The Great Convergence: Mahbubani’s Vision at Our Twenty First Century World

Title : The Great Convergence
Author : Kishore Mahbubani
Publisher : Public Affairs
Year : 2013
Genre : Current Events/Politic
Reviewer : Faiza Nur Sabrina

“if we were a passangers on a sinking Titanic, it would be absolutely foolish to rush down to save our cabins when the boat is sinking. If the boat sinks, our cabins will also sink. Hence, to save our cabins, we have to save the boat”.

As the horizons of the 21st century began to rise, we all know well that our world has changed dramatically and significantly. A thousand years ago, humanity might have lived in a various tribes, cultures and civilizations. But for the past few decades, until today, the massive forces that lead humanity towards globalization make us live in a more complex and inextricably interconnected world. What we are witnessing today is nothing, but a great convergence.

The core of this book is to provide a ground basis of understanding on how our world has changed, and proposing theory and solutions for improving the global institutional order. In this book, Mahbubani also diagnose some basic problem regarding geopolitical issue, suggesting for a serious reform in the body of international organizations and how to handle some critical global issue. Mahbubani brings up some of the fact about global irrationality and contradictions that had been gone unnoticed but seriously damaging how our world worked. Mahbubani also give some of his analysis about challenges in convergence of the world, and addressing some solutions to make the world a better place for living. His idea is clear, as he mentioned in this book: “we are all sailing on the same global ship”. Seven billions of Earth’s inhabitant live in a separate cabins (nations) on the same boat (world). As we sail to the uncertain currents of 21st century and so forth, we need a new rules and capability to keep the boat stay afloat, without trying to be selfish in saving our own cabin.

This book is divided into seven chapter. At the beginning, Mahbubani started by inciting our understanding about humanity as a whole and how we successfully creating a new global civilization. In his notion, there are several issue that showed major changes that human has experience since the history began. From wars, poverty, education, economic, politic and science, all showing the positive trends toward a better condition. The spirit of humanity is embraced everywhere, passing off race, religion, language and culture, creating more equal moral worth for each human being. Humanity start to improve their quality of living standards and begin to recognize the importance of cooperation between countries in many areas. Those issue indicate that human begin to create the consensus of norms that is used widely and globally. These rising conscious create a more peaceful and prosperous world embracing all humanity.

And because of those major rising consciousness that happening today, the world we live in is not separated as it was, but united as one world. But being united as one world doesn’t always mean a good thing. There are still abundance of work that human must solve in facing many global challenges. Mahbubani listed four key pillars of convergence, that has also been a collective mattes: environment, economic, technology and aspiration. The growing awareness of global warming problem, for example, need coordinated global action to tackle the challenges. The global economy activity such manufacturing and international trade has made global interdependence inevitable, as the only way for a country to grow and prosper is to open up their economies. The use of technology and its impact on human consciousness, has dramatically changed the nature of human interaction. And as the result of interdependence, human now have a common set of aspirations, that are greater than cultural or ethnic aspirations. And that is why the world need a theory of one world to face global challenges, because the present global theory has not yet keep up with global practice happening today.

Global challenges, has always been a concern of our global civilizations, but most of us rely mostly on global institutions such United Nations (UN) and western power – believing that they have a strong influence in politic, economy and social issue. Western country, especially United States have been enjoying its domination as the leader of the world. But along with the UN, America – who had been fortified itself as protector of the world – unfortunately failed itself in many areas. From the strict control in UN system and budgeting, weakening the WHO, using IAEA as a pawn of America’s national interest, the dictatorial power of P5 and many other irrationality in global institutions. Not much of us pay attention to these crucial issue, and interestingly, despite of those poor management, most of citizens of the world put their high trust in UN and perceiving that UN did a good deeds. This can be a violation to all people who believe that the world is going to be better with UN as the leader. The inequality of power between nations inside the UN make the policy only serving those who have a stronger power such western nations. But as Mahbubani argue, that in this 21st century, western countries are not the leader anymore. They now aligned with the rest of the world in a small global village. Western nations should at the end share their power, rather than being exclusively monopoly the power.

The forces that lead the world into convergence is also produce some contradictions. The phase of human history now exist in a completely different era, where we are pushed together in close proximity in an ever-shrinking global village. Clearly, there will be many disruptive events as we move ahead. In this part, Mahbubani demonstrated numbers of contradictions and the reason why we have to understand them well. From the contradiction between global and national interest (which one should be served first), the inequality of power between the west and the rest, tension between America and the emerging power country such China and India, misunderstanding in religion (Islam versus the West), the great global warming and the rising number of global consumer to contradiction between state and nonstate actors on the world stage. As humanity grow more complex, there will be more contradiction, and the key to succeed in the world of so many contradiction is to use and master it.

The ever shrinking global village is also leaving a problem in geopolitics. Contemporary geopolitic put two forces: cooperation and competition in interplay. The most obvious geopolitic relationship today might be between America and China. From ‘love and hate’ relationship between them, the fear of becoming number two, to how their policies are affecting the world. Despite the tensions between the world’s greatest power (America) and the world’s greatest emerging power (China), the geopolitical relationship between two major rising power country: China and India is also the one that we should take into account. It forecasted that in 2050, China and India will be at the top of the world’s economic. Here, Mahbubani identify the competitive and collaborative elements, as well as what common long-term interests and challenges those two nation should resolve. The next important geopolitical relationship is probably between Islam and the West. A thousand years of distrust and conflict between Israel and Palestine is long come into world stage and need a concrete resolution. But beside the potential problems between the west and the emerging power country, the miracle of geopolitic has happened in Southeast Asia. Even if it was the most troubled region in the time after World War II, now Southeast Asia is emerge as the most stable and promising region in the entire developing country. The formation of ASEAN in 1967 helped Southeast Asia country to rise – politically and economically – and even make Northeast Asia region such China, Japan and Korea joining the cooperation with ASEAN. These all shows that more and more nations are experiencing the importance of interdependence like never before.

The good news about convergence is, that more and more people who live outside the west are having the same idea of peacefull and prosperous lives, that majority of western citizens have enjoyed. But the idea of equality between the west and the rest is not simply being accepted by the west. There are still many reluctant, especially because most of the time the west still had an unconscious assumption that they are remain a superior civilization. The idea that the west is benevolent in the world stage is also merely a myth, Mahbubani said. Obviously the west has been doing a lot of good things, but they are also done not a little harm too. From western domination, illegal war in Iraq and Afghanistan to violence of human rights. Ironically, one of the source of those myth is on the foreign aid it gives to the world. The false of generousity the west had shown can be seen in the act of OECD and IMF while giving an aid to the poor country. From corruption and bad aid system, the aid is only serve the interest of the west and ignore the needs of the recipient country. In the end, the aid had done a lot of harm rather than helping people get a better life. In the age of convergence, American exceptionalism is become a destabilizing anarchonism.

In the last chapter, Mahbubani talked about the lack in global institution and therefore proposing the idea of global governance. In the world that experiencing convergence, the need of global governance is inevitable. The aim is to create a strong global village councils which can serves the interest – not only the west – but the world as a whole. The lack of reformation on global institutions for the past decades (such as UN, ad hoc group and multilateral organization) will eventually make them lost their legitimacy by not representing the views of the majority of the world’s population. With the misuse of the Veto Rights, distortion on P5 country and the weakening of UN Security Council are violating both the rule of law on international level and the institution itself. The war on national interest is also adding some notion about the neglection from the member of global institution to a greater interests. Therefore, Mahbubani proposed for fundamental reform in UNSC which he named as 7-7-7 formula (consist of 7 permanent seats, 7 semipermanent seats and 7 elected seats and can be reviewed every ten years). With 7-7-7 formula, the UNSC is considered to be more functional, representing and democratic than before.

At the end of the day, its all about momentum where our lives will entirely affected by the decisions made all across the planet. And for now, we can clearly begin to see and feel it. The great changes and problems that the world share today are definitely require a global management from all nations. Global governance might be the solutions, though the realization is still impossible to do nowadays (it’s not possible to have a single president for the world) but the idea to reform and renew our present global institutions is very possible to do, and it only require us to be less selfish. And as Mahbubani put the closing statements in this book: “in the next few decades, we will increasingly realize that our village is a world and not that our world is a village”.

About the Author:
Kishore Mahbubani is a writer, professor and former Singaporean diplomat who served twice as ambassador to the UN. Currently, he is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He has published three books and articles in leading global journals and newspapers like Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy and the Financial Times. Foreign Policy listed him as one of the top 100 global thinkers in 2005, 2010 and 2011.

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