Cultural Diversity and the Future of World Order

3 Nov 2016

The way we look at and understand history, politics and international relations is largely founded in our cultural, social and geographical background. In his sold out Global Leadership Series presentation, Professor Christian Reus-Smit explored the relationship between cultural diversity and world politics.

Using the analogy of the ecosystem to explain the complexity of international relations, Professor Reus-Smit explained that the international order is comprised of institutions and laws and individual states are dependent upon the stability of the international order.

“International orders are political ecosystems. They are comprised of institutions, practices, rules and systems, like international law, and organisations like the United Nations. It is within this political ecosystem that individual states survive and flourish.

“Individual states can build their armies and assert their independence but their real survival depends on the wider international order and the degree to which that order is peaceful, stable and provides the conditions in which those states can develop economically, pursue their political objectives and maintain their territories.“

Professor Reus-Smit said that the modern international order is facing a number of profound challenges but there are two challenges in particular which should be noted. The first is a shift in the distribution of material power followed by a cultural shift, which is occurring at the same time.

“There is a shift in the global distribution of power, particularly material power, and this shift is occurring at two different levels. It’s occurring first horizontally, where material power is shifting away from the west towards the east.

“Power isn’t only shifting horizontally, it’s is also shifting vertically in the system and this greatly complicates how we think about world politics.

“Power is also shifting to other actors in the international system, particularly non-state actors and non-state transnational insurgent groups, for example ISIS, who have shown their ability to mobilise violence across the world in ways that were unexpected and dramatic.

“The shift towards the east is bringing onto the stage in new ways, actors or states, that bring their own cultural histories, values and norms to the international system.

With the vertical shift in power, the transnational groups are justifying what they are doing in the international system through appeal to cultural values, religion in particular. So there’s a new relationship between power and cultural difference.

“This poses new and novel challenges for international order and what my proposition would be is that unless we come to grips with what that means then we can’t develop sound responses to this new environment. We need responses that will preserve the international order and enable us collectively and in particular in Australia, to move forward in a peaceful way to develop and pursue all the interests that we have. “

The final Global Leadership Series event for 2017 titled Welfare Dependency or Inherited Disadvantage? will explore the growing divide between high and low income earners in Australia. Our experts, Professor Mark Western and Janeen Baxter will discuss how social inequality can be reversed to benefit future generations. To find out more about UQ Alumni Events please visit