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TEDxBrussels

Paddy Ashdown: The global power shift

December 28, 2011

Paddy Ashdown claims that we are living in a moment in history where power is changing in ways it never has before. In a spellbinding talk he outlines the three major global shifts that he sees coming. (Filmed at TEDxBrussels.)

Paddy Ashdown - Diplomat
Paddy Ashdown is a former member of the British Parliament and a diplomat with a lifelong commitment to international cooperation. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
There's a poem written
00:15
by a very famous English poet
00:17
at the end of the 19th century.
00:19
It was said to echo in Churchill's brain
00:21
in the 1930s.
00:24
And the poem goes:
00:26
"On the idle hill of summer,
00:28
lazy with the flow of streams,
00:30
hark I hear a distant drummer,
00:32
drumming like a sound in dreams,
00:34
far and near and low and louder on the roads of earth go by,
00:36
dear to friend and food to powder,
00:39
soldiers marching,
00:42
soon to die."
00:44
Those who are interested in poetry,
00:46
the poem is "A Shropshire Lad" written by A.E. Housman.
00:48
But what Housman understood,
00:51
and you hear it in the symphonies of Nielsen too,
00:53
was that the long, hot, silvan summers
00:57
of stability of the 19th century
01:01
were coming to a close,
01:03
and that we were about to move
01:05
into one of those terrifying periods of history
01:07
when power changes.
01:09
And these are always periods, ladies and gentlemen,
01:11
accompanied by turbulence,
01:13
and all too often by blood.
01:16
And my message for you
01:18
is that I believe we are condemned, if you like,
01:20
to live at just one of those moments in history
01:22
when the gimbals upon which
01:25
the established order of power is beginning to change
01:27
and the new look of the world,
01:30
the new powers that exist in the world,
01:32
are beginning to take form.
01:35
And these are -- and we see it very clearly today --
01:37
nearly always highly turbulent times, highly difficult times,
01:40
and all too often very bloody times.
01:43
By the way, it happens about once every century.
01:45
You might argue that the last time it happened --
01:48
and that's what Housman felt coming and what Churchill felt too --
01:50
was that when power passed from the old nations,
01:53
the old powers of Europe,
01:56
across the Atlantic to the new emerging power
01:58
of the United States of America --
02:00
the beginning of the American century.
02:02
And of course, into the vacuum
02:04
where the too-old European powers used to be
02:06
were played the two bloody catastrophes
02:09
of the last century --
02:12
the one in the first part and the one in the second part: the two great World Wars.
02:14
Mao Zedong used to refer to them as the European civil wars,
02:17
and it's probably a more accurate way of describing them.
02:20
Well, ladies and gentlemen,
02:23
we live at one of those times.
02:25
But for us, I want to talk about three factors today.
02:27
And the first of these, the first two of these,
02:30
is about a shift in power.
02:33
And the second is about some new dimension which I want to refer to,
02:35
which has never quite happened in the way it's happening now.
02:38
But let's talk about the shifts of power that are occurring to the world.
02:41
And what is happening today
02:44
is, in one sense, frightening
02:46
because it's never happened before.
02:48
We have seen lateral shifts of power --
02:51
the power of Greece passed to Rome
02:53
and the power shifts that occurred
02:56
during the European civilizations --
02:58
but we are seeing something slightly different.
03:01
For power is not just moving laterally
03:03
from nation to nation.
03:05
It's also moving vertically.
03:07
What's happening today is that the power that was encased,
03:09
held to accountability, held to the rule of law,
03:12
within the institution of the nation state
03:15
has now migrated in very large measure onto the global stage.
03:18
The globalization of power --
03:21
we talk about the globalization of markets,
03:23
but actually it's the globalization of real power.
03:25
And where, at the nation state level
03:29
that power is held to accountability
03:31
subject to the rule of law,
03:33
on the international stage it is not.
03:35
The international stage and the global stage where power now resides:
03:38
the power of the Internet, the power of the satellite broadcasters,
03:41
the power of the money changers --
03:44
this vast money-go-round
03:47
that circulates now 32 times the amount of money necessary
03:49
for the trade it's supposed to be there to finance --
03:53
the money changers, if you like,
03:56
the financial speculators
03:58
that have brought us all to our knees quite recently,
04:00
the power of the multinational corporations
04:03
now developing budgets
04:05
often bigger than medium-sized countries.
04:08
These live in a global space
04:10
which is largely unregulated,
04:12
not subject to the rule of law,
04:14
and in which people may act free of constraint.
04:17
Now that suits the powerful
04:19
up to a moment.
04:22
It's always suitable for those who have the most power
04:24
to operate in spaces without constraint,
04:27
but the lesson of history is that, sooner or later,
04:30
unregulated space --
04:33
space not subject to the rule of law --
04:35
becomes populated, not just by the things you wanted --
04:37
international trade, the Internet, etc. --
04:40
but also by the things you don't want --
04:42
international criminality, international terrorism.
04:44
The revelation of 9/11
04:47
is that even if you are the most powerful nation on earth,
04:49
nevertheless,
04:54
those who inhabit that space can attack you
04:57
even in your most iconic of cities
04:59
one bright September morning.
05:01
It's said that something like 60 percent
05:03
of the four million dollars that was taken to fund 9/11
05:05
actually passed through the institutions of the Twin Towers
05:08
which 9/11 destroyed.
05:11
You see, our enemies also use this space --
05:13
the space of mass travel, the Internet, satellite broadcasters --
05:15
to be able to get around their poison,
05:18
which is about destroying our systems and our ways.
05:21
Sooner or later,
05:24
sooner or later,
05:26
the rule of history
05:28
is that where power goes
05:30
governance must follow.
05:32
And if it is therefore the case, as I believe it is,
05:35
that one of the phenomenon of our time
05:37
is the globalization of power,
05:39
then it follows that one of the challenges of our time
05:41
is to bring governance to the global space.
05:44
And I believe that the decades ahead of us now
05:47
will be to a greater or lesser extent turbulent
05:50
the more or less we are able to achieve that aim:
05:54
to bring governance to the global space.
05:57
Now notice, I'm not talking about government.
05:59
I'm not talking about setting up
06:01
some global democratic institution.
06:03
My own view, by the way, ladies and gentlemen,
06:06
is that this is unlikely to be done
06:08
by spawning more U.N. institutions.
06:10
If we didn't have the U.N., we'd have to invent it.
06:12
The world needs an international forum.
06:14
It needs a means by which you can legitimize international action.
06:16
But when it comes to governance of the global space,
06:20
my guess is this won't happen
06:22
through the creation of more U.N. institutions.
06:25
It will actually happen by the powerful coming together
06:27
and making treaty-based systems,
06:30
treaty-based agreements,
06:32
to govern that global space.
06:34
And if you look, you can see them happening, already beginning to emerge.
06:36
The World Trade Organization: treaty-based organization,
06:39
entirely treaty-based,
06:42
and yet, powerful enough to hold even the most powerful, the United States,
06:44
to account if necessary.
06:47
Kyoto: the beginnings of struggling to create
06:49
a treaty-based organization.
06:51
The G20:
06:53
we know now that we have to put together an institution
06:55
which is capable of bringing governance
06:57
to that financial space for financial speculation.
06:59
And that's what the G20 is, a treaty-based institution.
07:02
Now there's a problem there,
07:05
and we'll come back to it in a minute,
07:07
which is that if you bring the most powerful together
07:09
to make the rules in treaty-based institutions,
07:12
to fill that governance space,
07:14
then what happens to the weak who are left out?
07:17
And that's a big problem,
07:20
and we'll return to it in just a second.
07:22
So there's my first message,
07:24
that if you are to pass through these turbulent times
07:26
more or less turbulently,
07:29
then our success in doing that
07:32
will in large measure depend on our capacity
07:34
to bring sensible governance
07:36
to the global space.
07:38
And watch that beginning to happen.
07:40
My second point is,
07:43
and I know I don't have to talk to an audience like this
07:45
about such a thing,
07:47
but power is not just shifting vertically,
07:49
it's also shifting horizontally.
07:52
You might argue that the story, the history of civilizations,
07:54
has been civilizations gathered around seas --
07:57
with the first ones around the Mediterranean,
08:00
the more recent ones in the ascendents of Western power around the Atlantic.
08:03
Well it seems to me
08:07
that we're now seeing a fundamental shift of power, broadly speaking,
08:09
away from nations gathered around the Atlantic [seaboard]
08:12
to the nations gathered around the Pacific rim.
08:15
Now that begins with economic power,
08:17
but that's the way it always begins.
08:19
You already begin to see the development of foreign policies,
08:21
the augmentation of military budgets
08:24
occurring in the other growing powers in the world.
08:26
I think actually
08:29
this is not so much a shift from the West to the East;
08:31
something different is happening.
08:33
My guess is, for what it's worth,
08:35
is that the United States will remain
08:37
the most powerful nation on earth
08:39
for the next 10 years, 15,
08:41
but the context in which she holds her power
08:44
has now radically altered; it has radically changed.
08:47
We are coming out of 50 years,
08:50
most unusual years, of history
08:52
in which we have had a totally mono-polar world,
08:54
in which every compass needle
08:57
for or against
08:59
has to be referenced by its position to Washington --
09:01
a world bestrode by a single colossus.
09:04
But that's not a usual case in history.
09:08
In fact, what's now emerging
09:10
is the much more normal case of history.
09:12
You're beginning to see the emergence
09:14
of a multi-polar world.
09:16
Up until now,
09:18
the United States has been the dominant feature of our world.
09:20
They will remain the most powerful nation,
09:23
but they will be the most powerful nation
09:25
in an increasingly multi-polar world.
09:27
And you begin to see the alternative centers of power building up --
09:29
in China, of course,
09:32
though my own guess is that China's ascent to greatness is not smooth.
09:34
It's going to be quite grumpy
09:37
as China begins to democratize her society
09:39
after liberalizing her economy.
09:41
But that's a subject of a different discussion.
09:43
You see India, you see Brazil.
09:46
You see increasingly
09:48
that the world now looks actually, for us Europeans,
09:50
much more like Europe in the 19th century.
09:53
Europe in the 19th century:
09:56
a great British foreign secretary, Lord Canning,
09:58
used to describe it as the "European concert of powers."
10:00
There was a balance, a five-sided balance.
10:03
Britain always played to the balance.
10:05
If Paris got together with Berlin,
10:08
Britain got together with Vienna and Rome to provide a counterbalance.
10:10
Now notice,
10:13
in a period which is dominated by a mono-polar world,
10:15
you have fixed alliances --
10:17
NATO, the Warsaw Pact.
10:19
A fixed polarity of power
10:21
means fixed alliances.
10:23
But a multiple polarity of power
10:25
means shifting and changing alliances.
10:27
And that's the world we're coming into,
10:29
in which we will increasingly see
10:31
that our alliances are not fixed.
10:33
Canning, the great British foreign secretary once said,
10:35
"Britain has a common interest,
10:37
but no common allies."
10:39
And we will see increasingly
10:41
that even we in the West
10:43
will reach out, have to reach out,
10:45
beyond the cozy circle of the Atlantic powers
10:47
to make alliances with others
10:49
if we want to get things done in the world.
10:51
Note, that when we went into Libya,
10:54
it was not good enough for the West to do it alone;
10:56
we had to bring others in.
10:58
We had to bring, in this case, the Arab League in.
11:00
My guess is Iraq and Afghanistan are the last times
11:03
when the West has tried to do it themselves,
11:06
and we haven't succeeded.
11:08
My guess
11:10
is that we're reaching the beginning of the end of 400 years --
11:12
I say 400 years because it's the end of the Ottoman Empire --
11:15
of the hegemony of Western power,
11:18
Western institutions and Western values.
11:20
You know, up until now, if the West got its act together,
11:24
it could propose and dispose
11:27
in every corner of the world.
11:29
But that's no longer true.
11:31
Take the last financial crisis
11:33
after the Second World War.
11:35
The West got together --
11:37
the Bretton Woods Institution, World Bank, International Monetary Fund --
11:39
the problem solved.
11:42
Now we have to call in others.
11:44
Now we have to create the G20.
11:46
Now we have to reach beyond the cozy circle
11:48
of our Western friends.
11:50
Let me make a prediction for you,
11:52
which is probably even more startling.
11:54
I suspect we are now reaching the end
11:57
of 400 years
12:00
when Western power was enough.
12:02
People say to me, "The Chinese, of course,
12:04
they'll never get themselves involved
12:06
in peace-making, multilateral peace-making around the world."
12:08
Oh yes? Why not?
12:10
How many Chinese troops
12:12
are serving under the blue beret, serving under the blue flag,
12:14
serving under the U.N. command in the world today?
12:16
3,700.
12:18
How many Americans? 11.
12:20
What is the largest naval contingent
12:23
tackling the issue of Somali pirates?
12:25
The Chinese naval contingent.
12:28
Of course they are, they are a mercantilist nation.
12:30
They want to keep the sea lanes open.
12:32
Increasingly, we are going to have to do business
12:34
with people with whom we do not share values,
12:37
but with whom, for the moment, we share common interests.
12:40
It's a whole new different way
12:43
of looking at the world that is now emerging.
12:45
And here's the third factor,
12:48
which is totally different.
12:50
Today in our modern world,
12:53
because of the Internet,
12:55
because of the kinds of things people have been talking about here,
12:57
everything is connected to everything.
13:00
We are now interdependent.
13:04
We are now interlocked,
13:06
as nations, as individuals,
13:08
in a way which has never been the case before,
13:10
never been the case before.
13:12
The interrelationship of nations,
13:15
well it's always existed.
13:17
Diplomacy is about managing the interrelationship of nations.
13:19
But now we are intimately locked together.
13:22
You get swine flu in Mexico,
13:24
it's a problem for Charles de Gaulle Airport
13:26
24 hours later.
13:28
Lehman Brothers goes down, the whole lot collapses.
13:30
There are fires in the steppes of Russia,
13:33
food riots in Africa.
13:36
We are all now deeply, deeply, deeply interconnected.
13:38
And what that means
13:42
is the idea of a nation state acting alone,
13:45
not connected with others,
13:49
not working with others,
13:51
is no longer a viable proposition.
13:53
Because the actions of a nation state
13:55
are neither confined to itself,
13:58
nor is it sufficient for the nation state itself
14:00
to control its own territory,
14:02
because the effects outside the nation state
14:04
are now beginning to affect what happens inside them.
14:07
I was a young soldier
14:10
in the last of the small empire wars of Britain.
14:12
At that time, the defense of my country
14:16
was about one thing and one thing only:
14:18
how strong was our army, how strong was our air force,
14:21
how strong was our navy and how strong were our allies.
14:24
That was when the enemy was outside the walls.
14:26
Now the enemy is inside the walls.
14:28
Now if I want to talk about the defense of my country,
14:31
I have to speak to the Minister of Health
14:33
because pandemic disease is a threat to my security,
14:35
I have to speak to the Minister of Agriculture
14:38
because food security is a threat to my security,
14:40
I have to speak to the Minister of Industry
14:42
because the fragility of our hi-tech infrastructure
14:46
is now a point of attack for our enemies --
14:49
as we see from cyber warfare --
14:51
I have to speak to the Minister of Home Affairs
14:53
because who has entered my country,
14:56
who lives in that terraced house in that inner city
14:58
has a direct effect on what happens in my country --
15:01
as we in London saw in the 7/7 bombings.
15:03
It's no longer the case that the security of a country
15:07
is simply a matter for its soldiers and its ministry of defense.
15:10
It's its capacity to lock together its institutions.
15:13
And this tells you something very important.
15:16
It tells you that, in fact,
15:19
our governments, vertically constructed,
15:21
constructed on the economic model of the Industrial Revolution --
15:24
vertical hierarchy, specialization of tasks,
15:26
command structures --
15:29
have got the wrong structures completely.
15:31
You in business know
15:33
that the paradigm structure of our time, ladies and gentlemen,
15:35
is the network.
15:37
It's your capacity to network that matters,
15:39
both within your governments and externally.
15:41
So here is Ashdown's third law.
15:44
By the way, don't ask me about Ashdown's first law and second law
15:46
because I haven't invented those yet;
15:49
it always sounds better if there's a third law, doesn't it?
15:51
Ashdown's third law is that in the modern age,
15:53
where everything is connected to everything,
15:56
the most important thing about what you can do
15:58
is what you can do with others.
16:01
The most important bit about your structure --
16:03
whether you're a government, whether you're an army regiment,
16:05
whether you're a business --
16:07
is your docking points, your interconnectors,
16:09
your capacity to network with others.
16:11
You understand that in industry;
16:13
governments don't.
16:15
But now one final thing.
16:18
If it is the case, ladies and gentlemen -- and it is --
16:20
that we are now locked together
16:23
in a way that has never been quite the same before,
16:25
then it's also the case that we share a destiny with each other.
16:27
Suddenly and for the very first time,
16:31
collective defense, the thing that has dominated us
16:34
as the concept of securing our nations,
16:37
is no longer enough.
16:39
It used to be the case
16:41
that if my tribe was more powerful than their tribe, I was safe;
16:43
if my country was more powerful than their country, I was safe;
16:45
my alliance, like NATO, was more powerful than their alliance, I was safe.
16:48
It is no longer the case.
16:51
The advent of the interconnectedness
16:53
and of the weapons of mass destruction
16:56
means that, increasingly,
16:58
I share a destiny with my enemy.
17:00
When I was a diplomat
17:02
negotiating the disarmament treaties with the Soviet Union
17:04
in Geneva in the 1970s,
17:07
we succeeded because we understood
17:09
we shared a destiny with them.
17:11
Collective security is not enough.
17:13
Peace has come to Northern Ireland
17:16
because both sides realized that the zero-sum game couldn't work.
17:18
They shared a destiny with their enemies.
17:21
One of the great barriers to peace in the Middle East
17:24
is that both sides, both Israel and, I think, the Palestinians,
17:26
do not understand
17:29
that they share a collective destiny.
17:31
And so suddenly, ladies and gentlemen,
17:34
what has been the proposition
17:36
of visionaries and poets down the ages
17:38
becomes something we have to take seriously
17:41
as a matter of public policy.
17:43
I started with a poem, I'll end with one.
17:45
The great poem of John Donne's.
17:48
"Send not for whom the bell tolls."
17:51
The poem is called "No Man is an Island."
17:55
And it goes:
17:57
"Every man's death affected me,
17:59
for I am involved in mankind,
18:02
send not to ask
18:04
for whom the bell tolls,
18:06
it tolls for thee."
18:08
For John Donne, a recommendation of morality.
18:10
For us, I think,
18:13
part of the equation for our survival.
18:15
Thank you very much.
18:18
(Applause)
18:20

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Paddy Ashdown - Diplomat
Paddy Ashdown is a former member of the British Parliament and a diplomat with a lifelong commitment to international cooperation.

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Throughout his career, Paddy Ashdown has moved across the international stage. He served as a Royal Marine and an intelligence officer in MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom, before becoming a member of Parliament. In 1988 he became the first leader of the newly formed Liberal Democrat party. After leaving Parlaiment he served as the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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