Power shifts in the world are already affecting us

Recently I participated in the JCI Willemstad panel discussion Peace is Possible. My intervention was based on power shifts in the world that make peace difficult to attain.

Undeniably power is shifting from the US and Europe to Asia. Horizontal power shifts like these are not new however. We’ve seen power shift from Persia to Alexander the Great, from Greece to Rome and Europe to the US. What’s different this time is that power isn’t moving from one center to another center (or a bipolar US-USSR system). Rather, power is being redistributed among many players. Gone are the days of one superpower as we see alternative power centers building up in China, India and Brazil, among others. 

Totally new is that as the above-mentioned horizontal shifts are taking place, power that traditionally belonged to nation states is moving to a virtual global space. Think of this space as a digital environment in which individuals, groups and organizations interact, shop, create, innovate and design virtually instead of doing this in a physical environment. Internet, satellite communication, data, private information, shoppers, traders, financiers, speculators and designers all now live in a virtual space. 

Before this shift it went without saying that these activities were subjected to local regulations, rules of law, public prosecutors and courts. Yet, in this virtual space this is not the case. People here can act almost without constraint. The problem arrises when justice and courts realize that enforcing claims against those committing infractions come from places where laws differ widely from one to another.  Suddenly we realize that activities worth USD trillions are beyond the reach of Central Banks and Financial Intelligence Units. Enforcing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), consumer rights, privacy laws, tax laws among others becomes a major cause of concern for citizens, IPR owners and local governments as they realize that a great deal of power that used be encased by nation-states is now gone. 

This virtual space is also populated by the things national governments have spent great amount of time to regulate or eliminate like hate speech, intolerance, fake news, hacking, stalking, international criminality, terrorism and interference in elections, just to name a few. This trend is being accelerated by the social media platform. It has proven difficult to ensure accountability since users of social media usually consent to terms and conditions of the social media companies which give them a legitimate right to collect, share and use such data.

The migration of power will have consequences for everyone, also Curaçao. We must realize that peace and security is not about having the strongest army, the best police force or finest court system. We’ve seen that even if you are the most powerful nation on earth, nevertheless, those bad people who inhabit that global space can attack your city on a sunny September day.

One of the challenges of our time is to bring rule of law to the virtual global space. In my master’s thesis I argued for a United Nations code of conduct for multinational corporations (see the Swiss journal World Competition June 1991) because unregulated international trade gave multinationals -many with budgets larger than medium-size countries- a free pass to commit many abuses in Third World Countries of which the Nestlé’s Baby Killer Case, was perhaps the most abhorrent. Today the risks associated with globalization go beyond mere codes of conduct.

As a small island we are particularly vulnerable. Our actions are neither confined to itself, nor is it sufficient for us to control our own territory. We may already have or plan to legislate local laws against hate speech, fake news or election meddling, but we’re without defense if those perpetrating these actions operate beyond our shores, in global spaces.

In spite of obvious limited financial and administrative resources we need to actively participate in and pursue treaty-based organizations to ensure that the rule of law governs the relations between States of all sizes. We must realize that we can’t continue to not comply with the World Trade Organization and not ascending to Kyoto Protocol (both are examples of treaty-based platforms).

The most important thing we can do is to find out what we can do with others. Our capacity to network with others will determine how successful we are. We’ll have to do deal with people with whom we do not not always share their values, but with whom, we share common interests. We are now interlocked in a way which has never been the case before. In the past we’d call the Minister of Justice about security issues. Now we’d want to talk to the Minister of Health because of pandemic disease, the Minister of Telecommunication because of a threat of cyber warfare, and the Minister of Governance because of election meddling.

This brings me to the last point. Our government is constructed based on vertical hierarchy and specialization of tasks. This is the wrong type of structure to have. We need to network externally with others, but perhaps more importantly we need to network horizontally within our own government.


Willemstad, Curaçao

#virtualspace, #curacao, #multinationals, #peaceispossible, #jci

Author: alexdavidrosaria

Alex Rosaria is from Curaçao. He has a MBA from University of Iowa. He was Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and United Nations Development Programme Officer in Africa and Central America. He is an independent consultant active in Asia and the Pacific.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s