World disorder and Pakistan

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Javid Husain*

*The writer is a former ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs. This essay is an adapted version of Chapter 2 of his book, “Pakistan and a World in Disorder—A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century”, which was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan from New York.

Pakistan’s policy makers are faced with the daunting challenge of crafting state policies in the best interests of the country keeping in view the growing disorder and anarchy in international relations in the 21st century. It is critically important for Islamabad to understand the characteristics of the emerging global and regional security environment and its implications for Pakistan to be able to formulate policies which would safeguard its security, promote its economic well-being, and preserve its cultural identity in the turbulent times to come. Pakistan must also draw the right lessons from its past experience in coming to grips with the challenges of the largely anarchic world of the twenty-first century. A partial rather than a comprehensive approach to policy making has been a major flaw from which Pakistan’s policy making process has suffered grievously in the past. This flaw of a partial approach in policy formulation basically reflects the absence of the concept and practice of a grand strategy that should bring into a coherent whole the country’s political, economic, security, and diplomatic policies. The need of the hour for Pakistan is a grand strategy which takes into account the salient features of the global and regional security environment, learns from the country’s past experience, and develops a well -thought -out synthesis of political, economic, security, and diplomatic policies to overcome the challenges confronting it.

Salient features of the World disorder

The end of the Cold War generated unrealistic hopes of a new world order based on justice, fair play, and the principles of the UN Charter and international law. Later events belied these hopes as realpolitik prevailed upon idealism in the US foreign policy and the foreign policies of other major world powers. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the sole superpower. It was inevitable that the US would use the unipolarity for establishing and strengthening its global hegemony. An important Pentagon planning document leaked to the press in 1992 had the following to say on the overarching US strategic goal in the post-Cold War global scenario: “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival…..that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union……Our strategy must now focus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”1 However, the US-dominated unipolarity proved to be a short-lived phenomenon. Washington’s drive for global hegemony was soon challenged by emerging powers.

The world of the 21st century is in quest of a new equilibrium among the various centers of power, which would establish a rule-based order designed to promote peace, stability, justice, and human progress. Unfortunately, the experience of the two decades and a half since the end of the Cold War shows that mankind is far from that goal. Instead of an equilibrium, we witness a growing challenge to the existing US-led and West-dominated world order from the emerging powers, particularly China, and a re- assertive Russia. The emergence of a multipolar world with several centers of power to check and balance one another may provide, in due course of time, the required equilibrium and stability in international relations. However, it is debatable whether even this equilibrium would ensure justice and fair play in international relations. For a world order to be stable, peaceful, just, and progressive, we require not only equilibrium among the various centers of power but also the rewriting of international rules so that they are seen as just and fair by the participants of the international system and accommodate changes necessary for human progress. In other words, there has to be the right balance between power and principles. Unfortunately, the world currently is far from that ideal.

Second, major world powers have exhibited a tendency to resort to unilateralism in blatant disregard of the principles of international law and the UN Charter when dealing with strategically important issues of war and peace. The US invasion of Iraq of 2003 is a case in point. This, of course, is not the only instance where principles have been sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik. Several other major world powers have been equally guilty of disregard of the principles of international law in handling world affairs since the end of the Cold War. A relevant example is the way the European powers handled the Bosnian crisis in the 1990’s. Third, the absence of a world government and the weakened authority of the UN in dealing with important world security issues have served to aggravate the perception of anarchy and the trend towards unilateralism in international relations.

Fourth, justice and fair play have been the least of the considerations guiding the conduct of the major world powers in dealing with external affairs. The denial of justice to the Palestinians and the Kashmiris in their struggle for independence from the military occupation of Israel and India respectively substantiates this tendency. With the growing world disorder, this trend is likely to gather strength and realpolitik would trump idealism in the foreseeable future. Finally, major world powers have generally failed to rise above narrow national considerations in disregard of the progress and welfare of mankind at large, especially in dealing with such global issues as climate change and international trade. President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change is the latest instance of ignoring the interests of the international community as a whole. In view of all of these factors, disorder rather than order and realpolitik rather than principles would increasingly characterize international relations in the foreseeable future. This would be especially true in the consideration of strategically important security issues.

The End of History

Several theses have been presented by various scholars to describe the current trends in the present international system. In the exuberance of the victory over communism in the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy might constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” and as such constituted “the end of history.”2 This point was contested by others who were not prepared to concede that the evolutionary process in human history and ideology had come to an end. Indeed, past experience and the elements of competition and desire for recognition in human beings suggest that the process of evolution will continue indefinitely to propel mankind to new and unimaginable heights. It is inconceivable that the process of ideological evolution or the evolution of the art of government will remain immune from the general evolution of mankind.

In particular, it is hard to believe that the liberal democracies have achieved internally the ideal combination of liberty, egalitarianism, justice, rule of law, and progress that the governments should aim at. As noted by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their article “The State of the State—The Global Contest for the Future of Government”,3 the modernizing authoritarianism pursued by Asian countries such as China and Singapore poses a serious challenge to the concept of liberal democracy in the crafting of the best kind of state and the best system of government. Externally, liberal democracies motivated by economic greed and quest for power and hegemony, exhibited during the colonial period but also during the post-Cold War era, have failed to achieve the ideals of international peace, justice, and progress.

The moral is that being a liberal democracy is no guarantee that a country would not embark upon acts of aggression or engage in acts in violation of the principles of international law or the UN Charter when its perceived strategic interests so demand. Representative institutions in modern democracies do constitute a substantial advance over other forms of government so far known to mankind. But there is no justification for the claim that with them the ideological competition among nations has come to an end. The best of mankind, ideologically speaking, is still ahead.

Clash of Civilizations

Samuel Huntington put forward the thesis in his article “The Clash of Civilizations?”4 that “the central and the most dangerous dimension of the emerging politics would be conflict between groups from different civilizations”. The point was elaborated later in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, published in 1996.5 The thesis that clashes between civilizations would be the greatest threat to world peace in the post-Cold War world undoubtedly has some validity as a close analysis of the Bosnian crisis, the Palestinian issue and the Kashmir dispute would reveal. Some of the ideas and policies supported by President Trump and neocons also substantiate Huntington’s thesis. There is no doubt that cultural self-identity which leads to identifying “others” as enemies is a powerful driving force behind many important developments in contemporary global politics. It, therefore, helps in understanding international politics as it is rather than as it ought to be. However, Huntington’s prognosis of global politics may be too deterministic as it underestimates the importance of universalistic ideas, tendencies, and developments in international politics as part of the process of globalization and as propagated by great religions and philosophers with emphasis on human brotherhood and the common destiny of mankind. Further, the danger is that Huntington’s thesis may become the basis of encouraging policies that ignite or aggravate inter-civilizational conflicts with catastrophic consequences for mankind. Huntington’s thesis, therefore, carries the risk of self-fulfilling prophecy.

In short, policy makers need to make use of Huntington’s diagnosis of global politics with great care and caution. On the one hand, they must take into account the possibility that inter-civilizational differences and disputes may be responsible for some of the international conflicts and tensions. On the other, they need to take into account the impact of the process of globalization, the growing interdependence of states, and the message of human brotherhood taught by great religions and philosophers on the global security environment. In any case, there is definitely a need to steer humanity towards dialogue, understanding, and cooperation away from inter-civilizational conflicts in the interest of global peace, stability, and progress.

The reality is that no single thesis is able to capture fully the complexity of the post-Cold War era or of the world in the twenty-first century. Instead it would be useful to highlight the salient features of the contemporary world to understand the complex nature of the global politics of the current century. Some of those features have been mentioned in earlier paragraphs. But the following features of the global security environment deserve a little more elaborate treatment.

Gradual Erosion of the US Global Domination

The US emerged as the sole super power with global reach at the end of the Cold War. However, in retrospect this development proved to be a “unipolar moment” in the onward march of human history. There is no doubt that the US still remains the most powerful state in the world in military terms. Its military expenditure, estimated to be over US$ 600 billion, surpasses by far the military expenditure of other great powers. No other country, including China, comes even close to the US annual military expenditure. The US also enjoys a formidable lead over other countries in military technology, the sophistication and effectiveness of its weapons and military equipment, and the global reach of its military forces.

But the overall power balance changes to the disadvantage of the US if one takes into account economic power. The US economy with a GDP of approximately US$18.6 trillion in 20166 was the world’s largest and accounted for roughly 25% of the world’s total output. But there were also other centers of economic power such as China, Japan, European Union, Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Korea, and South Africa. The combined GDP of the EU countries amounted to US$ 16.4 trillion in 2016. China was the country with the second largest economy in the world in nominal dollar terms in that year with a GDP of US$ 11.2 trillion. Japan with GDP of US$4.9 trillion occupied the third position in world ranking in 2016.7 According to some estimates, China’s GDP would surpass that of the US in nominal terms by 2030.8 According to IMF, the Chinese economy in PPP terms surpassed the US in 2014. IMF estimates also indicate that in 2017 China’s GDP in PPP terms would be US$ 23.2 trillion as against US$ 19.4 trillion for the US.9 So in economic terms the balance of power is steadily shifting against the US. This in due course will reflect itself in the balance of military power as China rapidly increases its military expenditure in an effort to catch up with the US. While the year 2030 would be a critical year for the shift in the balance of the world economic power, 2050 would witness a similar change in favor of China and to the disadvantage of the US in the balance of military power if the current projections hold. The time lag of 20 years is approximately the period in which China can be expected to translate its economic ascendancy into its military prowess.

Even if one takes into account the enormous advantage that the US enjoys in soft power and the addition to its strength because of its network of alliances in different parts of the world, the overall long-term trend is toward a multipolar world in the twenty-first century. Other poles besides the US such as China, the EU, Japan, India, Russia, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, and Turkey will play an increasingly important role in international politics in the years to come because of their high levels of economic development and the increase in their military capabilities. There will be a corresponding decline in the overall relative power and influence of the US, particularly in the second half of the current century.

The Primacy of Power Politics and the Dominant Position of the West

It is worth reiterating that a salient feature of the current international system is the primacy of power politics as against the principles of the UN Charter and international law. The positions of major world powers on strategically important issues are increasingly dictated by the compulsions of power politics rather than the recognized principles of inter-state conduct. In such matters, the authority of the UN has been greatly reduced as evidenced by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the absence of any UN Security Council resolution authorizing it. The enunciation of the US doctrine of unilateral and pre-emptive military intervention in 2002 was another example of the same tendency. Pending the establishment of a just new world order based on recognized principles of inter-state conduct, the prospect for which is rather bleak in the foreseeable future, power will remain the ultimate arbiter of international strategic issues of peace and security.

In the prevailing environment, the West led by the US enjoys considerable advantage over the rest of the world. The combined GDP of the US and other Western countries accounts for almost 55% of the global GDP. The military power of the NATO countries is unrivalled. They also exercise enormous influence worldwide in cultural fields. Their advantage in soft power is a valuable addition to their superiority in economic and military fields. Therefore, despite the emergence of new centers of power, the West under the leadership of the US plays the most influential role in determining the international agenda as well as the rules of interstate behavior in political, security, economic, cultural, humanitarian, and environmental fields. Western countries naturally use their national power and their influence in multilateral institutions to safeguard their national interests. While so doing, they, in view of the anarchic nature of the current international environment as pointed out earlier and as elaborated by John J. Mearsheimer in his widely acclaimed book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,10 are guided more by the principles of realpolitik rather than by the rules of international law or the principles of the UN Charter, particularly in the consideration of strategic issues of security and economy.

Undoubtedly, the long-term trend is towards greater dispersal of power in the international system as China gains the top positions in economic and later in military terms and as other centers of power emerge in the world. However, this transformation will take place gradually over a fairly long period of time leading ultimately to inevitable consequential changes and adjustments in the global and regional security and economic environment.

International Terrorism and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass destruction

From the point of view of global security, issues of international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), particularly nuclear weapons, have been raised by Western countries to the top of the international agenda because they see in them not just a threat to international peace and stability but, more importantly, the germs of a latent or long-term threat to their world supremacy. There cannot be two opinions about the necessity of fighting and eliminating the menace of international terrorism defined as the indiscriminate use of violence against innocent civilians. However, it is not enough merely to rely on the use of brute force to overcome the monster of international terrorism. It is imperative that side by side with the use of force against terrorists, steps should also be taken to eliminate the root causes of international terrorism. In many cases, this problem can be traced to policies of aggression and foreign occupation followed by imperial powers, denial of the right to self-determination of the people under foreign or alien occupation, economic injustice and deprivation due to the unjust exploitation of the economic resources of a country by foreign powers, blatant cultural discrimination, flagrant violation of human rights, repressive regimes denying political freedoms to their people, and extremist ideologies.

The need of the hour is for the international community to adopt a comprehensive strategy covering political, economic, military, and cultural policy dimensions to deal with the threat of international terrorism. Reliance on the use of force alone for eradicating international terrorism so far has not produced satisfactory results as the experience of Western countries in the Middle East shows quite clearly. Instead it has aggravated this problem and expanded the radius of its activities. There are no signs yet that the West is ready to adopt a more sophisticated and nuanced strategy employing military, political, economic, and cultural instruments of policy in combating international terrorism. If anything, the emphasis on fighting the symptoms of terrorism is likely to increase to the neglect of dealing with its root causes.

The issue of the proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction is an example of the lack of sincerity and double standards of the Western countries in dealing with security issues that have serious implications for the whole world. As far as the issue of proliferation of nuclear weapons is concerned, the nuclear-weapon states, despite the clear provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have failed to implement fully their obligations to make progress towards nuclear disarmament. At the same time, it has been their expectation that non-nuclear-weapon states would continue to refrain from the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons as provided for under NPT. It seems from the conduct of nuclear-weapon states that the real purpose of NPT was to retain their monopoly of nuclear weapons so as to perpetuate a state of nuclear apartheid and maintain their global domination militarily and politically. The nuclear-weapon states have also violated their obligations under NPT to facilitate international cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Instead, new restrictions have been imposed in various ways such as the formation of Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to prevent non-nuclear-weapon states from benefitting fully from the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Further, on the pretext of preventing nuclear proliferation, the Third World countries have been denied the possibility of acquiring nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.

The lack of uniformity of the US and other Western countries in dealing with the issue of nuclear non-proliferation is also evident from the way in which they connived in the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons by Israel. In addition, their agreement, under the US persuasion, to engage in nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes with India, which delivered a severe blow to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime through its nuclear explosions of 1998, while denying the same facility to Pakistan which carried out nuclear explosions subsequently merely to restore the strategic balance in South Asia. It is doubtful that the US-led West in the foreseeable future would reconsider its stance in dealing with the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, which is motivated by power politics rather than principles.

 Importance of Economic Power

The importance of economic and technological strength in the calculation of a country’s national power and in the realization of its national goals cannot be over-emphasized, especially in the modern knowledge-driven world. The Soviet Union collapsed not because of the shortage of conventional and nuclear weapons but mainly because its weak economy could not sustain the enormous burden of its strategic commitments and heavy military super-structure. It was a classic case of strategic overstretch. As Henry Kissinger noted, “Four decades of imperial expansion in all directions could not be sustained on the basis of an unworkable economic model”.11 Economic and technological development is not only an indispensable condition for a country’s economic well-being but also an important source of strength to its military power and an essential ingredient in the calculus of its national security, especially in any long-term military contest.

Paul Kennedy elaborated at length the importance of the relative economic rise and fall of a Great Power in determining in the long run its growth and decline as an important military power in his seminal book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. He underscored that “there is detectable a causal relationship between the shifts that have occurred over time in the general economic and productive balances and the position occupied by individual Powers in the international system.”12 Ideally, at the initial stages of its development, a country should assign a higher priority to the growth of its economic and technological strength than to building up its military power because a sound military superstructure can be built up only on the solid foundation of economic prowess. Reversing the order of priorities can lead a country to disastrous consequences.

Implications for Pakistan

Pakistan is, thus, faced with an anarchic and extremely competitive global security environment marked by the domination of power politics over principles of international law, the diminished authority of the UN on strategic issues of war and peace, civilizational fault-lines, primacy of economic power, importance of science and technology in the present knowledge-based world in determining the power of states and its growth, the trends towards globalization and the formation of regional economic groupings, the rise of new powers like China demanding the accommodation of their interests in the international system, and the resultant shifting alliances. It is this “world in disorder” with an unpredictable and inhospitable international environment, in which Pakistan has to operate to safeguard its security and attain the goal of economic prosperity so that its people may realize their full potential.

Pakistan needs to evolve a grand strategy which synthesizes its political, economic, security, and diplomatic policies into a coherent whole to overcome the challenges of the 21st century and safeguard and promote its national interests. The analysis of the largely anarchic international system and the growing world disorder leads one to the following policy recommendations for Pakistan:

  • In view of the growing anarchy and disorder in the international system, Pakistan in the ultimate analysis has to depend on its own national power to safeguard its national interests. Pakistan must accord the highest priority to the goal of rapid economic development while maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments.
  • For supporting the supreme goal of rapid economic growth, Pakistan must adopt a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy with the objective of defusing tensions in relations with its neighbors and reducing the risk of the outbreak of a major armed conflict. In such a scenario, Pakistan would be able to devote maximum possible resources to the massive task of rapid economic growth. It goes without saying that the goal of rapid economic growth would be frustrated by wars and major armed conflicts. Wars are costly affairs consuming huge amounts of resources, which should instead be allocated to economic development.
  • In the modern knowledge-based world, it is imperative that Pakistan accords high priority to education, particularly to science and technology, through allocating resources to these sectors which are far above the UNESCO norm of 4% of GDP. In the past, Pakistan has hardly allocated 2% of its GDP to the education sector.
  • Pakistan’s current national saving and investment rates at about 13% and 16% of GDP respectively are extremely low in comparison with the corresponding rates of the countries which have achieved high economic growth rates. In the case of Pakistan, they must be raised to 30% of GDP or above in the interest of rapid economic growth. The adoption of the policy of austerity at the national level is a must for raising the national saving rate and mobilizing the resources required for a high rate of national investment which in turn would accelerate economic growth.
  • The Government of Pakistan at federal and provincial levels needs to reform the taxation system to raise the revenues required for economic development, social welfare, defense, and other administrative requirements. The tax-to-GDP ratio must at least be 25% or above as against the current low level of 13% approximately.
  • India, in the foreseeable future, would continue to pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s security. Pakistan needs to build up its national power and develop a system of alliances to safeguard its security and promote its economic well-being. In contrast with the situation in the Cold War when Pakistan was closely allied with the US, Washington is now gravitating towards New Delhi to counter the expansion of China’s power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. The development of Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China, based on the convergence of the strategic interests of the two countries, is a must for safeguarding its vital national interests in this era of shifting alliances. The CPEC agreement involving over $56 billion of Chinese investment in Pakistan over the next few years is a landmark event in the strengthening of Pakistan-China strategic partnership. At the same time, as far as possible we should try to maintain friendly relations and cooperation with the US in various fields in view of its pre-eminent position globally and its vast economic and military power.
  • Pakistan must also strengthen its friendly relations with Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other important Muslim countries to enhance its strategic clout.
  • Pakistan should take all possible steps to resolve its problems with Afghanistan in an amicable manner so as to strengthen peace and stability in that neighboring country and develop Pakistan-Afghanistan friendly relations.
  • In view of the negative role of India in SAARC, we should downgrade it it in our calculations and assign higher priority to ECO for regional cooperation purposes.
  • Islamabad should adopt a long-term policy of building up bridges of understanding and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. Keeping in view the emerging strategic trends, our decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was a step in the right direction.


The linchpin of Pakistan’s grand strategy, taking into account the national situation and the security environment at the regional and global levels, should be assigning the top priority to the goal of rapid economic growth and subordinating everything else to the attainment of this supreme national objective. This would require single-minded focus on and maximum possible allocation of resources to the task of economic development. However, this would be possible only if we have peace in our neighborhood and avoid a major armed conflict allowing us to allocate the lion’s share of our resources to economic development while maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments. This in turn would require us to pursue a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy. Over-ambitious foreign policy goals should be avoided so that we do not fall into the trap of strategic overstretch and exhaustion in which we are caught at present. We will also have to strengthen ourselves by entering into alliances with like-minded countries to safeguard our security.


1- “Excerpts from Pentagon’s Plan: Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival,” The New York Times, 8 March 1992.

2- Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?”, The National Interest, 16, Summer 1989, pp. 3-18; Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York, NY: Avon Books, 1992), p.xi

3- John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, “The State of the State—The Global Contest for the Future of Government”, Foreign affairs, July-August, 2014 issue.

4- Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993 issue.

5- Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1997).

6- World Economic Outlook Database, IMF, 18 April, 2017.

7- Ibid.

8- PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), “The BRICS and Beyond: Prospects, Challenges and Opportunities,” World in 2050, January, 2013

9- “Report for Selected Country Groups and Subjects (PPP valuation of country GDP)”, IMF, April 2017.

10- John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2001).

11- Henry Kissinger, World Order (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2014), p.313

12- Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York, NY: Vintage Random House, 1987), p. xxii