiple competing sources of global power, are becoming more clearly visible. How Nigeria apprehends and responds to this emerging multipolar world, and the shifts in global power which birthed it, will have far reaching consequences for our country’s prosperity and role in the 21st century.
The Face of a Changing World
These are transformational times. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 left the US as the sole Superpower in world politics, and gave the international system its unipolar structure (a system with a single power centre). In the years following this, the US enjoyed unparalleled freedom – unique for any Great Power in the modern era – to shape global order according to its values and interests. By most accounts, this era of unipolarity is fading. Several powerful trends are eroding its foundations and heralding the onset of a multipolar world. I will focus my remarks on what I believe to be the three most important.
The Rise of New Powers
The leaders of the 5-member BRICS pose for a photo-op for the 2014 summit in Fortaleza, Brazil. (Wikipedia)
The first major trend is the rise of new economic and geopolitical centres of power; the most consequential of which are the so-called BRIC group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Brazil, India and China especially, having posted impressive growth rates for the past few decades, have leapt from the margins of the international system to become significant actors in both the global economy and in global governance institutions, such as the G-20. Russia similarly, coasting on the oil boom of the 2000s and determined to restore its status as a world power, has become increasingly assertive on the diplomatic stage.
In 2003 only China (6th), of the four BRIC countries, ranked amongst the 10 largest economies in the world. 10 years later, from World Bank’s estimates for 2013, not only has China moved up to 2nd place; Brazil now sits in 7th, Russia in 8th, and India in 10th. From most forecasts, by 2050 India will have broken into the top three largest economies, Brazil into the top five, whilst China will have occupied the summit for about a decade. According to projections put out by such firms as the Economist Intelligence Unit and Goldman Sachs, China could actually equal the US in nominal GDP sometime in the 2020s, and thereafter pull ahead. Whereas IMF GDP estimates based on Purchasing Power Parity (a method now increasingly favoured by analysts because it factors in differences in cost of living between countries) shows China surpassed the US as the world’s largest economy in October this year.
Though frequently categorised as a rising power, China however is undeniably a rising Great Power. The National Intelligence Council (NIC), the premier institution for strategic thinking within the US’ intelligence community, reflecting on the remarkable speed of China’s climb up the ladder of world power, commented in its latest report: “China’s power has consistently increased faster than expected”. Indicative of the quickening pace of change, by 2025 the World Bank forecasts the Dollar will lose its solitary dominance of international trade and we will transition to a three currency world – with the Euro and China’s Renminbi joining the Dollar as the world’s principal reserve currencies. China’s growing economic size and the “rapid globalization of its corporations and banks” constitute the main factors driving the internationalization of the Renminbi, notes the World Bank.
The processes of change are similarly at work transforming the geopolitical landscape of our continent. The NIC report suggests, “Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nigeria have the potential to approach or surpass South Africa in overall national power”.
Egypt of course, despite its potential for growth, remains mired in the tumult shaking its domestic and regional environment. Ethiopia on the other hand has made giant strides in unchaining itself from the shackles of underdevelopment and economic dependence – and aspires to become a middle-income country by 2025. It is now not uncommon to hear Ethiopia referred to as a “developmental state” in the same mould as the “Tigers” of East Asia. Nothing reflects Ethiopia’s progress and ambition to become an African Power than the ongoing construction of its controversial “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” – expected to be completed in 2017, at a cost of $4.1 billion and wholly financed internally (through the sale of treasury bonds to its citizens). When completed the GERD will be the largest hydroelectric station in Africa, generate sufficient energy to meet Ethiopia’s need and for energy export to regional neighbours. The deputy head of the GERD project defended the government’s decision to shun international funding thus: “We have finished with the syndrome of dependence”.
Nigeria similarly, despite the growing intensity of the insurgency in its northeast, has continued to enjoy reasonably robust macroeconomic growth (though this may now be threatened by plummeting oil prices). The country’s revised GDP estimate released earlier this year merely confirms what has been the case since 2010: Nigeria ($520 billion) has eclipsed South Africa ($350 billion) to become the continent’s economic colossus. An historic development as this will be the first time in the post-colonial era that South Africa has lost its economic lead on the continent. By World Bank figures Nigeria actually briefly climbed to the top in 1976, only for South Africa to swiftly reclaim its mantle the following year. The gap between the two economies is now sufficiently large enough for Nigeria’s stay at the summit this time around to be more durable. Furthermore, the IMF forecasts that by 2017 South Africa may slip further down the African rankings; with Egypt replacing it as the continent’s second largest economy.
Economic size however, though vitally important, is not the only determinant of national power. Other constitutive elements include such factors as economic competitiveness, productivity, industrial capacity, military strength, political stability, quality of leadership and governance effectiveness, quality of institutions and infrastructure, the quality of human capital, and technological innovativeness. These are areas in which Nigeria continues to score poorly both in global and continental comparisons. Improving on these factors will be the key to Nigeria actualizing its growing economic potential. Our internal weaknesses will always be a barrier to us wielding the diplomatic influence we feel our growing economic importance entitles us to. As Adebayo Adedeji, the country’s Minister of Economic Development and Reconstruction in the 1970s said: “No country that is confronted with a long period of political instability, economic stagnation, and regression, and is reputed to be one of the most corrupt societies in the world, has a moral basis to lead others. If it tries to, it will be resisted”.
Hence in 2010 when it became desirable that an African country join BRIC to make the forum more reflective of the diverse emerging world it aspires to represent, South Africa was chosen – thereby transforming the name to BRICS. Nigeria’s boasts of being the “Giant of Africa” counted for nought. Even after Nigeria’s revised GDP was released in April this year showing the country now stands the economic leader in Africa by some margin, there were no substantive discussions of Nigeria being called to join, much less replace South Africa in, BRICS or G-20.
Geopolitical Competition and Parallel Institutions
Russian and Chinese Armoured Personnel Carriers prepare for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s 2014 annual Peace Mission military exercises. This year’s was the largest in the organization’s history and involved 7000 troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. (Eurasianet)
The second major trend is the increased intensity of geopolitical competition amongst the major powers and the growth of parallel global institutions. The four most consequential rising powers – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – have each expressed their preference for a multipolar world order; and are actively taking steps to accelerate its emergence.
Russia, most dramatically, by opting for direct confrontation with the US and its western allies over the fate of the belt of countries along its western border. In the mid-2000s, Russia feeling disappointed and threatened by the continued eastward expansion of NATO despite what it felt had been assurances no such thing would happen, abandoned its western leaning foreign policy and instead since then has worked to re-establish itself as an independent Great Power. It has stepped up its use of the hard and soft power mechanisms at its disposal – coercive diplomacy, economic incentives, energy restrictions, and military force in Georgia in 2008 and now in Ukraine – in a bid to assert its primacy in its “near abroad”; the first step, it believes, in regaining full-fledged Great Power status. Another feature of Russia’s attempts to “organize” its neighbourhood is through the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union, a parallel to the EU, to integrate the economy of its neighbours into its own – and thereby lessen the economic and geopolitical pull of the EU. The country whose efforts are posing the most comprehensive challenge to global order is China.
The “Parallel Structures” promoted by China. Source: Mercator Institute for China Studies
China has similarly utilized its own coercive mechanisms – such as increased military activism short of outright force – to assert its claims in its region. It is also using its growing economic and diplomatic clout to construct alternative china-centred international institutions through which it hopes to reposition global order onto a foundation more reflective of the multipolarity it desires. These so called “parallel structures” – such as the Chiang Mai initiative, to parallel the IMF in Southeast Asia; China UnionPay, which aims to rival Visa and MasterCard’s global footprint; or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a NATO-like China and Russia co-led regional security institution for Central Asia – whilst intended to complement rather than overturn current institutions, nevertheless highlights the realignment of global order now underway.
The most significant development in this parallel institution building, particularly from the view of Nigeria’s foreign policy, is the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) in July this year. The NDB – a BRICS initiative – aims to complement, and eventually counterbalance, the World Bank in development finance. It also aims to serve as an alternative source of credit for member states’ facing short-term balance of payment deficits – a role that parallels the IMF. With a starting capital of $50 billion (to eventually rise to $100 billion), and an aim to lend up to $34 billion per year, primarily to finance long-term infrastructure projects in developing countries, the bank is set to begin lending in 2016.
The establishment of the NDB is a positive development for Nigeria, and other developing states. The proliferation of regional (Africa Development Bank, Asia Development Bank, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank etc.) and global development finance institutions (World Bank and NDB) obviously means an enlarged and diverse resource pool from which developing states can draw on to fund their developmental projects. Similarly, the World Bank and the NDB, though eventual competitors, need not necessarily be seen as direct rivals as both institutions have different emphasis: NDB aims to focus on financing infrastructural projects, whereas the World Bank has traditionally focused on financing social projects such as health, education etc. Both institutions, from the point of view of Nigeria’s foreign and economic policy, should therefore be seen as complementary avenues for acquiring development finance.
The Return of Asia
For much of the past 2 thousand years, China and India had, by some distance, the largest share of global GDP. The balance turned in the 1800s as the western countries underwent their industrial revolution. Source: CIA World Fact Book, based on data from Angus Maddison’s The World Economy: Historical Statistics.
The third major trend foreshadowing the coming multi-polar world is the return of Asia to the centre stage of the world economy. Angus Maddison’s monumental study of world economic growth over the past 2000 years tells us that for the first one thousand eight hundred years of the past 2 millennia, the two Asian titans, China and India, were the largest economies. In the 1800s however, the west – broadly speaking Europe and the US – achieved industrial take-off and vaulted ahead of the east; subsequently spreading its political power and cultural influence to encompass the globe.
In 1800 for example, Europe and the US constituted 29% of world manufacturing output; whilst China, India and Japan alone constituted 56.5%. A 100 years later, in 1900, Europe and the US, now fully in the grip of their industrial revolution, had swelled their share to 85.6%; whilst that of the three Asian nations, stuck in agrarian backwardness and had either been colonised (India) or were in the process of being colonised (China), had drastically shrunk to 10.3%.
In 1960, the year of Nigeria’s birth, the world looked unmistakably western. The dominant currents in world politics – economic dynamism and innovation, military and technological pre-eminence, political and cultural influence – all radiated from the west. Two European offshoots, the US and the USSR, stood atop the summit of world power – their globe-girdling rivalry giving the international system its then bipolar structure.
This trend is now being reversed. The rise of new powers is taking place amidst the backdrop of an historic shift of the world’s economic and geopolitical centre of gravity back to Asia. Hence some now speak of a “coming global turn” to describe the eastward shift in wealth and power. UN Conference on Trade and Development’s table for world manufacturing output in 2012 (the latest figures I could get my hands on) show that of the top 10 countries, 6 were from the west (US, Germany, Italy, UK, France, Mexico) and the other 4 from Asia (China, Japan, South Korea, India). The 6 western countries constituted 39% of world manufacturing output; whereas the 4 Asian nations constituted 34%. A gap that is rapidly closing. The NIC report referenced earlier suggests that by 2030 Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of GDP, technological investment and military spending. By 2050, the only western country expected to still enjoy a place in the ranks of the five largest economies will be the US.
The west’s two centuries long material and cultural primacy is irreversibly on the wane. This should not be mistaken for precipitous decline however, as the west will remain a dynamic force in world politics in the 21st century. On the other hand Asia is unquestionably in the ascendance. The region will likely remain the main locomotive of global growth in the 21st century, but this should however not be mistaken for a coming era of unchallenged Asian predominance. Instead what we are witnessing is a diffusion of power to areas much broader than one region alone. The emerging world order now taking shape will be one where the dynamic centres of growth and power will be dispersed across the industrialized world and the newly industrializing one. We stand on the cusp of a multipolar world.
What are the implications of a multipolar world order for Nigeria’s foreign policy?
The Case for “Multivectorism”
An Enlarged Diplomatic Space
System structure (unipolar, bipolar, multipolar etc.) shapes the foreign policy options of states. During the Cold War (1945-1989) the international system was bipolar as there were only two Great Powers – the US and the USSR – contending for global influence. Their globe-wide rivalry narrowed the diplomatic space and forced states into aligning with one or the other polar power. Even India, a foundational architect of the “non-aligned” concept, tilted towards one pole as confirmed by its 1971 treaty on strategic cooperation with the Soviet Union.
After the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the fall of the USSR in 1991, the international system became unipolar – with the US as the sole Great Power. During this period the diplomatic space narrowed further as states faced a stark option: bandwagon with the US (which most countries, including Russia, chose to do in the 1990s and the early 2000s) or lay low and shun an assertive global role (which China and India chose to do during the same period). Those that chose otherwise – e.g. Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – brought disaster upon themselves.
Despite the rhetoric of being “non-aligned”, Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust during these two periods (Cold War and Post-Cold War) was similarly very much aligned, and largely pro-western; at times unabashedly so, such as during the First and Second Republics (1960-1966 and 1979-1983). Whilst there have been periodic tensions over the decades between Nigeria and its western partners (primarily the US and the UK), the reality of economic and technological dependence on the west and the system’s structure meant Nigeria was firmly lodged in the western orbit. The fact of the country’s chronic underdevelopment, poor leadership and internal instability has also ensured that Nigeria’s role in the global system has never risen above being a peripheral actor, and an oil terminal for the industrialized economies.
One big advantage of multipolarity is that Nigeria now has the opportunity to free itself from dependence and diversify its strategic partners. The enlarged diplomatic space, which a multipolar distribution of power affords, means states can now manoeuvre between the multiple competing power centres to pursue their national interests. Given the fluidity of multipolarity, and the multiplicity of major geopolitical actors within it, diplomatic dexterity and flexibility will once more be a valued skill-set for states to possess. As Barry Posen, a scholar of International Relations, said when discussing the advantages of multipolarity: “Diplomacy becomes a respected career again under multipolarity”.
How should Nigeria orient itself in a multipolar world order? What foreign policy doctrine will enable it to harness the opportunities of multipolarity?
Away from Nonalignment and Towards a Multivector Foreign Policy
A Multivector foreign policy essentially means that Nigeria should seek to develop a pragmatic and balanced relationship with all the major geopolitical and economic powers – basically the US, China, EU, Russia, India, Japan and Brazil. The breadth and depth of the strategic relationship along a particular vector – i.e. with a particular power, or group of powers – should depend on at least three factors:
· The national interest
· Developments in the international arena (e.g. An international crisis forcing Nigeria to lean towards or away from one vector. In any case, developments in the international arena should never be allowed to lead to a substantial deterioration in strategic cooperation with a major power except when the issue concerned is of fundamental importance to Nigeria’s national interest.)
· Quality of the developmental resources gained from the relationship (such as technical training, loans and lines of credit, foreign direct investment, technology transfers in joint ventures etc.)
Multivectorism has at least two advantages for Nigeria: (1) Nigeria will gain some measure of strategic autonomy – i.e. it will free itself from undue dependence on a single external power and acquire greater space to forge its own path and pursue its own interests. (2) By having multiple strategic or developmental partners, Nigeria will acquire the flexibility that comes with having a diverse range of consequential strategic partners.
Nonalignment has been, at least rhetorically, the basic principle guiding Nigeria’s relations with the major world powers. It essentially committed Nigeria to forswearing a comprehensive strategic relationship with any major power centre; and instead to maintain a position of neutrality whilst pursuing its national interests. Like nonalignment, multivectorism also eschews entering into alliances with a world power or a coalition of such powers. But there is an important difference between the two concepts. Multivectorism, unlike nonalignment, sees the goal of maintaining a neutral and equidistant position between the major powers at all times as unattainable. All the major third world countries, with the possible exception of Yugoslavia, that proclaimed nonalignment as the basis of their engagement with the two world powers during the Cold War fell way short of adhering strictly to its principles.
As international politics is fluid (especially under conditions of multipolarity), there will always be times when geopolitical necessity or a convergence of interests tilt states one way or another. Therefore Nigeria should jettison nonalignment as a relic of the Cold War and embrace a multivector foreign policy. The three factors outlined above should be the basis for assessing which world power, or group of powers, Nigeria tilts towards at any given time. Nonalignment, though conceptually attractive, is an unachievable goal.
In a globalizing world where the social and economic links between states are thickening and in a multipolar order where the global power centres are dispersed; the only responsible foreign policy for a regional power like Nigeria that aspires to play a dynamic role in international politics, is to proactively seek out profitable relationships with all the major power centres. As the senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment’ South Asia programme said when commenting on India’s evolving foreign policy doctrine: “Nonalignment is an impossible dream … for states with big aspirations”.
“The old road is rapidly aging … The order is rapidly fading ... For the times, they are a-changin’”
The quote above was taken from “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. Bob Dylan’s iconic 1964 album poignantly captured the social and political upheaval that characterised the 1960s in the US. (Wkipedia)
The world around us is changing. Whilst we remain deeply consumed by our internal challenges there is the danger that by the time we lift our gaze to reflect upon the state of things in the world the geopolitical landscape spread out before us would have already changed in unrecognisable ways. The curtain has dropped on an era. The contours of a new one are still being formed. If Nigeria desires to shape and determine its destiny within the emerging multipolar world, these are the times in which to act: when the new world order is in its formative stages.
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