LAUNCHED in 2013 by a new charismatic leader, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become the key pillar of China’s international trade, investment, and development strategy. It envisions a surge in interdependence across more than half the globe through a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure projects—everything from rail, road, port, and air links, to new energy corridors and telecommunications networks.
ITS breathtaking scope and ambition has caused both enthusiasm and anxiety throughout the world. These have been amplified in the aftermath of last year’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, where a “new era” was heralded—with “bringing in” and “going global” presented as integral to the success of BRI and the nation’s rejuvenation. As it strives to become the world’s largest economy again, China has made known that it intends on “moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”
BRI’S implementation will be taking place in the absence of a traditionally conceived global order. We are the contemporaries of what Ian Bremmer calls a G-Zero World—one in which no single country or durable alliance of states proffers a coherent set of ideas or policies that amount to a credible and confident claim to international leadership.
WE bear witness to a growing divergence in the approaches of major powers towards geopolitical challenges. There is also an evident decrease in their appetites and capacities to devote the time, resources, and political capital required to serve as a universal standard-bearer for the provision of global public goods.
NEVERTHELESS, there is still a residual consensus that the preservation of the current international system is not to be brought into peril over any single dispute—regardless of its gravity. It remains to be seen how long this may last, for increasingly acrimonious diplomatic stalemates between major powers are no longer exceptions but a norm. This has opened the way for a growing number of other stakeholders—a diverse group of middle powers and different types of non-state actors—to assert their particular interests and independently pursue their own policies with far fewer restraints than in the past.
OVER the last decade, populist forces have made gains in both established and emerging democracies. One region affected by this trend is the Western Balkans, where in the void created by the EU’s enlargement fatigue local strongmen have started to brutally suppress fundamental rights and freedoms for the sake of maintaining “stability.” The most recent EU Commission communication that cautiously draws attention to authoritarian excesses whilst calling for enhanced engagement with the region could indicate—at long last—the beginning of a change of heart with regards to tolerating what has become known as stabilitocracy.
WE hope that the essays featured in the present edition of Horizons—whether authors consider the Belt and Road Initiative, offer insights on the state of global (dis-)order, or examine the perils of stabilitocracy in the Balkans—will enable us to better apprehend the consequences of the choices made by those who govern in our name.