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Resetting the balance of power

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 10:05 UK time, Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The north-eastern United States is the place to be this week if you're a world leader.

The World TonightHeads of government from around the globe are gathering at their annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York to discuss climate change and efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

Then the leaders of the G20 nations go on to Pittsburgh for another summit on how to restore the global economy to health and prevent a repetition of last year's financial crisis.

The rapid emergence of the G20 - the world's 19 biggest economies plus the European Union - as the organisation making the key decisions on the global economy is really an acceleration of a shift in the global balance of power that has been taking place over the past decade.

The rapid economic growth of China - which is set to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy - as well as India and Brazil, and the stabilisation of the Russian economy on the back of higher energy prices, means the relative power of these countries has increased at the expense of the established economic power houses of the United States and the European Union.

President LulaThis shift was highlighted by an apparently amused Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was quoted following the last G20 summit in London in April, saying "Don't you find it very chic that Brazil is lending to the IMF? I spent part of my youth carrying banners against the IMF in downtown Sao Paulo".

President Lula, a former trade union leader, was referring to the period a few decades ago when Brazil faced a debt crisis and was dependent on IMF loans. Now Brazil is contributing to the IMF to help stabilise the world economy.

In addition to the new central role of the G20, over the past few months we have also seen the US and Russia making up after their serious falling out over missile defence in Europe, the expansion of NATO and Russia's brief war with Georgia just over a year ago. What the Americans have called 'pressing the reset button'.

The question we're considering on the World Tonight this week is to what extent these dramatic changes are a direct result of the financial crisis and the deep recession that has struck the developed world and spread around the globe?

In a special edition of the programme on Wednesday broadcast from the prestigious American think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, Ritula Shah will be asking a panel of experts from the council to what extent the convulsions in the world economy have caused the shift in the balance of power and whether the change is permanent.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.


  • Comment number 1.

    The 20th century power zone clustered around the atlantic - old colonial powers + USA - is declining fast. It happened before this current downturn.

    It reminds me a bit of some theories about the decline of the Roman empire. People with massive power, wealth, an amazing standard of living. Then they just get so complacent and decadent they think its all their's by right. After a while they realise they dont have it anymore.

    I went across the humber bridge the other day - used to be the biggest in the world. Anyone on here think we will ever build anything like that again in the enviro-panicked, disunited kingdom??

    What about China? Any have one have any DOUBT that they will build things like that?

    The power shifted some time ago - some people just haven't realised.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can we expect the usual awful coverage of G20 protests? i.e. The usual focus on the few troublesome protesters (e.g. "protesters threw missiles") while simultaneously disguising police violence with phrases such as "police scuffled with protesters".

    Even when evidence of unnecessary use of the truncheon emerges, phrases such as "wildly swinging batons" are still avoided. The BBC reserves such emotive terms for reports on protests from countries like Iran.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think someone made a point about climate change responsibility before on these blogs. Do national boundaries make much sense if most of the goods manufactured in China for example go to other countries anyway, isn't the ultimate consumer responsible in some way?

  • Comment number 4.

    Mr Burnett

    Perhaps your opening comments should have paid more attention to how the US has retained its power for so long on the back of its nuclear arsenal, its control of the UN and other "world" bodies, and its superior arms trading businesses. Arms aside its trading record has hardly been "good" and the world recession has been testimony to the lazy and indulgent attitude to the money markets by western countries.

    When the system is rigged in your favour it is easy to stay ahead of the game. Now the ball game has different rules and increasingly tougher opponents. Let us hope they are fairer opponents than the US has been.

  • Comment number 5.

    The problem with the G20 is that though their meetings are highly publicised to give the public the impression that they are acting to address environmental issues like global warming and climate change, very little actually happens.It's more the case that each leader is seeking to protect their own domestic economy from the adverse effects of any effective proposals.As a result the problem gets worse because no-one is really addressing the issues except in a token way.

  • Comment number 6.

    Resetting the balance in whose favour? the rule of the west is in the decline we have abused our power for many years now it is going to India , China countries that we enjoyed ruling over robbing from and enslaving well no longer I just hope that when they become the world rulers they treat us better than we treated them in their own country, the yoke of slavery comes of then the anger rises look at Israel that is all the after math of what the Nazi were allowed to do to them while the rich and wealthy turned a blind eye because it was easier to do so than to deal with the rise of the Nazi earlier.

    The people of the world are feed up about what is happening and the abuse metered out to them in the name of freedom. So will change because they have too. No one cares about political parties and voting for the same thing over and over again we know that its all a con and its about keeping the rich rich and in the place of power and blaming everyone and their dog about this. The problem with the world is it is run by men.

  • Comment number 7.

    In response to my previous post, I can only say the BBC has not surprised me.

    So we have rubber bullets fired at protesters in a democracy, and all the BBC can manage is...

    "Near the venue, police fired rubber bullets at protesters on a march near the venue. The previous G20 meeting, in London in April, was marred by clashes."

    No shock then that these rounds, which can kill/blind etc are being fired? No outrage. No excited reporters voicing disbelief at such tactics as was the case with the Iranian protests.

    Who were the rounds being fired at? People throwing petrol bombs? or just angry protesters speaking their minds?

    Does it have to take another protester being killed for the BBC to actually take any interest and question the use of such violent tactics?

  • Comment number 8.

    Dear Mr Burnett

    You may recall that we had a conversation, on these blogs, about Georgia and South Ossetia. You advised that you had attempted to mitigate some BBC reporting of a Russian "invasion" by remarking on South Ossetia's population as feeling alienated by Georgia. This hinted at the BBC's habit of not holding a neutral stance and not reporting evenly.

    The comment at #7 is unequivocal. It is wrong of democracies to attempt to suppress demonstrations of opposition any more than it is for a more totalitarian regime in a "hated" country like Iran to do so. The methods used are seldom equal to the protest "force", and in the UK we have seen the effect of harsh police activity which appears unlawful.

    However, the BBC seldom use proportionate reporting. Although these unlawful acts occur on UK soil the BBC is slow to respond if they ever do. The "kettling" of peaceful demonstrators is an example of tactics that cannot be justified and yet are glossed over by the "need for security". The BBC is more interested in filming the actions of those who wish to destroy property than it is in the actions of individual police officers that place law abiding citizens at risk.

    It is very strange, is it not, that in an age of "human rights" a man can be killed because he needed to visit a shop not far from his home and had the misfortune to meet a police officer who was not about to let him do so without harm. Where did this occur?

  • Comment number 9.

    If they pander to free markets then they should not intervene at all in the economy. If they pander to state intervention then they should quit the limp handed approach and act like they care - expropriations away!

    To think there is some form of middle way is a contradiction in terms - a person considering a middle way cannot accuratly be described as thinking.

  • Comment number 10.

    It appears that there has been no "Resetting the Balance of Power" so far as the BBC goes. Just deal with the "Have Your Say" item that reads "How should the World respond to Iran?".

    So the "whole world" is against Iran is it? Where does the BBC get hold of this kind of consensus nonsense?

  • Comment number 11.

    The reset button is universally significant to the ability of human intelligence to command and conquer all obstacles of limitation, impeding global progress to the common value of human rights in the particular and universal context of relativity to the concept and expectation of order common to nature defined as law. Without binding laws of credibility to the common value of wealth in all aspects of association with existence, the common value of relativity to reason is diminished and limited by the selfish gene and it's false authority of intentions defined as freedom but equivalent to slavery in the particular and universal context of potential, whilst the exponential calibrations of sustainable adaptation required to define the value of credibility to its natural liquidity of life’s assets in association with the natural ability to communicate democratic freedom of natural order innately owned by all members with a common share of life...representation as failed to validate to the common authentic value of freedom a mind equates its optimum association of order with, weather originated from God, evolution an alien or nothing that will ever be known without investigation, beyond the speculation of uncertain data potential, a by product of the old button called death, suffering and abuse equates to the value of anything common to the uncommon value of life’s significance to the common quality of equality in ownership of a common mind spontaneously evolved from a common object in time. Diversity and similarity common to particular and universal aspects of the species equates to a continuum with an unexploited exponential dynamic of spontaneous freedom in ability to adapt in accordance with unity unparalleled to the quality and experience of all species common to the defined quality intentions of transparent accountable order of common order and significance of universal gain.

  • Comment number 12.

    @2, The G20 protestors in Pittsburgh were subject to distopian policing tactics as can be seen in this video... (Not reported on BBC). Scary stuff. Reminds me of the chinese guy standing in front of the tanks...

  • Comment number 13.

    The posts on the fighting between Russia and Georgia were not intended to hint at anything, they were intended to discuss with our audience some of the editorial questions we as editors were dealing with regarding the conflict last year. With regard to the reporting of protests, the BBC has covered the debate around "kettling" extensively, and has also covered the death of Ian Tomlinson in depth, which a search of the BBC News website will reveal.

  • Comment number 14.


    Don't you know you're not allowed to make comments like that ?

    This is Blair's Britain, where everyone is guilty unless they're baying for blood, war and revenge, where liberal values have been swept away in a torrent of right wing fascism as we all charge head long into the next war against those who wish to destroy our way of life.

    Those protestors in America should have been shot with real bullets, not rubber ones, then they'd have learnt the lesson that the government, bankers & tabloid owners are always right and that freedom is only important when it is the freedom to destroy another country and steal their resources.

    And don't forget that in accordance with our new Chinese directive all information relating to the Tiananmen Square massacre is to be wiped from the public & private archives in case it causes offence to our new allies. Any further mention of this alleged event will result in a home visit from our cultural enforcers.

    You have been warned !

  • Comment number 15.

    @14, Thank you, Secratariat, for alerting me to my thought-crime. I will now volunteer for the next false-flag mission to promote the New World Order as programmed. Please don't send me back to Room 101...

  • Comment number 16.


    It'd all be such a good joke if it wasn't so true.

    I'm watching a replay of Darling's speach at the Labour conference today and he's saying that the Labour government have lead us through the recession and that the world's leaders all think Gordon Brown is the man who has saved us all with his financial plan.

    No mention of his years as Chancellor and the policies he came up with helping to lead us into the recession in the first place and leaving us in the worst position of all of the industrialised nations to get through the recession.

    Apparently, Labour have a proud story to tell and it's time they went out and told it.

    I wonder if it will include their involvement in an illegal and immoral war, extraordinary rendition, illegal detention, torture, the expansion of the criminal justice system, a failure to secure our borders, the institution of illiberal laws that have removed some of our basic rights and a furthering of the gap between the rich and the poor within the UK ?

    "Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain."

    George Orwell - 1949

  • Comment number 17.


    Well excuse me, Mr Burnett, but when I commented on the one sided reporting on Georgia, in particular on South Ossetia, it got under your skin to the point where you attempted to mitigate your role. Obviously I cannot read your mind, but I took it as a very clear indication that you wanted to separate yourself from such partisan journalism.

    On the subject of the incidents in London, the BBC were well over twenty four hours late in reporting on "kettling" and the death of an innocent man. Yoy had to cover the issues when they became pronounced and serious, but I raised it with your newsdesk (ON THE DAY) and was dismissed out of hand.

    Your coverage on that day was almost exclusively devoted to the video of "protesters" vandalising a bank; in my view an insult to the many thousands of people who were peaceful and were treated exceedingly poorly by the police. I suggest you watch, side by side, your coverage of the Iran protests and the UK protests and "spot the differences". You should run up a score of about a few hundred in a very short time.


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