Our unpredictable and complex world: Can we understand it better?

Our unpredictable and complex world: Can we understand it better?

Amb. Yogendra Kumar-Yogendra Kumar


Global uncertainties are growing. There is a sense of crisis, practically, everywhere and the pace and direction of events is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Many of these developments affect adversely the functioning of global, multilateral or regional institutions. Many of these trends are occurring in India’s close proximity and are a matter of concern because India’s national interests are at stake in those regions. Moreover, as India’s international role continues to expand, significant developments even in areas not very close to Indian borders affect its interests in a number of ways.


The global uncertainties have been described and elaborated by various international think tanks in considerable detail based on the analysis of ongoing contemporary developments. The ‘Strategic Survey 2016: The Annual Review of World Affairs’, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, states in its opening lines, “the underpinnings of geopolitics have splintered so much in the past year that the foundations of global order appear alarmingly weak. The year was characterised by a bad-tempered roar against political arrangements seen to be unfair, concocted by others, and out of touch with the current realities of international power or the prevailing winds of domestic sentiment…. Multiple strategic earthquakes have created a situation in which world leaders are in a constant state of crisis control.”


The sense of crisis and unpredictability in international events have been described, as bewilderingly increasing the complexity of analysis of strategic events, by the authors of the US National Intelligence Council (NIC), projecting in December 2012 the global trends up to 2030, when they described the difficulties in analyses relating to various kinds of trends including, inter-alia, the following.


  • examination of outcomes concerning the role of the United States in the international system in the situation of its decline or a decisive reassertion in terms of the response of the other powers;
  • enquiry into the dynamics of governance and exploration of complicated relationships among a diverse set of actors, especially the role of states versus non-state actors;
  • realisation that the tendency has been to underestimate the rate of change with respect to the rise or decline of different states;
  • better exploration of the framework of the relationship between trends, discontinuities and crises;
  • better focus on smaller political-psycho-social shifts that do not go under the umbrella of ideology but drive behaviour rather than any grand ideologies; and,
  • better identification of looming disequilibria to understand possible dynamics amongst international actors at crucial points in the turn of events.


The sense of crisis and uncertainty of global trends and a sense of loss of control by major powers today, presents a sharp contrast to the sense of triumphalism and over-confidence in 1991 when the Cold War ended between the United States and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) with the sense of the unchallenged supremacy of the United States as the most powerful country in the world in terms of its military strength, technology and economic strength. That was a time when, it was felt by several American analysts as well as others, that the disappearance of the USSR in this contest was the result of the supremacy of the basic principles on which the state systems in the United States and other major European powers were based. One might recall the famous book by the American author, Francis Fukuyama, titled ‘End of History’ whereby he tried to posit that the American political system will remain an unsurpassed power – rather like the claims by the Marxist founders of USSR – far into the future.


That sense of superiority in its system did not last, indeed, due to several actions on the part of the leaders of the United States causing instability in many parts the world, especially as part of its pursuit of the ‘Global War on Terror’. The consequences of that instability are being experienced even today and these have been further multiplied by the Global Economic and Financial Crisis of 2008 which was also a result of that blind faith in the superiority of the US and the western economic system and in the magic of the market forces. These developments have not only led to conflict and instability but also to a shift in global balance of power evident in the accelerated rise of China and, to an extent, of India. A global shift in balance of hard power, especially between adversarial countries, itself has potential to destabilise the existing institutions of global governance. In many respects, these developments have been facilitated by historic trends in technology and the other phenomena.


These developments in the last quarter century or so have made it imperative that we develop our own capabilities of analysis and insights into ongoing contemporary events especially, we have seen above, as these raise questions about the very operation of the political or economic systems today. In the absence of these capabilities and insights, the sense of crisis and the pervasive instability become harder to understand even as the media gets saturated by narratives crafted by multifarious interest groups.


For a movement like the IIMUN bringing together a large number of bright young people beginning to take interest in international affairs, certain tools of analysis can be internalised for a better comprehension of the dynamics of international events of our interest. A group of students could pick up any crisis, as it is beginning to unfold, and start drawing up the chronology of developments related, howsoever remotely, to it. This could be by writing down on a daily basis all the details available about the crisis on that particular day, including statements made within the country or outside, formal official statements – or, informal attributed to “official sources” – again within or outside the country, and developments connected with that crisis as they occur. Such chronology needs to be continuously developed until the time the crisis is well over.


Even whilst the chronology is being developed and the crisis is still unfolding, several dimensions and strands will become very clear in hindsight through review of details and lead to better understanding of i) the manner in which different governments articulate positions by using certain words in comparison to those of other governments or, even, by avoiding certain words; ii) the anonymous, background briefing for media by senior officials interpreting events in a particular manner; iii) the relationship between unfolding developments on the ground as they are influenced, in an interactive manner, by statements of leaders within or outside the country; and, iv) the personalities of the key decision-makers involved through their handling of the crisis.


Such chronology building exercises, done over a period of time, of crises or of international diplomacy on a vital global issue of interest to India, such as climate change, would help cultivate in the young, energetic minds, participating in the IIMUN movement, insights into international issues and developments which would be unique to them. These will help them understand better details, nuances of language, subtle grasp of issues and assessments of personalities acting on the global stage. Even more importantly, they will understand the dynamics of an interactive relationship between decision-makers and the events on the ground where several factors impact on the shaping of their outcomes.

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