Strategic Competition: Challenges for Global Power Leaders
by Radu Magdin
This article, as well as this series, is meant for Global Power Leaders or aspiring ones. Whether you a political, business or civil society global operator, the world is changing fast and you need to adjust to the era of strategic competition. Opportunities abound in times of (perceived) crisis and unravelling, but one should analyze first the challenges to make sure one survives and thrives.
Competition has been there forever, the fundamental difference at present is that it’s “official”, it’s embraced by the leadership of the country still enjoying global hegemonic status; at the same time, the new overt competitive mindset (as opposed to the historic penchant for “cooperation/ collaboration” ) triggers power, strategy and communications effects and mutations on the global ecosystem.
In this context, as a Global Power Leader, the main challenge is that you are out of great options — you can no longer have it both ways. As noted recently by the Prime Minister of Singapore in the context of the US-China sparring in the margins of the ASEAN summit, it may be a time of choosing. As everyone started racing unabashedly, all the sides have started calling everyone else out and asking to commit publicly to a camp or the other. Picking sides will be tricky, since interests are not only strategic, or geopolitical, or values based, but also economic and image related, at home and abroad. Do we keep old allies, if not friends, or do we change course and diversify? This is the strategic question, and it involves risks and a price to pay no matter the option chosen, including in terms of moral ascendency.
To add to the challenges, more than ever, you are and will be increasingly bound and dependent on governance and over-regulation. Mostly national or continental (regional or subregional) because, as you may well note, the international legal framework is increasingly contested in terms of efficiency and legitimacy. In an expanding globalising world in which everyone was taking down their borders, everyone focused on capital (financial and human) mobility. Now we are increasingly going towards an age of tie-downs, everyone securing and blocking resources, projects, spare and future capacity to national ambitions. The time for generosity seems over, note the recent reform in various aid for development schemes. Globalization has lost its mojo for its initiators, and the next Davos will have plenty of hot potatoes in dealing with “Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Rebuilding and reframing Globalization is a daunting task, even per se, not to mention in parallel winning hearts and minds for gigantic faster-than-expected technological change.
Add to the challenge list: norms, expertise, and political civility are no longer (common) good(s); they are still practiced, but they are mostly skin deep. So everyone needs to relearn things that have disappeared with the modern age — like intuition, statecraft and long term perspectives. It is also a much more level playing field. In the modern age, whether the industrial age of the 19th century, or post-WW2, there was a tremendous technological, industrial and credibility accumulation on the side of the West. Now you can see a distribution of technology, a speed of mobilisation, and an increasing uncertainty with regard to credibility, all over the globe. On this backdrop, anonymous transactions, market speeds and trust are actually going to factor in as risk, because what may seem good to you now may prove your doom tomorrow. Once again, you will need to know who you strike deals with. And maybe the most difficult part — we will all need to discover new ways, thinking, values, measures of how and who to trust. And I don’t just mean dismissing fake news.
Notably, “Hybrid” is probably something we will all need to do on a daily basis. In a world where economic and commercial rule books have all but been thrown out the window, being agile for developing products and finding financing will be a good thing. And then, we will all need to think like States. Because with the snowballing of industry sectors consolidation we see in some countries, it is plausible to imagine in the medium-term future that we will need multi-continental enterprises (the spree of M&As goes well beyond national champions) and networks in order to “make it”, and no longer just SMEs sequestered in some corner of the world.
It is also very probable that what will keep us up at night will no longer be the financial bottom-line. Those days will be considered luxury soon, when the only thing most people would worry about would be a yes/no question about making a profit daily. The coming decisions and worries will be much more complex, they will lie outside simplistic economic and business theories, and they will be considered as part of a wider complex system. If you think that populist and/or illiberal and/or non-democratic governments around the world are just making it tough for your organisation to operate there because they have some knife to grind, you might need to re-evaluate the situation. Sure, they might have some knife to grind. But primarily, it is because they started looking at every action influencing the state and the population as a complex web of inter-dependencies. So business, or communication, or traveling, or simply buying ads on a platform, is no longer as simple as “just doing business”. It is now scrutinised “just like any other influence operation”. New recipes to deal with this new normal will be precious.
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