Indeed, despite the turbulent transition of the international system, we saw some progress. Relations between the major powers improved significantly and the UN Security Council began to function again. The threat of World War III and nuclear holocaust fizzled and the arms race was halted. Strategic rapprochement – especially among United States, China, Russia – occurred and tensions became manageable. Democracy and open society spread across the globe.
In much of Asia, the guns have been relatively silent – including my country, where peace now reigns in Aceh. The number of conflicts in the world has declined; the majority of them are now within states rather than between states. Indeed, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, for four straight years, between 2003 and 2007, no inter-state conflicts were recorded.
The last thing that we need now is a new chill in the international system. Yet that new chill is being felt with loose talk of a “new Cold War” between Russia and the West following the recent clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
This geostrategic tension, which was fueled earlier by the row over Kosovo’s independence, remains fluid, with potential for expanded confrontation. That chill is also being felt in the UN Security Council.
It is not likely that the world will go back to the ideological divide of the 20th century. The real danger lies in the fact that this chill, if it persists and reverberates throughout the international system, could divert attention and resources from the critical issues of the day.
Already, we are seeing disconcerting signs. Military spending by the United States, Russia and China are at their peak, and, except for Russia, higher than at the end of the Cold War.
Total world military spending has increased rapidly in recent years. Strategic contentions over arms and missiles are resurfacing. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is in jeopardy. There is an evident build-up of mistrust, which makes the risk of geopolitical confrontation more likely.
The international community cannot afford to lose time and focus on defusing the real ticking time bombs: energy, food and climate change. These are the ultimate security threats of our time, and from where we stand now, we are barely scratching the surface.
We need to find a proper balance between oil supply and demand, end our addiction to oil and develop cheaper, low carbon alternative energy sources, so that we can end the skyrocketing oil prices now strangulating the world economy.
On food security, we need to achieve a second green revolution – this time more environment friendly – to boost worldwide food supply to prevent potential socioeconomic and political crises in 33 countries, while helping the 100 million people worldwide from sliding back into poverty.
On climate change, we need to urgently come up with an ambitious post-2012 global scheme so that we can slow and stop global warming to within two degrees Celsius in the next decades. Meanwhile, countries, particularly major emitters, must begin to ambitiously reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
We also need to push harder so that the global Millennium Development Goal targets can be achieved on schedule by 2015.
These are all momentous challenges. They transcend East-West and North-South relations. These hard issues will not be resolved by hard power. They can only be resolved by a collective long-term response, coupled with adequate political will and enormous resources.
The foundations of our security and survival in the 21st century rest upon our success in meeting these challenges.
And certainly none of these challenges can be achieved unless the major powers work together, and demonstrate the leadership that the world expects of them.
The all-powerful forces of globalization do not make geopolitics irrelevant. But the world cannot afford to slip back into the geopolitics of domination, conquest and confrontation of the past.
Instead, what we need is a new geopolitics of cooperation. This new geopolitics must be driven by the imperative to address common challenges. It would focus on strategic cooperation, not confrontation; on building bridges, not divisions; on the spread of soft – not hard – power; and on mutually assured benefits, not mutually assured destruction.
This new geopolitics is not Utopia. We are already seeing it in practice in many instances: in the admirable global response to the tsunami crisis of 2004; in the global struggle against terrorism; in the six-party talks on North Korea, and in the hard-won success of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali last December.
Let us stay on course and complete that journey.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the president of the Republic of Indonesia.
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