The world that awaits us

El mundo que nos espera

A big question that hangs over us as we struggle out of the deadly embrace of the COVID-19 pandemic concerns which model will prevail in the geopolitical rearrangement that is coming as a result of the digital, demographic and technological revolutions, the process of American introspection, the crisis in Europe, the end of Western domination in the world, the confirmation of the Indo-Pacific basin as the new economic centre of the planet, and the emergence of new countries that demand a different distribution of the cake of power. We are at the end of the geopolitical era that began in 1945 with the reorganization that followed the end of World War II, and at the beginning of a new era with different actors and in which a tough competition between the liberal and authoritarian models is foreseen. In recent years, Freedom House's annual reports have detected a decline in democracy in the world, while the number of leaders who often come to power through the vote of citizens but then, when they have reached it, blur the necessary balance of powers, interfere with the work of judges and journalists, and curtail individual rights and freedoms as we see in the cases of Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Putin, Orban, Duterte and so many others. In Donald Trump's own America, there is a retreat from democracy, and this is not said by me but by Freedom House.

The two systems are incompatible with each other and play different cards because liberal democracy leaves decisions and the ability to invest in the hands of individuals, while authoritarianisms tend to progressively concentrate them in a centralized power without counterbalances. Washington and Beijing are the examples of both models and are now engaged in an all-out war to see which of the two designs the rules of future geopolitics that will not be solely bipolar, will not be a G-2 as some would wish (the Chinese themselves) but rather an imperfect multipolarism where two will be the hegemonic powers but there will be other countries (Russia, India, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa. ...) or groups of countries (the EU) that will also have something to say, and whose influence may increase to the extent that neither China nor the US will emerge particularly well from the COVID-19 crisis.

China because it was slow to recognize it and to warn others, and the US because of the insolidarity of its America First slogan and its lack of leadership at both the national and international levels. And that is why both are engaged in reciprocal accusations and massive propaganda and disinformation campaigns. The future will depend on how each of them recovers from the coming recession, on the strength they show, on the image they project (in my opinion, far worse with Trump than with Biden) and on how the world perceives that strength. For now, and in spite of everything, the United States is way ahead in economic power, military power, and soft power. But China is emerging as a major technological power, as demonstrated by the 5G networks, thanks to massive injections of public money. And Artificial Intelligence offers new technologies on a daily basis that allow greater control over citizens and a progressive curtailment of their rights and freedoms.

For the moment, the virus has made us take refuge in the State and in national health systems in the face of the initial confusion shown by international organisations, from the UN to the EU or even the WHO, but a global geopolitics based on States, with few rules regulating their interactions and with weak institutions to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise, is the ideal recipe for the law of the strongest to be imposed and the big fish to eat the small one. As a middle power, Spain and many others have no use for that Wild West world that might emerge sooner rather than later. It is in our interest to reinvent a new multilateralism with clear rules, agreed by all, that creates a level playing field, with clear limits, with rules that we can all live with, and with strong and respected international institutions to settle conflicts. And this new order can only be born from the ashes of the current one if we agree to reform it to make room for newcomers and their different world views.

I would like this new order to respect individual rights and freedoms as I see them, but I am not sure that this will be the case, because world demography is galloping forward and there are fewer and fewer of us who share the Western values that have inspired the geopolitical model in force since 1945 and which are now being called into question by the emerging countries, heirs to other cultures that have not passed through Greece, Rome, Christianity, the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. They have not put the person as the centre of the universe or doubt at the centre of the rational debate. 

That is why it is very important that we keep them in Europe, stopping the "iliberal" processes that are pointing at countries like Hungary or Poland, in the hope that with the passing of time the others will have time to appreciate their virtues. But I say this without too much conviction. Precisely during the long and combative July European Council that approved the massive Recovery Plan against the pandemic, one of the points that gave rise to the most lively debate was Hungary and Poland's refusal to link European aid to respect for human rights. And they got away with it momentarily because at that time the priority was to approve economic aid and because the COVID-19 epidemic has emboldened the authoritarian regimes that have bought - because it interests them - the idea that they have been able to fight it better than the "weak" democracies such as Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. Nor does this bode well for a horizon that points to a world with more authoritarian, populist and nationalist leaders. That is why it is imperative not to renounce those values that protect our rights and freedoms and that have made us what we are today. Because if we do not fight for them, we will lose them.