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V Subrahmanyam asked: Is the world going to be multipolar, if so who could be the players in the coming days?

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  • Smita Purushottam replies: There is near unanimity that the world is evolving towards a multipolar order and there are many theories regarding the candidates, or the “Poles”. As early as 1997, Henry Kissinger had predicted the decline of the unipolar order and the rise of Russia, Japan, China and even India. More recently Parag Khanna (“Second World”) felt that there would be three power blocs – the US, China and the EU. Chinese experts in the year 2000 debated the role of the US, China, Russia, Japan and India in a future order. The Goldman Sachs BRIC report predicted that the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would be bigger than the G6’s in 2050.

    Several questions arise. Are the criteria for being defined a “Major Power/Pole” purely economic, or economic, technological and military? How could “Black Swan” events - unanticipated developments such as major wars, climate change related disasters, and technological breakthroughs [clean energy such as fusion energy, artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology - which could increase life spans engendering massive societal changes (George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah” provides an inkling of what is in store!)] - transform future scenarios? Will they upset all calculations regarding futuristic power configurations (remembering that these breakthroughs are more likely to occur in advanced economies anyway)?

    The economic factor is the most reliable clue for predicting power quotients, and has been so throughout history (see Paul Kennedy’s “Rise & Fall…”). Nations which have quietly built up economic strength outlast their rivals through War and other calamities. The other historically revolutionary force is Technology. The major “Poles” in the future will thus most probably be growing and innovative powers such as China, US, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.