We are living in the last few years of a Golden Age. Change is coming, and it will be massively greater and more far-reaching than anything we have experienced since the World Wars. How we deal with it will probably entail taking steps which from our present point of view look like fantasy. Here is one such impossibility.
We have a choice. We either wait for this massive change to start happening and deal with the most significant challenges as they arise, or we go out to meet them with proactively crafted measures identified,planned and carried out right now. Seen through our present perspectives, some of those measures will seem to be out of the question, hugely unfeasible or just plain weird. That does not mean that they cannot or should not be done.
In May 1940, for example, within four decades of the death of Queen Victoria, who could have predicted that 63 months later the war would be ended by a single new weapon? As someone exclaimed in the early 1990s, who would have thought that we would ever see in our lifetime communism legalised in a post-apartheid South Africa and banned in post-Soviet Russia?
From the mid-2010 viewing point, it looks as if at least ten major streams of change coming our way are
Irreversible climate change and its corollaries, notably desertification
The risks inherent in the fragility of the world’s banking system
Increasing imbalances in the world economy
The end of the ‘American century’ and the rise of the BRICs
The increasing global disparity between haves and have-nots
Failed and failing states and sociopolitical despair
We should immediately qualify this set of threats by recognising all of them as being in some degree predictable. We know that they are coming. The unexpected event – a major natural disaster such as an Atlantic tsunami, for instance – has to be added to the list as an eleventh threat even though we cannot for the moment forecast what it will be or what it will entail (as a jocular aside we might note that, according to St Malachy, the next Pope will be the last).
The reason that terrorism is not mentioned in the list is that it is a symptom or by-product of two or three of the threats that are listed. The reason that the Afghanistan problem is not included is that it is misnamed: it should be called the ‘Pakistan and access to Central Asia’s resources problem’ and therefore comes under at least two of the challenges listed and we should be addressing those appropriately.
The list is too wide and deep to cover in one post so let me briefly focus in this posting on the matter of the BRICs , and return to the others at later dates.
The metrics for Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) are awesome. According to Goldman Sachs, the four countries account for over 25% of the world’s land coverage and 40% of the world’s population and hold a combined GDP (PPP) of 15.435 trillion dollars. Ten of the thirty fastest-growing cities in the world are in India. Even allowing for the fact that the four countries have some serious resource and growth problems, the fact is that they together represent a hefty chunk of the future. The political framework of international relations will have to be adapted to fit them in.
Two BRICs already have permanent membership of the UN Security Council. It’s time for a third one to get a seat. Rather than allow the number of these seats to start swelling, I advocate keeping that number to five. So to make room for a new one, one has to go.
A gift for India
I propose therefore that the United Kingdom resign its permanent membership of the UN Security Council and, with the agreement of the Council’s four other permanent members cede its seat to India; and that this transfer take place on 15 August 2017, the seventieth anniversary of India’s independence (from Britain).
This might be on condition that British aid to India, currently running at £275m a year, be cut by half from that date and most of the money thus saved be switched to aid to Pakistan. (I would also argue that France should cede its seat to the European Union, but that is not within the compass of this piece). On a passing note, I do not understand why we are still giving £40m a year in development aid to China.
The idea, or at least the specifically Indian element of it, has been raised many times before, not least by Gordon Brown and some US commentators. Some good reasons are listed in this posting.
First, is it feasible? Why not? China is already on record as supporting a seat for India. Russia has been interested in and cultivating ties with India since the days of the Tsars and the US has been doing so since the Kennedy administration. As for the loss of the UK seat, Russia, China and France would not be bothered. Despite the jaded rhetoric about the ‘Special Relationship’, the Obama administration is not particularly interested in the UK and its place in the world so long as it pays its bills to defence contractors, says the right things to American media and allows a certain well-known agency to bug our phones and emails. It would probably abstain on the matter and the neocons would nod in agreement. They hate the UN anyway (and dislike the UK because of its ‘socialism’).
What’s in it for the British? Well, first it would have to be part of an overarching – and very radical – restructuring of the UK’s defence and foreign policy in the modern world. It would be a signal of Britain’s abandonment, not before time, of the ‘punching above our weight’ posture. That in turn could be packaged with a number of relevant measures: for instance, the UK’s resignation from the nuclear weapons club; the sale of the two aircraft carriers as soon as they are completed (one to the US, one to India?); the repudiation of the Eurofighter contracts and the abolition of the RAF; the withdrawal of certain British embassies and the selling off of their buildings; the scaling down of the British Embassy in Washington; the closure of certain security ‘facilities’ such as the one beside the A43 near the Cherwell services on the M40, and some other forms of US/UK co-operation that we don’t know about; and withdrawal from Afghanistan. The result would be to locate the UK more realistically and usefully along the axis of medium-sized democratic states and save money.
I think it will happen. It would focus British minds on what we really want our country to be abd do. It would help the BRICs define what they really want this century in terms of trade, co-operation and mutual security. It would encourage India to behave responsibly on the world stage. It would strengthen the UN. It would be good for the world community. Let’s do it.