Carol Lancaster on Wealth and Power in the New International Order

Carol Lancaster, Interim Dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, was invited to Doha to give a CIRS Distinguished Lecture on the topic of “Wealth and Power in the ‘New International Order.’” Lancaster was introduced by Lamia Adi, a sophomore GU-Q student and President of the DC-Qatar Forum, which fosters inter-cultural dialogue between students on the DC and the Qatar campuses.

In addition to an extensive career in government, Lancaster has been a consultant for the United Nations, the World Bank, and numerous other organizations. She serves on the board of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Vital Voices, the Society for International Development, and the advisory board for Center for Global Development.

Beginning the evening’s lecture, Lancaster said that the “basic message today is that we are living in a slow-moving and fundamental transition in wealth and power in the world, involving changes in the distribution of wealth, a redefinition of power, and challenges to world order.” 

It was necessary, Lancaster argued, to answer three broad questions in order to elaborate upon the reasons for these paradigmatic shifts, including: 1) What was the nature of the “old world order”? 2) What changes have occurred that have contributed to a different world today? and 3) What are the consequences for international balances of power, wealth, and order?

The “old world order,” Lancaster noted, was largely defined as being state-centric; states were the major actors, and had the ability to use their power to effective ends. The two “super powers” of the United States and the Soviet Union that dominated the international scene for many decades of the twentieth century were prime examples. As such, Lancaster argued that one of the markers for the end of the “old world order” could be defined as the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. She added that, to a certain extent, we miss “the certainties and the clarity that made the old world order, if not bearable, at least, understandable and often predictable.” In the “new world order,” Lancaster argued, “the state has not ended and is not going to end. States are still the major actors in the world but military force, as the United States has demonstrated in the last four or five years, is not enough to control events.”

Further, in the “old world order,” wealth across the globe, Lancaster said, was concentrated and imbalanced and still is, to a certain degree, but not as sharply as it was in the past. The hemispheric divides that were characterized by a rich North and a poor South are now being blurred as there has been tremendous economic and social progress in many of the countries that were once considered “Third World” and under-developed. Lancaster argued that “not only has there been progress, but that progress has been enough in some parts of the world so that the old names of ‘the rich North’ and ‘the poor South’ are no longer relevant, and we have a much more diverse world” as a result. This, she maintained, has lead to increasing international economic inter-dependence between nations, which is mostly beneficial, but is also a key factor in the current global economic recessions.

View the presentation from lecture below:

Adumbrating the causes that have lead to these changes, Lancaster said that the most important factors were related to revolutionary advancements in technology; achievements in global education and access to knowledge along with an increase in life expectancy; developments in a country’s capacity that makes full use of its human and natural resources; and growing prosperity that can be considered both an effect and a cause of these factors. Although we think we are living in a time that is marked by various global conflicts, Lancaster said “the data show that the number of conflicts – civil conflicts in particular – have declined since the early 90s” and so the new world order can be largely characterized by relative political stability.

Another major change that will define the “new world order,” Lancaster noted, is related to demography and the changing nature of the world’s population. Current prosperous nations have largely ageing populations, whilst developing countries have youthful populations, which will necessarily shift the entire international economic and social patterns of the future. With an estimated world population of 9 billion in 2050, this will have dramatic effect on resources and climate.

Concluding the lecture, Lancaster argued that globalization in the form of international social and economic integration has been vital to the de-concentration and distribution of wealth and the redefinition and decentralization of power. As a result, we have seen the dynamic emergence and influence of non-state actors, including international organizations – both benevolent and malevolent, informal networks, and individuals connecting with one another across boundaries. There is strength and yet, at the same time, great vulnerability in such an interdependent world.

Dr. Lancaster is Interim Dean of the School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC. She is also a Professor of Politics in the School of Foreign Service with a joint appointment in the Department of Government.

She has been a Carnegie Fellow and a recipient of a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. She has also been a Congressional Fellow, a Fulbright Fellow and a visiting fellow at the Institute for International Economics and (currently) the Center for Global Development.

Dr. Lancaster has also had an extensive career in government. She was the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1993 to 1996. She worked at the U.S. State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1980-81 and for the Policy Planning Staff from 1977-80. In addition, she has been a Congressional Fellow and worked for the Office of Management and Budget.

She has been a consultant for the United Nations, the World Bank and numerous other organizations. She serves on the board of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Vital Voices, the Society for International Development and the advisory board for Center for Global Development.

Article by Suzi Mirgani. Suzi is CIRS Publications Coordinator.