New TRENDS study envisions the future of the world and its profound transformations


TRENDS Research and Advisory has released a new study entitled: "2013 and Beyond: “From 'Globalization' to 'Buffered world' in a Networked Age” as part of its visionary research studies.

The study indicated that today's world is witnessing profound transformations in the structure of international relations. Such transformations are mainly the result of other negative factors, especially demographic, environmental and economic changes, which took place after the world went through three painful experiences. These had great impact on human history. They include the Arab Spring (2011), the Covid-19 pandemic (2019) and the Russia-Ukraine war (2022).

The study was prepared by Dr. Wael Saleh, expert at TRENDS Research and Advisory and Ms. Noura AlHabsi, Director of Publications Department at TRENDS. The study explores the impact of this wider context on the "globalized world", whose values, laws and approaches prevailed prior to those events until the first decade of this century. The research explained how this world is gradually transforming from a state of globalization to a state that can be called a "buffered world", through multiple types of "buffers", including geographical, economic, digital, cultural and mental isolation.

The authors explained that to achieve its objective, the study has been divided into three sections. The first section explains the context of this transformation from "globalization" to "buffering". The second section shows the forms of "buffers" in the world of 2023 and beyond, namely geographical, geopolitical, economic, societal, civilizational, digital, post-dimensional and mental barriers.

The study showed that most of the trusted international reports foresee that it is unlikely that the world will be any better than it is now. In fact, the world will go from bad to worse. The study pointing out that a report by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) on the state of the world in 2040, stated that the system, approaches, institutions and regimes that have dominated the world since the end of World War II will be exhausted. They will face greater difficulties in responding to "successive global challenges ahead", including climate change, pandemics, economic and financial crises. The report indicated that conflicts within and between countries are expected to worsen, posing a major challenge that redraws the map of international relations and interactions, thus shape the world in 2023 and beyond.

The study stressed that the responses of countries to the context of the transition from the "globalized world" to the "buffered world” and its structural forces are driving the world towards a new geopolitical context. This context is full of conflicts and fluctuations, the most prominent of these fluctuations are the collapse of the Western model of governance, and the shift of the center of power to Asia in a multipolar world. These responses represent how the world will transform during the next decade at least.

It seems that the most likely scenarios, based on this study, are more manifestations of the shift from "globalization” to “buffering” (i.e. more geographical, economic, digital, mental and cultural isolation). This profound shift was anticipated by credible studies which predicted that the world in 2040 will sail without anchor. The studies expected that the international order "will lose direction, become chaotic and volatile. This is the result of the fact that international rules and institutions are largely ignored by major powers, some regional players and non-state actors.  The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries will suffer from slower economic growth, societal divisions will widen. Political paralysis will prevail, and many global challenges will be left aside, such as climate change and instability in developing countries.

As a result, the two authors of the TRENDS’ study indicated that the world may be divided into several economic and security blocs of varying size and strength. These blocs will be centered around the core powers of the United States, China, the European Union, Russia and regional powers. These blocs will focus on self-sufficiency, flexibility and defending their interests. Information will then flow into separate cyber enclaves; supply chains shall be redirected into different tracks and international trade will be disrupted.

Fragile developing countries will be stuck halfway and some will be on the verge of becoming failed States. Global problems, particularly climate change, will not be addressed seriously and regularly.

The study stated that the Arab world is witnessing, despite the situation in Sudan, a policy of resolving its long-standing problems. It is increasingly shifting towards settling its conflicts, which have been a central feature of the political and security scene since 1979.

This transformation may coincide with the hypothesis that for China to play its full role as a great power in the international relations landscape in the coming years, it must achieve that status through the Arab world, just as the United States achieved it through Europe after World War II. While the US Marshall Plan focused on economic reconstruction in Europe, China's project in the Arab world focuses on contributing to the establishment of an "Arab Westphalia" based on China's firm belief that global security cannot be achieved without achieving security in the Middle East. China is committed to developing its relations with Arab countries, based on several principles, namely mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence. China is advocating respect for the choices of the peoples of the Arab countries and supports the Arab countries endeavors in exploring the development models that suit their national requirements and their independent will.

The study concluded by stressing that the current phase which the world is going through represents a crisis where the old order is phasing out and the new structure is not yet born. In this vacuum, a great deal of symptoms appear, chief among them is the shift from "globalization" to "buffering” that occurs in the "networking age". The network change was expected to put an end to barriers and borders, but it seems that it perpetuates them in some instances.


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