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Saturday November 27, 2021

Message from Istanbul

October 23, 2021

That the unipolar world order is struggling is underlined by an increased push for multipolarity. The challenges to the US-led global system emanate less from competitors vying for space and influence and more from the deficiencies, contradictions and the incapacity of the system itself.

The world order that emerged from the disintegration of the USSR is either unwilling or unable (or both) to prevent the world from courting more chaos, inequality, wars and conflicts. Raging crises – from climate change to the global health emergency to the depleting confidence in the global institutions to deliver goods – can be interpreted as an indictment of the existing world order.

Two most immediate issues of vital importance have served to underline the massive failure of the international community to close ranks and present a united front to save humanity from further misery and turmoil. And it was found wanting both in action and vision.

The spread of the corona pandemic called for concerted global cooperation in terms of sharing valuable data and information, bridging the funding gaps for research and improving the capacity of the frontline global health institutions and the joint strategies for the post-corona economic recovery. What the world got by way of response from the major powers was bickering, mutual accusations reminiscent of the cold-war mentality, and the use of the pandemic to settle political scores.

Likewise, Afghanistan is a classic example of how a people ravaged by foreign and civil wars, occupations and the collapse of state have been left off to fend for themselves – yet again. While the world may have the audacity to ‘wait and watch’ before they can decide what to do next vis-a-vis Afghanistan, the humanitarian crisis in the war-wracked country continues to deepen.

These two examples highlight the absence of global leadership capable of offering solutions to the myriad of challenges that are weighing the rest of the world down.

The above serves to set the context for analysing the important conversations held as part of the TRT World Forum 2021 in Istanbul. The fifth edition of the two-day forum was attended by about 100 national and international experts including academics, journalists, politicians, policy practitioners, and members of the civil society from 30 countries.

Held under the theme of ‘Power and Paradox: Understanding Grand Strategy in the 21st Century’, the forum was divided into nine public sessions, seven expert roundtables and seven ‘special reflections’ sessions. The forum offered participants what the organisers termed a “unique digital experience” shaped by the production of local software that the moderators and guest speakers used to join in virtual studios.

The chief highlight of the TRT World Forum 2021 was an opening speech from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who used the occasion to highlight the state of the world and the need for reform of global institutions. His speech surveyed the global landscape and offered a stinging, yet constructive critique to urge the world leaders to offer corrective vision.

President Erdogan was categorical in his emphasis on the non-representative nature of the world order, stating that “It is impossible for this system to continue in its current structure in which the Islamic world has no say, the demands of Africa, Latin America and South Asia are ignored and only the interests of the five most powerful countries are taken into account.”

According to President Erdogan, the post-world war system has failed to provide “stability and justice” to a large part of the world that increasingly finds itself under-represented and voiceless on issues that concern its future.

Stressing how the world has been betrayed by the lack of cooperation and solidarity, President Erdogan stated without mincing words how “the institutions in charge of ensuring peace, and justice in the world have failed” in the face of a crisis that threatened the future and well-being of all humanity.

He warned against an approach of attributing “five million fatalities to the virus or poor healthcare”, calling such an approach ‘simplistic and flawed’. The problem, according to the Turkish leader, lies in the “existing system which defends the powerful over the vulnerable, supports exploitation over sharing and encourages greed over contentment, [and] is the most crucial reason for the emergence of this picture.”

Describing how Islamophobia and anti-immigration sentiments have spread in Europe “like a cancer”, President Erdogan bemoaned that “rather than confronting the animosity towards Islam which has penetrated like a cancer, European politicians are calculating how to exploit it and turn it into political rent and win votes.”

Delivering a note of optimism, the Turkish leader reiterated his country’s vision for reform of the UN with the theme “the world is bigger than five.” He vowed to continue the struggle for a fairer world, and a rules-based system “on behalf of the oppressed and victims, one “which puts people in the center, prioritises justice and equity and in which rightfulness is [more] powerful than the powerful being right.”

These are critical observations, grounded in the experience of a world order that has increasingly become dysfunctional and lopsided. Those interested in the stability, peace and justice should heed the essence of the arguments as a building block for rethinking the global system.

For a long time, particularly after the unipolar world came into being, the guardians of the present order have operated it with near impunity, imposing a system of democracy, economy and decision-making that has served to undercut the interests of a vast majority of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Bending the global institutions, theoretically meant to be representative, to suit their ulterior designs, influential countries have employed every trick in the book to inflict misery, exploitation, political disempowerment and social backwardness on a hapless humanity.

Aiding this process of ‘neo-colonialism’ has been the unquestioned ability of these countries to weave and peddle narratives couched in moralistic undertones. Even the wars were presented in the ideological frames by the Western governments to acquire legitimacy and ownership of their imperial actions.

However, the persistent nature of the crises means that the present global architecture is busting at the seams and stands exposed as a masquerade used by the bigger powers to achieve their ambitions.

The West’s struggle with its own demons of popular nationalism, xenophobia, white supremacism and a tendency to scapegoat the external institutions and actors for domestic failings has accentuated a crisis of legitimacy for the global order that has served it so well.

Trade wars, politics of alliances and blocs, and the use of IFIs and global institutions to make ‘errant’ countries fall in line are reflective of a mindset mired in the cold-war era. The world will continue to tailspin into chaos as long as those at the helm try to resolve the challenges of the 21st century with an outdated approach.

The message from Istanbul has been one of caution, accountability and mid-course correction. It is not the first time that such a voice has been raised, and it will not be the last as well. Those invested in improving the future and well-being of millions of people across the globe are increasingly coming around to this idea. Every voice matters and brings its own leverage and clarity to the clarion call. Coming from President Erdogan, the message carries significant weight.

Turkey is an important Muslim country and a rising regional power. It clearly has stakes in the way the world functions. The TRT World Forum adds to the chorus of voices, calling for cooperation, not confrontation, as the blueprint for interstate relations as well as a recipe to rebuild the world order. The question to ask is: is anyone listening?


The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

Email: amanatchpk@gmail.com

Twitter: @Amanat222