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31 Oct 2021
Policy Paper (22)

Twenty-First Century Governance: The Rise of Middle Powers and the Future of Global Cooperation

Prof. Richard Javad Heydarian

Introduction

When analyzing the emerging security architecture in Asia, and beyond, pundits often try to draw parallels with historical precedents. Perhaps the most oft-cited historical precedence is the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, thus the new fad of “New Cold War” discourse in recent years. Yet, a cursory look at the contemporary dynamics of international relations reveals a radically different picture with few, if any, precedents in human history. Geopolitics in the 21st century is becoming so complex, unpredictable and contested that it seamlessly escapes the grip of a single or two superpowers.

As dominant as the two superpowers, the United States and China, may be, their political influence and material capabilities, even when combined, will likely be dwarfed by the magnitude of mega-challenges on the horizon. From post-pandemic recovery to mitigating the devastating impact of climate change as well as growing socio-economic disruption brought about by rapid cycles of technological disruption, there is an urgent need for unprecedented regimes of cooperation and coordination, which transcend a narrow Sino-American condominium.

And this is precisely where the middle powers come in, since ‘middle power diplomacy’ is indispensable to 21st century global governance and the preservation of a free, stable and open order. This paper analyzes the nature of middle powers and how they can serve as vortex of stability in their respective neighborhoods, mediate tensions and encourage cooperation between superpowers, and directly contribute to the establishment and preservation of global cooperative regimes to address existential challenges of the century. While superpowers will be a decisive element in any major global regime of cooperation, they are at best a necessary but insufficient part of a bigger puzzle, which will require the buy-in of as well as close coordination among the middle powers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Javad Heydarian is an Asia-based academic and policy adviser. He is a Professorial Chairholder in geopolitics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and has delivered lectures at the world’s leading universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Beijing universities, and previously was a Visiting Fellow at National Chengchi University (Taiwan), and an Assistant Professor in political science at De La Salle University.  As a columnist, he has written for the world’s leading publications, including The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Foreign Affairs, and is a regular contributor to Aljazeera English, Nikkei Asian Review, South China Morning Post , and the Straits Times He has written extensively on Philippine politics, populism and Asian affairs. His latest books are “The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt against Elite Democracy” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and “The Indo-Pacific: Trump, China, and the New Global Struggle for Mastery” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). Among his latest academic works are, “Penal Populism in Emerging Markets” (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and “The Ascent of Asian Strongmen: Emerging Market Populism and the Revolt Against Liberal Globalization” (Springer 2020); "Philippine Politics: From Rizal to Duterte" (Oxford University Press, 2020), "Subaltern Populism: Dutertismo and the War on Constitutional Democracy" (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). He is also a regular contributor to leading global think tanks such as Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Brooking Institution, and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His forthcoming book is “China’s New Empire” (Melbourne University Press, 2022).